Retrenchment, Day 38

Friday morning I had a good Zoom conversation with an Instructional Designer at the Minnesota State system office who is starting to work on Open Ed. She got involved via a grant-funded project to create OER for five high-enrollment teacher education courses, for use not only within the system but nationwide. The grant that funded this was from the US Department of Education and totals nearly $1 million over three years. The savings for Minnesota State students preparing to be teachers is projected at about half a million annually, so it should pay for itself quickly. The Minnesota State system trains nearly half the teachers in the state.

It only seems natural, as this project nears completion, to think about extending it into other areas where there are lots of students served by the state system. Fields like nursing, where 60% of Minnesota nurses are trained by the system. Or criminal justice (90%), agriculture (45%), information technology (46%), or business (45%). Then there are high-volume majors that typically have high textbook costs like psychology and biology. This is where the model the system office has begun to create for the education OERs could converge with the work I and others have been doing to promote textbook affordability at campuses.

But as I said yesterday, there's a suspicion on campuses of initiatives coming from St. Paul. So how do we reconcile local autonomy and academic freedom for faculty with the value created by a system-led program to develop modular OER offerings that are aligned with course outcomes within the state-wide transfer pathway agreements? I suspect, as I began to say yesterday, that it will be about selling rather than telling.

Resistance generally begins when instructors feel they are being dictated to. On the other hand,
there are some things that are required, in our system. There are transfer guidelines and Liberal Education or Core Curriculum goal areas to which we all adhere. If we were assisted in meeting these requirements, by system office folks who could help align new content with these requirements, that assistance might be welcomed.

As faculty begin thinking about Open Ed, there are a lot of questions. Where do I find quality OER? How do I curate it, remix it, and insert it into my course? How do I keep it "fresh" and make sure the content I link to doesn't disappear or develop broken links? When I redesign my course, can I get some help making sure I've correctly documented the ways activities, assessments, and content line up with student learning outcomes? Oh, and along the way, can you help me make it accessible and culturally inclusive?

These are exactly the types of things I'd welcome help with. I'm perfectly comfortable writing content and "owning" the material I teach. And I think I can handle making sure I represent diverse perspectives (after all, a lot of my work in history has been about just that!). But I don't think I'm that good at making sure my ebook checks all the accessibility boxes. For example, I'm not that interested in keeping up with the latest tricks about how to make a multi-column page useable with a reading app. And it would be
great to have one place to search, to find content I could use, post content I've made, and just to know who else is doing stuff in my field!

I think it's good the system is starting to think about how to facilitate all this. A few years ago, when I co-wrote a
Modern World History OER with a professor from southern Minnesota, I began asking some questions about how the system might do a bit more (gentle) coordination. Maybe it was too soon then. But now we have eleven campuses offering Z-Degree AAs and we're starting to talk about universities doing zero-textbook-cost bachelors degrees. Seems like the time has come. But I think it will need to be a meeting-of-minds and a combination of campus-led and system-led work. So, in addition to instructional designers, we'll need some faculty like me who have done it and can sell it to our peers. That's going to be my pitch.

Link to YouTube: