Adopting Open: Promoting Faculty Interest
This article is part of our August 2020 spotlight on open educational resources. Click here to read the introduction and view the other articles in the series.
To promote faculty interest in OER, Millersville University’s Open Education Working Group and Center for Academic Excellence began by studying research on factors that influence faculty involvement and motivation on campus. Our group wanted to develop a comprehensive approach that would draw on research strategically. An article from Liberal Education titled “Beyond Carrots and Sticks: What Really Motivates Faculty” (Wergin, 2001) proved to be critical to our work. In the article, Wergin reviewed 40 years of research and identified four common factors that motivate faculty on collegiate campuses: community, autonomy, recognition, and efficacy. Reflecting on the article, we could see how the different motivational factors were represented within the working group. To motivate faculty to consider adopting OER, however, we needed to consider how to leverage each of these factors more broadly. Here are some ways these factors played out in our efforts to promote OER across campus.
Wergin writes that faculty possess a “desire to belong, to feel part of a nurturing community” (p. 51). This is certainly true of our Open Education Working Group on campus. When we first started working together, we finally felt like we had “found our people.” We were no longer single innovators trying to make a difference but were able to nurture and support one another in our efforts. To promote OER use beyond the working group, however, we would need a way to scale this factor across campus.
To do this, we designed our Open Textbook Initiative (OTI) incentive program to incorporate large group mentoring with the faculty who were selected to receive stipends for OER adoption. The OTI faculty group met regularly for several weeks throughout the semester to discuss OER use and syllabus redesign with the Open Education Working Group. While the sessions were educational in nature, they also served to form a cohesive campus-wide community where the members of the working group could support and nurture the OER adopters.
While community is important, having the autonomy and independence to work alone is also vital in our faculty roles. “Professional autonomy,” Wergin writes, “is the freedom to experiment, to follow one’s own leads wherever they may go and do so without fear of the consequences” (p. 52). The Open Education Working Group saw how autonomy played a significant factor in our operations. Individual working group members took on leadership roles with different facets of our work. Some members lead our communication efforts, while others lead the planning of programs and events; others yet lead with assessments. These self-selection processes allow for autonomy while serving the collaborative objectives of the working group. While these volunteered leadership roles helped to motivate members of the working group, we needed to incorporate the autonomy factor into our broader promotion efforts as well.
When designing the OTI, we asked that faculty identify courses they wanted to redesign for OER use. Rather than set strict course parameters for faculty to be involved in the OTI, we designed the program support more autonomy. Faculty could redesign upper-level courses or large-enrolled first-year classes. Faculty applicants were encouraged to apply by other faculty members, especially working group members. By providing more choice and freedom and focusing on peer-to-peer support, we were able to attract a group of faculty and staff representing a variety content areas and roles on campus in the first implementation stage of the OTI.
Wergin writes that faculty want “to feel valued and to know that others see (our) work as worthwhile” (p. 52). Although the working group supported one another, there was no formal recognition systems in place to highlight the group’s work. The partnership with the university’s Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) offered a solution. The CAE used its website to feature members of the working group who were using OERs on campus. In a series of monthly posts on its Innovative Practices Spotlight page, the CAE recognized individual working group members who were adopting OER. While these recognition efforts helped to showcase OER use across campus, they also raised awareness about OER in general. This recognition led to greater faculty involvement in the Open Education Working Group, with Open Education Week webinars, and with the OTI program.
As the OTI program began, recognition became a critical factor in supporting faculty and promoting adoption. University-wide emails announced the faculty selected for the first implementation phase; these faculty were also recognized at a formal luncheon organized through the provost’s office. The recognition efforts helped to communicate to faculty that we value the work they do and that their efforts are worthwhile contributions to the university. Validating these impacts with recognition requires minimal effort on the part of the organizers but can significantly increase a person’s desire to continue to contribute to the community.
Efficacy, Wergin writes, “is a sense of having a tangible impact on our environment” (p. 53). As faculty work to have our work be appreciated and recognized, we also want to know that our efforts made a difference and have contributed to some greater goal. Throughout our OER work on campus, the working group has used different messaging to communicate the impact the OER adoption could have. In professional development sessions with faculty, we highlighted textbook savings to students and how OER adoption helped students be equipped for success on the first day of class. In a university-wide convocation, the working group shared research that showed the impact of OER use on students’ academic success and retention. This information encourages others to add to the efforts. It may even inspire competition to save students more money.
But efficacy was not limited to how we messaged OER use. All of the faculty involved in the OTI have been collecting data to examine the impacts of OER adoption on student success. This research project has been approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board and will provide an avenue to show faculty the efficacy of their work. Additionally, OTI participants are exploring how to use these research projects to continue to improve their OER adoption with a focus on student learning.
By leveraging Wergin’s faculty motivational factors, the Open Education Working Group was able to strategically promote the use of OER across campus. By intentionally focusing on factors of community, autonomy, recognition, and efficacy, the working group developed processes that motivated faculty to learn about OER and adopt them in their classrooms.
Wergin, J. F. (2001). Beyond carrots and sticks: What really motivates faculty. Liberal Education, 87(1), 50–53.
Oliver Dreon, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Educational Foundations at Millersville University and served as the director of the university’s Center for Academic Excellence from 2013 to 2020.
Christopher Stieha, PhD, is an assistant professor of chemistry at Millersville University.
Alex Redcay, PhD, is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Millersville University.
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