Champions of change
UND Dean of Libraries authors chapter on changing the culture of Open Educational Resources
In 2015, when UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom DiLorenzo welcomed Stephanie Walker as the new Dean of Libraries, the conversation about Open Educational Resources (OERs) was faint.
Even if you listened closely … crickets.
“There was almost no discussion at all. There were one or two people on campus who were forward-thinking and actually started using OERs early,” DiLorenzo said. “But we were doing almost nothing, and it went from almost nothing to a great deal.”
Walker’s appointment turned crickets into a crusade. Within two years, she cracked open a culture shift that has saved students millions in textbook costs, with the potential of pushing $4 million in savings after this fall’s latest round of course implementation.
Now – as swelling student debt becomes the cherry on top of the national dialogue of higher education – she wants to share how she’s helped foster that change.
Walker is authoring a chapter to be included in “The Evolution of Affordable Content Efforts in the Higher Education Environment” from the University of Minnesota Press, set to release in 2018. The angle of her contribution will be how an institution can change the culture surrounding open resources (like online textbooks, journals and other free academic assets) and create buy-in from all areas of campus.
“The whole point of this [chapter] is to try to tell people not to let it just be the library and the tech people talking about OERs,” Walker said. “Get your champions among the faculty, and preferably also among your students in student government. Then, get out of the way and let them talk. They will share their findings.”
Once the OER train started rolling at UND, there was no slowing it. Just as Walker arrived, the North Dakota University System (NDUS) received $100,000 from the state legislature to begin integrating OERs across the system. In that first year of funding, UND helped employ OERs in five classes. The following year, five more courses traded traditional textbooks for free digital versions.
This spring, lawmakers weren’t able to find the money to help the universities further, but the fire had spread. Faculty were learning the quality of the peer-reviewed online texts was just as high, and students were seeing the benefits in their wallets – and they were vocal about it.
“When the Student Government bought in and said this is a good thing, and put some of their money toward it ($75,000), then everybody got excited and saw the support,” Walker said.
That $75,000 was matched with $25,000 from the Provost’s Office to help interested faculty learn how to find and implement OER-based curriculums for their classrooms. A new annual high of 13 courses will be using OERs for the first time this fall, including Comm 110: Public Speaking. The class enrolls hundreds of students, and the switch could save them an estimated $384,000 in book costs.
“Although OER materials have been incorporated into courses in the Department of Communication in the past, (through faculty-provided readings, course packs and some limited use of sole-authored textbooks), never before have OERs so dramatically reduced student costs in a class,” said UND Department of Communication Chair Timothy Pasch. “The Department is significantly grateful to UND’s Student Government, and to the Vice President for Academic Affairs, who jointly made this initiative possible.”
Public Speaking Director Bradley Serber is new this year to the Department of Communication, but brings a background in OER from his doctorate studies at Penn State. His experience has been essential in redesigning how the Department will teach public speaking in its innovative new space in Columbia Hall, and he’s hoping more faculty will see OERs as a way to enhance their instruction.
“We recognize that OERs may not be right for every subject or every course and that they require time and other investments, but we would be thrilled if other departments looked to our OER use as a model,” Serber said.
Now that UND has set the pace, other institutions are reaching out for guidance from these Leaders in Action.
Walker and her team have spoken at library and OER-specific summits about how they opened eyes to open resources, and many institutions – including high schools and universities – have come to them for one-on-one advice, including North Dakota State’s (NDSU) new dean of libraries.
“Now that they (NDSU) have a stable presence there, they are looking at going ahead with this, too,” Walker said. “They came to us and said, ‘This seems to have worked out pretty well for you guys, so what can we do?’”
Walker said that discussion may include cross-publicizing OERs that are being developed on either campus. “Maybe classes at NDSU will absolutely adore what the math department did here, and will take their materials and say, ‘We can save our students $230 a piece, too,’” she said.
When the book is published next year, Walker hopes her experience will start more conversations about OER, because education evolution comes word-of-mouth.
“You don’t want it to be a big success for two years and then die. You want it to build and grow,” she said. “In order to effect that, you need to have a culture change.”