A Recipe for a Successful Institutional Open Education Initiative

Rajiv never ceases to amaze me; the first time was at Nicole Allen’s (SPARC) annual OERroke party at Open Ed. Rajiv can really sing and dance. Although it is hard to top a duet performance of “I Had the Time of my Life” from Dirty Dancing with Amanda Coolidge (BC Campus), Rajiv has gone on to even greater accomplishments. On Jan. 23, 2019, BCcampus announced Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani was the winner of the Award for Excellence in Open Education. He has worked tirelessly to advance open education and open pedagogy in Canada, the US, and around the world. While I believe Rajiv would’ve been successful at any career he chose, he has dedicated his life to making education accessible, equitable, and inclusive for others. Take a few minutes to read his insightful blog, and then follow Rajiv on Twitter, read his book, and watch his talks on Youtube.

Tanya Spilovoy, WCET


I believe in the power of open education to help widen equitable access to education. I believe in using open resources, not only for the financial benefits for students, but also for the impact on teaching and learning.

As an early adopter of open textbooks, I have for years witnessed first-hand the tangible impact of the cost savings on my students’ lives. As an open textbook author, editor, and OER project manager, I have heard from numerous faculty who have taken advantage of the open licensing and built upon my efforts. They have updated, augmented, and adapted the resources available to better serve their students. As an open education researcher, I have investigated the perceptions and impact of OER adoption on students, faculty, and institutions. As an open education scholar, I have published articles, chapters, as well as a book on the subject. As an open education advocate, I have had the privilege of working with over 100 institutions across five continents to help build local capacity and guide their efforts to support this important work.

In the course of this work and especially in the context of my role as the institutional lead for open educational practices at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), there is one question to which I have given a lot of thought in recent years: What enables an open education movement to gain traction within an institution?

Picture of several open books surrounded by grass.

My University is a Proud Leader in the Open Education Movement

But first, let’s provide some context: KPU is the leading institutional adopter of open textbooks and other OER in Canada. We launched the country’s first two Zed Cred programs (known as Z Degrees in the U.S.) over the past two years, established an OER grant program (overseen by a dedicated and cross-functional Open Education Working Group), integrated Zed Cred markings into our course timetables, established a print-on-demand service for open textbooks, provided faculty development opportunities for open pedagogy, and recently launched OPUS, an open publishing suite to support faculty and staff who wish to create or adapt OER. I mention these achievements because my reflections on successful open education initiatives are inevitably guided by the growth of our own initiative efforts at KPU.

Lessons from Our Success

In reflecting on my experiences, I realize that, although open education champions are critical (be they faculty, librarians, instructional designers, or students), there are at least eight other necessary ingredients that must be present for their message to gain traction. They are as follows:

  1. Most importantly, there needs to be at least some grassroots interest upon which to build. This is not terribly difficult to locate, and you will likely find several faculty members at your institution who have been adopting open textbooks, even though they may not have informed others of their practice. Perhaps some faculty have been embracing open pedagogy without specifically using that term. This is the base which the champions can leverage to grow the movement on your campus, including by recognizing and celebrating these early adopters.
  2. To serve a growing grassroots interest, champions must have the ability to raise awareness and provide adequate training and support to their colleagues. This can take the form of:
    • Campus events that bring in articulate speakers who are well-versed in open educational practices. This is key because of the phenomenon of internal experts usually being discounted,
    • Regular professional development opportunities (e.g., offered by the library or teaching & learning centre), or
    • An OER grant program to support the creation or adaptation or OER and related ancillary resources.
  3. While efforts to raise awareness and provide support must include a focus on the potential cost savings to students from adopting OER, these efforts should also highlight the potential of open pedagogy to spur innovation in teaching and learning. In many ways this is almost a more important message; although many educators initially come to open education for the cost savings, they often stay for the pedagogy.
  4. Training and support should be paired with regular communications (including during Open Education Week) that raise awareness of the problem of high textbook costs and the availability of high-quality OER. But the framing of these communications is key and should foreground academic freedom. After all, agency and choice are core values of the open education movement just as much as is access, something that manifests in a variety of ways — from the control over the content provided to faculty through open licensing, to the central role given to students in their learning journey via open pedagogy. So, it should be clear to faculty that OER are a new, additional option that is available to them and that they are the only ones who can determine which resources are appropriate for their students and their specific courses. The role of the champion is therefore only to make them aware of available high-quality OER and to provide them with the necessary support should they choose to adopt these resources.
  5. Of course, none of this happens magically. Although champions are usually driven by their passion for the movement and its implications for social justice, permitting their critical work to occur “off the side of their desk” is aWooden blocks that spell out the word surefire way to ensure burnout.   The movement will then likely die an early death. So, just as champions can support their colleagues, the champions (the most irreplaceable of all ingredients) themselves need support, whether in the form of time releases or secondments, role re-designations or the creation of a designated position, or even necessary funding (e.g., for campus events and OER grants). Note that each of these assistances stems from the visible and tangible support of senior administrators.
  6. A helpful strategy to grow grassroots support and earn the support of senior administrators is to conduct research. At KPU, we have conducted and published research to better understand the negative impact of high textbooks costs on educational outcomes and on the efficacy of OER adoption. Although plenty of this research already exists, it is helpful to demonstrate these same effects in your local context. Efficacy research — which might be done in collaboration with some of those early adopting faculty — also complements the social justice and pedagogical innovation arguments for OER with an evidence-based practice argument. At KPU, since the launch of our Zed Cred programs, our research efforts have grown to include investigations of the impact of the initiative on course waitlists, withdrawal rates, and grade distributions, all useful metrics through which I can demonstrate the institutional impact of this initiative.
  7. To give the research data context and strengthen the case for supporting open education to the institution’s board, it is valuable to make explicit connections between the open education initiative and the institution’s strategic goals. This is vital whether these include student access, student success, pedagogical innovation, or leadership. The same is true for strategic goals at the program level. For example, at several institutions I have seen programs that are struggling with declining enrollment invest time and resources into OER development and adaptation so that they can market these programs as Z Degrees (to good effect, I might add).
  8. Finally, although it is possible for an open education initiative to succeed on the back of local expertise and sweat, it is far more common for progress to take place when the institution seeks opportunities to collaborate with external organizations and institutions. This might take the form of applying for external grant funds (as we do from BCcampus), joining the Open Textbook Network, connecting faculty at one’s institution with like-minded colleagues at other institutions via the Rebus Community, or even looking for opportunities for collaborative OER development across institutions in the same region.

Adapt These Steps for Your Institution

Flow chart from academic freedom to administrative support and raising awareness. Chart uses symbols of clouds, rain, sunshine, and grass.

While this is not mean to be an exhaustive list, nor a universal formula applicable to all contexts, I have tried to capture the elements I have found to be essential in the context in which I work.

Without doubt, the recipe that has worked for KPU is a function of our identity as an open access institution that is focused on teaching excellence. Regardless of your institutional lens and goals, I can assure you that, once this momentum begins to build, you will see signs that include faculty proudly sharing their innovations, external recognition, and gratitude from students. And if you are lucky, the initiative will reach the point of where it is now at KPU — where open education is an integral part of our institutional DNA and a core part of our identity.

If you are passionate about widening equitable access to higher education, about improving student persistence and performance, and catalyzing pedagogical innovation, I urge you to follow our lead.

 

Rajiv
Rajiv Jhangiani
Special Advisor to the Provost on Open Education
Kwantlen Polytechnic University

 

 

 


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