Planning For: Open Educational Resources (OER)

Published January 6, 2020
By Sadie Wutka, Director of Content Strategy, SCUP

Institutions referenced in this resource:
Drexel University

Interview With Larry Milliken, Manager, Scholarly Communications, Drexel University Libraries

The three-year partnership between the State University of New York (SUNY) system and OER provider Lumen Learning, which was listed in our Sept 2019 issue of Trends in Higher Education, suggests momentum for widespread adoption of OER in higher education. 

But how do you help OER get a foothold in your college or university? How does OER affect library planning or academic planning? We asked Larry Milliken, manager of scholarly communications at Drexel University Libraries, to provide insight on planning for OER.

Briefly describe what you do as a librarian at Drexel and your work with open educational resources (OER).

I manage the Scholarly Communications program which raises campus understanding of contemporary dynamic information ecosystems, selects information resources for cost-effective campus access in support of curricular needs, and provides expert guidance and consultations to identify authoritative channels of scholarly dissemination. Advocating for and supporting OER adoption (along with the curricular use of already-licensed library resources) is an important part of this program. We accomplish this through outreach and presentations to faculty and administrators along with support from our subject librarians and online guide materials.

How have OER changed your day-to-day work?

One of the libraries’ strategic directives is to contain the rising cost of higher education. OER has given me (and our subject librarians) an opening with faculty to talk about textbook choices and how textbook affordability impacts learning. With OERs, we are not limited to empathizing with faculty about the cost to students; we now have viable alternatives to commercial textbooks to discuss with them.

What are some of the biggest challenges of adopting OER?

The three biggest challenges are timing, finding the correct fit for a given course, and the reliance on ancillary materials.  

Timing is important because the easiest time for a faculty member to adopt an OER textbook is when a new course is being designed or an existing course is being redesigned. This often creates a gap between the decision to use OER and implementation—even faculty who are completely on board with the idea may not be able to redesign their courses immediately. So, OER programs can take time to build momentum. 

Finding an OER that fits the course is becoming easier as the number of open textbooks increases, but can be a significant challenge in fields like nursing and engineering where the amount of material is more limited currently.  

A lack (or perceived lack) of ancillary materials, such as pre-made PowerPoint slides or test banks, is also a challenge because some faculty rely on them to streamline their course prep.

What are some unexpected opportunities of using OER?

An opportunity for a university on a quarter system, such as Drexel, is that the openness of an OER means that faculty will be able to adapt the textbooks to fit the pace of a 10-week term, something that is less common in the commercial textbook market.

What’s your advice to a librarian or administrator who’s about to implement an OER initiative?

Taking on any new initiative is easier when you can learn from the experience of peers. Look to see if there is an existing OER or affordable learning program through the local or state consortial networks that the library can join. For example, Drexel is a member of PALCI, a regional consortium of nearly 70 academic libraries. PALCI is developing a network of librarians within its membership to share ideas and insights on how librarians can encourage faculty to use OER. 

I would also recommend bringing on faculty fellows who can use their experience with OER to champion the cause. At Drexel, we’ve introduced a Library Faculty Fellows program. Three faculty members committed a few hours a week for 3-6 months to adopt OER in their courses. Then, these fellows shared the different approaches they took with OER and promoted how the library supported their effort, helping other faculty think about how they can adopt OER.

Developing connections with your university’s version of a center for teaching and learning and other administrators will also be useful.

Any final thoughts?

Librarians should remember that adopting OER in a course does not have to be an all-or-nothing scenario.  Faculty can try out using a chapter or two of an OER textbook where it fits their needs as a way to audition the material. That can be a good way for them to build confidence in the content and familiarity with the platforms involved.