Mentoring Adopters for Curricular Change by Creating Community
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.
The expansion of open educational resources (OER) adoption by faculty requires mentorship, guidance, and comradery to create a community of adopters. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here we outline the Open Textbook Initiative (OTI) facilitated by the Open Education Working Group at Millersville University, specifically focusing on the value of mentoring adopters. The working group is a community of early OER adopters and passionate enthusiasts consisting of teaching faculty, librarians, and instructional designers. With support from the university administration, our working group developed the OTI as a grassroots effort to create an environment in which OER adopters support, learn, and grow with one another.
The OTI is a competitive grant program where applicants propose OER adoption in a particular course; if accepted, they receive mentoring support through the adoption process. This combination of mentoring and like-minded community has not only facilitated the finding and adopting of OER but also enabled participants to discuss teaching issues and solutions. OTI recipients and working group members have gained from the collective experience and expertise. The creation of community through individual, group, and peer mentoring has encouraged some teaching faculty who had been toying with the idea of adopting to take the plunge—and the incentive of the professional development funding has become an additional benefit.
Individual mentoring with teaching faculty, librarians, and instructional designers
Participants in the OTI are paired with members of the Open Education Working Group in similar subject areas who have experience finding and adopting OER in their own teaching, workshops, and outreach. In our first OTI, we paired each participant with a single member of the working group, which led to some working group members mentoring more than one participant and all participants gaining only one perspective on OER. In the second iteration of the OTI, we grouped together three to five participants and multiple mentors from the working group. Mentors consisted of at least one teaching faculty, all who use or have used OER in their classes, and at least one librarian, all of whom are faculty and able to share insights into curating and using open educational materials. The Instructional Designer floated among the groups to discuss course design and supported course design for any participant who requested further help. This focused mentoring gave the participants specific individuals with whom they could interact, as opposed to simply contacting the working group. It also divided up the work for the OE Working Group of following up with participants on their progress of adoption. All members of the working group were happy to interact with any and all participants, such as answering questions or forwarding material discovered on the search for OER.
Group mentoring with a campus learning community
Besides the individual mentoring, the OTI also had group mentoring to introduce all participants to ideas and concepts important for all individuals when transitioning to OER, such as finding and validating OER and incorporating these resources into teaching. To facilitate this group mentoring, we developed a campus learning community (CLC) that (1) met in-person multiple times throughout the semester prior to OER adoption and (2) included an associated course within our learning management system (LMS) to provide information on OER and demonstrate efficient pedagogical use of OER. The CLC provided resources and discussion to support understanding the definition of OER, finding and evaluating OER, and effectively using and evaluating student use of OER. Because of the online nature of OER and because students engage with online resources differently than with physical resources, we also discussed techniques to help students successfully access and connect with digital content. The topics and the course evolved on the basis of feedback and the experiences of the working group. With the first group, OTI 1.0, the participants completed “homework” assignments so they could stay on track with learning about OER and considerations for pedagogical changes. With the implementation of the second round of the program, OTI 2.0, the focus became more on providing resources on the aforementioned topics, which engaged our faculty more than assigning homework did. In modeling OER use through the OTI course, we encouraged participants to rethink their course design. This gave participants the opportunity to not only change their textbook and course materials but also consider how they could advance their current teaching methods and integrate LMS use to meet their learning objectives and ultimately increase student success. The use of in-person and online group mentoring created a common, comprehensive space to learn and discuss topics and ideas.
Peer mentoring through discussion and community building
Although the CLC made it easier to quickly present topics to a group of faculty, its most important impact was bringing together a group of like-minded individuals from a range of disciplines and backgrounds who could share experiences and ideas with one another as they worked to transition their courses. Although each meeting of the CLC had a focal topic, most of the time was devoted to OTI participants discussing their perspectives and experiences on the topic and brainstorming how to implement OER material using these ideas. The peer mentoring also extended beyond the current crop of participants. Because we had completed one instance of the OTI (OTI 1.0, spring 2019 for adoption in fall 2019) before the second one started (OTI 2.0, spring 2020 for adoption in fall 2020), we were able to draw on this first pool of OTI participants to come back and offer their perspective. For example, for Open Education Week, Millersville University hosted a series of webinars discussing topics in open education. In 2018 and 2019, most of the webinars were presented by members of the working group. In 2020, most of the webinars were presented by participants in OTI 1.0 and discussed using OER in courses in a range of disciplines, including art, biology, education, English, and psychology (recordings available at https://www.millersville.edu/cae/open-education/index1.php). We asked OTI 2.0 participants to view one of these webinars that most pertained to them. Participants from both OTI 1.0 and 2.0 were invited to a recognition luncheon, which recognized participants for their work in enabling student success and also brought participants from across disciplines and OTI cohorts together to meet and discuss OER over lunch.
The Open Education Working Group consists of a core of individuals including teaching faculty, librarians, and instructional designers, but the number of individuals using OER and discussing the use of OER has expanded dramatically because of the OTI. Besides the immediate effects of OER being adopted in courses supported in the OTI, many OTI participants have adopted OER for their other courses. This unexpected benefit of the OTI mentorship aids more students through additional adoption. Additionally, these OTI adopters shared their curricula with faculty outside the OTI program. We attribute these additional successes to the creation of a community of adopters made possible only because of the mentoring techniques described above.
Christopher Stieha, PhD, is an assistant professor of biology at Millersville University.
Stephanie Pennucci, EdD, is an assistant professor and the education librarian at Millersville University.
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.
Matthew D. Fox, MS, is an instructional designer at Millersville University.