Managing the Message: Communicating Innovation with Diverse Stakeholders
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.
Like many campus communities, Millersville University is a diverse place, with students, faculty, staff and administrators representing different content areas, research interests, and perspectives. With close to 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students, hundreds of faculty, and dozens of administrators, the community shares a common mission and set of values. Despite these commonalities, however, the diversity in roles affects how individuals view campus initiatives. For example, when an innovation is proposed within the community, different stakeholders can take different perspectives on its impacts. Our Open Education Working Group witnessed this firsthand when we proposed an Open Textbook Initiative on campus. As we worked with different stakeholders, we realized that we needed to frame the initiative differently depending on the community members to whom we were communicating. While the initiative itself sought to promote faculty use of OER through incentives and mentoring, the working group adopted a multifaceted messaging campaign to target the perspectives of the different campus stakeholders.
Communicating with administrators
While there are numerous academic and financial benefits for OER adoption on campus, our university’s administrators were primarily interested in the cost savings to students and the impacts of OER use on student success and retention. As a public institution, Millersville University attracts many first-generation college students and students who receive Pell Grant support. Considering this student population, an innovation like an Open Textbook Initiative resonated with administrators who were looking to lower the cost of attendance for students. Additionally, research that showed the academic impacts of OER adoption helped to generate interest with campus administrators (e.g., Colvard et al., 2018; Hilton, 2016). As the Open Education Working Group met with deans, department chairs, and other administrators, we intentionally focused our message on these areas.
Communicating with faculty
Like administrators, faculty were interested in the cost savings to students and the academic impacts of OER use. But other benefits of OER adoption also played a role. Many of our colleagues view their teaching roles from a social justice lens and see working at a public institution as a way to promote equity and access to underserved populations of students. Efforts to promote OER adoption easily fit within this worldview, and our working group built this focus into our communication with faculty. Other faculty, however, were drawn to the adaptability that OER offer. Many of our colleagues who worked in rapidly changing content areas were frustrated that they had to constantly assign costly new textbook editions to students. Others complained that their textbook options were limited due to the terminology they used in their classes or the order in which they presented content. Since many OER are licensed to allow for adaption and remixing, the working group also built these aspects into their communication with faculty.
Communicating with students
Since students receive the most financial benefit from OER adoption, the Open Education Working Group built cost savings into our original presentations with students. With the rise of textbook costs, students gravitated to any innovation or program that could save them money. In our conversations with students, however, we recognized an important additional perspective that students valued: early access to course materials. For a variety of reasons, many students choose to wait to purchase textbooks. After paying for tuition, some students cannot financially afford the additional costs of textbooks at the start of the semester. Others wait to see how the textbooks are actually being used before purchasing them. This delay in textbook purchases undoubtedly impairs students’ ability to engage in courses early in the semester. Since OER allow students to access content at the start of a course, students saw value in this aspect of open textbook adoption. This became a critical aspect of our communications with students.
Communicating outside the university
There are many invested stakeholders beyond administrators, faculty, and students who require a focused message. Local and state politicians have a vested interest in the cost of college and are interested in the same data points as the administrative team. Alumni are often looking to give back to the university, and the opportunity to directly reduce student expenses by contributing to an endowment for digital resource purchases through the library is likely to appeal to them. Parents, guardians, and high school counselors play an influential role in helping students make postsecondary school decisions. University recruiting teams, coaches, and faculty working open house events should understand the role of OER on campus and be able to share the academic and financial impact open resources will have on potential students’ experiences.
As we worked to promote greater OER use across campus, our working group subtly changed how we promoted OER use according to the stakeholders were we targeting. When we gave presentations to administrators, our group focused more on cost savings and anticipated retention impacts. With our faculty colleagues, we focused more on academic impacts. With an innovation as multifaceted as OER adoption, it was imperative that we focused our communications on the aspects most critical to the stakeholders to whom we were communicating.
Colvard, N. B., Watston, C. E., & Park, H. (2018). The impact of open educational resources on various student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 262–275. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1184998
Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: A review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(4), 573–590. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-016-9434-9
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.
Stephanie Pennucci, EdD, is an assistant professor and the education librarian at Millersville University.
Kimberly Auger, MLIS, is an instructor at McNairy Library at Millersville University.