OER Pilot Kickoff

June 18, 2015

by Robin DeRosa, OER Pilot Consultant

The University of New Hampshire has launched its first significant pilot initiative in Open Educational Resources!  As the Pilot Consultant/resident blogger/enthusiastic Tweet-Maven, I thought I would write a bit to introduce the process, some of our participants, and what we focused on during our first training session.

Dev Dutta cuts the cakeNine faculty members (Associate Professor Dev Dutta, pictured at left with librarian Eleta Exline's OER cake) were selected via application from across four UNH colleges and two campuses.  Faculty include both full-time and part-time instructors, with many teaching introductory level courses with significant textbook costs.  Faculty have been given a $3000 stipend for the summer to spend time converting to Open Educational Resources, thinking about open pedagogy, and working with librarians and academic technologists to improve the quality of their courses as they lower costs.  The pilot participants—our “Ambassadors”—are each assigned a comprehensive team to assist them in their work; a librarian and a technologist are working with each faculty member to help them find the best OER for their needs and incorporate that OER into their course designs efficiently and creatively.  “It’s so exciting to see (and have the opportunity to support) OER Faculty Ambassadors eager to embark on their different journeys toward open resources and open pedagogy,” says Dan Blickensderfer, one of the Academic Technologists working with several of the pilot teams.

While our pilot is informed by successful cost-saving pilots at other institutions, UNH is working hard to improve the connections between the financial benefits of integrating OER into courses and the pedagogy that emerges when instructors and students engage with flexible, adaptable educational materials.  So even as our Ambassadors work to seek out and adopt OER, they are also working to understand how they can ask questions about their own teaching approaches that might lead them to innovative and learner-centered ideas for revising or transforming their educational practice.

We all met for the first time on June 1st.  There were five major segments to this initial meeting: 1) a warm welcome from Dan Carchidi, on behalf of Terri Winters and the UNH Academic Technology team; 2) lively introductions by the OER Ambassadors; 3) an inspiring orientation to the world of open by Mary Lou Forward, the Executive Director of the Open Education Consortium; 4) a presentation on OER and open pedagogy by me; 5) and team meetings where the Ambassadors met with their support staff and planned their first steps.

I want to just take a moment to share one of Mary Lou’s wonderful points as she talked about the OER movement and the role of faculty members in ground-breaking pilots like ours.  She talked about the importance of “first followers,” an idea developed by Derek Sivers in this popular TED Talk. 

Mary Lou explained that it takes courage to be the first to follow the inventor who has a brilliant new idea.  Our Ambassadors are the people who will transform the OER innovators from quirky individuals with big dreams into leaders of a worldwide movement.  For me, Mary Lou’s words helped me understand our pilot in a larger context: while we save money for UNH students, we will also be building momentum to power a radical shift in how we, as faculty, think about the educational materials we use in our courses.

This shift is what I hoped to talk about with our faculty in my presentation on OER and open pedagogy.  In this section of the meeting, I asked faculty to consider how the incorporation of openly-licensed materials into their courses might facilitate a more authentically learner-developed pedagogy.  At UNH, we emphasize a student-centered approach to teaching, but we don’t often elucidate exactly what it might mean to center students at the heart of our courses.  In my presentation, we used OER as a catalyst for thinking about the parts of our syllabi (for example: learning outcomes, schedule of work, assignments, grading policies, etc.) and how we could “open” them to more learner-directed pathways.  If our educational materials are no longer sacred texts which students must memorize in order to achieve mastery, but instead flexible texts that we can critique, modify, augment, and revise, how can our courses capitalize on this, and extend this student empowerment to other facets of our courses?

Our Ambassadors are excited to save their students money, decrease the negative effects that high costs have on students (especially in increased withdrawal and lowered pass rates), and think about how they can include their students in the process-oriented relationship that OER invites between communities of learners and their learning materials.  Ambassador Alynna Lyon sums it up this way: “The opportunity for innovation is tremendous.  At this point I understand OER to be an interesting spectrum ranging from textbook replacement to the integration of a more dynamic and even dare I say public component to the classroom.  In some cases it feels like a democratization of both curriculum content and pedagogical process.”  I will be especially excited to hear about how some of these open pedagogy ideas inspire our faculty to let their students share the driver’s seat in their courses, and how we can increase the impact that student work has on our courses, our university, our academic fields, and the public good.

The UNH OER Ambassador pilot is a pedagogy-driven initiative that is responsive to student financial need and powered by a team-oriented partnership between faculty, academic technologists and instructional designers, and librarians.  We hope to be the “first followers” who build momentum in the international OER movement, as well as the architects of a collaborative OER community in the state of New Hampshire.  Ambassador Emilie Talpin describes what many of us are feeling: “We too can be part of the OER movement and start our own movement at UNH. Can’t wait to see where it is going to take us and the positive change it will bring.” For more information about our pilot, follow our #UNH_OER hashtag on Twitter or contact any member of our team, and watch this space for updates as the pilot unfolds!


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