OTNSI

Reflecting on the 2017 Open Textbook Network Summit & Institute

Reflecting on the 2017 Open Textbook Network Summit & Institute

Last week I joined over a hundred OER-friendly librarians, technologists, and instructional designers in Minneapolis for the annual Open Textbook Network Summit and Institute (OTNSI) at the University of Minnesota. UH Mānoa is a member institution of the Open Textbook Network, and this was our first time taking part in the face-to-face activities of the network. The OTN has grown to include over 600 higher education institutions through individual and consortial memberships, representing what I believe to be the largest U.S.-based coalition of OER advocates. While textbook affordability projects other than pure OER adoption are part of many groups’ strategic plans, the majority of attendees seem ready to push for 100% OER, bypassing lesser options such as rentals and “inclusive access” programs.

The lean OTN team of Dave Ernst, Sarah Cohen, and Karen Lauritsen delivered a four-day program, the first two days being an institute for newer members to understand what is already working for current members in terms of being able to land major adoptions, publish remixed or original OER, and generally be more effective when introducing the awesomeness of OER to new stakeholders. I was able to meet a handful of OTN members at last year’s OpenEd conference, and I had an idea of who the more active, vocal members were based on their participation on the OTN mailing list. As always, it was wonderful to put faces to so many names and connect with folks doing similar work in other places.

Lots happened during the week, but here are some takeaways that are worth diving into a bit.

Tailoring OER Messages for Different Audiences

This will come as no surprise to many of us, but effective messaging absolutely needs to take the audience into account. It’s easy to fall back onto the more obvious big-picture talking points around the benefits of open, but the same slide deck simply will not work with every audience. During the institute, Dave and Sarah explained their process for running the faculty OER workshop that has yielded hundreds of reviews of OERs and laid the foundation for adoptions across the nation. The faculty workshop includes some data-focused slides, a personal appeal from the presenter, and what ends up being a call for faculty to consider the ever-powerful social justice argument for supporting open education.

Consensus seems to be that administrators and decision makers respond well to hard numbers showing to-date and projected cost savings, total student enrollments affected, and other indicators of improved student success or improvement associated with the use of OER. I consider cost savings associated with OER to be the lever, the foot in the door that allows us to talk about empowering both instructors and students to take control of the learning experience. I’d love to talk to everyone about OER-enabled pedagogy, but these conversations with stakeholders should appeal to goals they have already established, not new ones that need to be added to their plate. OER have the potential to save students thousands of dollars over the course of their earning a degree, and we can do this without affecting departmental budgets — this will be an important point I hope will resonate with those in upper administration.

The Threat of “Inclusive Access” Programs

I mentioned earlier that many campuses are including more than just OER in their textbook affordability initiatives, and publishers have been eager to push digital-first textbook agreements dubbed “inclusive access” programs. These programs are similar to textbook rentals we’ve seen more of over the last few years, but they can also come with highly restrictive terms such as requiring students to opt out (as opposed to having them opt in) of buying the course materials and by offering print versions to students only when they have also paid for the digital copy — which can mean that some students actually pay more with “inclusive access” than they would otherwise pay when older version, used copies, and other buying options are present.

Beyond the obvious issues with these programs, they don’t begin to approach the potential of what OER can offer us. One OTN member suggested that inclusive access programs were just small steps towards OER adoption, but my stance is that when you choose to move towards OER you are on an entirely different path than with closed publisher content. If faculty are to put time and energy into something that will benefit their students, I want all of that energy captured and put towards going fully open. Why would we settle for discounted closed textbooks when OER are available and provide perpetual access to localized, customizable learning materials.

OTN as a Community of Practice

Community in the open source world has long been an interest of mine, and it is something that is difficult to create. I am of the mind that community can’t actually be created, but it can be facilitated by locating a common domain and stimulating existing groups of people working on similar issues to share their best practices (see the Wegner-Trayners for more). Librarians made up the majority of attending members at the OTNSI, and though I am not a librarian I do consider them to be “my people”. Librarians often possess a unique combination of personality traits that means they value structure and organization of information but are also socially aware — this is important when connecting with faculty. Introducing OER to faculty can seem like we are throwing caution to the wind, but those who are interested in OER can find excellent advocates in librarians.

This OTNSI was less focused on technology than I had hoped, but there were a handful of instructional designers and educational technologists in the room who are working with OER. We discussed the course refresh process as a prime opportunity to introduce OER to faculty, especially for the high-enrollment courses and those with instructors who delight in the possibility of customizing their course. Pressbooks was the only open source OER-publishing tool mentioned, but some institutions are using closed source tools that are either under threat of being bought up by larger companies or already have been — and their future is arguably less certain than the open source tools that power UH’s OER initiative.

Not to stray too far from the idea of community, the OTNSI allowed me to expand my network of OER advocates who are not only working on the same issues, but are willing to share their successes and struggles to help carry the group ahead.

Thanks for putting it together, OTN!

Posted by Billy Meinke in Conference, Open Textbooks