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Threading the Needle of Interwoven Programming

Ideas for those leading OER and affordable course material programs to foster better communication about the affordable course material options available.

Published onOct 17, 2022
Threading the Needle of Interwoven Programming

Advocating for nuanced conversations about open and affordable course materials can be difficult. However, such conversations can be incredibly valuable for advancing sustainable change that respects instructor choice.

Supporting both OER and general course material affordability

In some cases, a single individual may be tasked with supporting broader course material affordability programming across an institution. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some ideas to help you advocate effectively for different programs under your purview:

  • Put together a one-page handout or fact sheet: Having a simple breakdown of different affordable course material options can ease the way for more in-depth conversations, and serve as an easy resource when discussing your work with instructors and administrators (e.g. Affordable Course Content Initiatives at Iowa State University [PDF]).

  • Bring other campus stakeholders to the table: Even when you’re “in charge,” you may not have enough reach to share information about the programs you support. Building connections with other campus offices and developing lines of communication early can help you align your messaging with theirs and spread the word about your work! 

  • Collect appropriate data on the impact of various initiatives: Different programs might benefit from different types of data collection (e.g. enrollment numbers, course completion, student/instructor satisfaction). Collecting a variety of data on the programs you support and highlighting the uniquely exciting benefits of each type of affordable course material can help you make distinctions between these initiatives while still growing interest in each of them.

Getting to the table as an OER advocate

In other cases, you may be supporting an OER initiative that is not part of your institution’s wider affordability programming. This may be because other affordability programs are more established or because you have just started supporting OER as part of your job. In either case, there are some things you can do to support well-balanced communication about OER and its relation to affordability. 

  • Reach out to the existing affordability program leads: You might not get invited on as a committee member, but you can ask to present to the existing affordability leads on campus about your work and potential partnerships you could explore as your work develops.

  • Provide information for students and instructors interested in OER: If there is an existing affordability group on your campus, they are likely the go-to group for instructors looking to improve the affordability of their course materials. Providing them with information and specific language about OER can help avoid miscommunication and build interest in your work by leveraging their existing contacts.

  • Share data on currently adopted or available OER: Whether they are already exploring OER or haven’t considered it, an overarching textbook affordability team should be interested to learn more about the breadth of OER adoptions already happening at your institution. You can often find this sort of information by reaching out to instructors directly or searching for adoptions of popular OER (e.g. OpenStax textbooks) in your institution’s course schedule.

It can be difficult to get embedded in programs where there are multiple leads at the table, but this situation can have unique benefits. When there are multiple units working to support different affordable course material initiatives, it becomes easier to draw lines between them. Having different people leading these programs also reminds the institution that individual OER advocates cannot do everything by themselves!

Why do we need clear lines?

Think of the clarity we are describing like a trifle. This complicated dessert uses layers of fruit, cream, and other foods to create a complex but exciting centerpiece.

Image of a layered trifle to illustrate clear lines.

When the lines between the items in a trifle get mixed together, it still tastes okay, but it isn’t as attractive or eye-catching to newcomers. When the lines are distinct and clear, though, that is when a trifle truly shines. 

The same goes for mixed OER and affordable course material programming: when we have clear lines of communication, aligned goals, and an understanding of where OER work overlaps with other affordable course material initiatives, it is easier to onboard new partners and build meaningful partnerships that can last.

The header photo for this Pub is "Sacred Valley NGOs 052 - Awamaki weaving tour" by mckaysavage, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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