By Abbey Elder, Open Access & Scholarly Communication Librarian, Iowa State University
The Open Education movement has gained momentum at an astounding pace over the past decade, with faculty awareness and use of open educational resources (OER) growing each year (Hilton, 2019). 2017 was arguably the biggest year for Open Education and OER thus far, with the announcement of federal grant funding, growing awareness on college campuses, and the development of new tools to make finding resources easier (Silagadze, 2017). In light of the progress in 2017, it makes sense that Ithaka S+R added questions about OER to in their annual faculty survey the following year. Although there were only a handful of questions about OER asked in 2018 the results provide useful information about faculty interest in these materials and data which can aid in the development of Open Education programs in academic libraries.
Age Affects OER Use and Creation
One of the results of the 2018 Ithaka faculty survey results that stood out to me the most was the assertion in their major findings section that there is “substantial interest in [the] use of open educational resources for instructional practices, particularly from younger faculty members.” The survey found that over 50% of faculty respondents below the age of 45 were interested in adopting OER for their teaching. In contrast, faculty over the age of 55 were 10-15% less likely to express interest in OER. While this is a remarkable finding it’s balanced by the results from another question which showed that “older cohorts are more likely to have created both [open textbooks and course modules].” This gap, between interest and participation, probably seems counter intuitive but it’s a trend I’ve seen often in my own work and one I’d like to discuss here.
At Iowa State University, I have seen firsthand the ways in which open educational resources have grown in popularity among our younger faculty members; for example, many of our OER Trailblazers are in the early stages of their careers. However, while our younger faculty show more interest in adopting OER, the most active OER adopters are young faculty who are also established in their positions. Associate professors, who have obtained tenure, are the largest OER audience at ISU. Whereas adjuncts and lecturers, positions not eligible for tenure, are more likely to express interest in OER but concern about the time required to adopt them. In my own research (not yet published), I’ve found two reasons for this: a lack of faculty time and underutilized support services.
The time it takes to locate, adopt, and align a course with a new textbook is not an insignificant concern for faculty, especially those who have inherited a course from a colleague. Belikov and Bodily (2016) have reported that many pre-tenure faculty are uncertain about the work of adopting OER, asserting that “this is not a priority for faculty members who are working towards tenure, mentoring students, or teaching many courses.” It’s safe to assume that this holds true for non-tenure track instructors as well. Faculty members do not need to do all of this work on their own, though. Support is available for instructors interested in OER, ranging from library consultations to course release time for faculty developing open resources (Walz, Jensen, & Salem, 2016). What is stopping faculty from utilizing this support, then? It could be that they don’t know it exists.
While faculty who have been at an institution for years might understand the various ways to find and utilize services provided by the library, new faculty might have a harder time finding these services. Perhaps the reason why older faculty are more likely to have created OER is not that younger faculty lack initiative, but because new faculty are less aware of the support available to help them. Whereas libraries are generally good at providing services their patrons need, we are not always the best at advertising those services. This is a problem across all library service areas, but especially in Scholarly Communication, where outreach and support services are the bulk of our work.
Let’s reconsider Ithaka survey’s major finding that there’s an age related gap in OER interest and participation and ask why younger faculty are more interested in adopting OER than their older counterparts. There may be some faculty who are “set in their ways” and unwilling to change their courses to accommodate new resources, but that can’t be all there is to it. Perhaps, similar to how many young instructors are unaware of the available to help them adopt OER, many older faculty members are unaware that OER exist. After all, the 2018 Babson report found that many instructors “confuse ‘open’ with ‘free,’ and assume all free resources are OER. [Others] confuse “open resources” with ‘open source’” (Seaman and Seaman, 2018). Maybe the problem isn’t OER or an age gap. Maybe it’s communication.
What Can We Do?
There are three things that librarians working in OER can take away from these results:
- Libraries should optimize OER outreach to support younger faculty who might have interest in OER and a harder time integrating new resources into their courses.
- Librarians should develop more targeted instruction for established faculty about open pedagogy and other aspects of teaching with OER that they might not be acquainted with.
- Communication plans should include plans for introducing library support to new faculty and keeping older faculty abreast of changes as they arrive.
It can be difficult to bridge the topic of OER with instructors no matter their age, but that doesn’t mean that outreach with these groups is impractical. As librarians, we need to do more to support the growing population of instructors interested in OER and to develop new relationships with faculty who might want to share their own materials openly. Making our services visible and approachable is only one step toward reaching that goal, but it’s a step we can take today and build upon tomorrow.