Two years ago, SPARC embarked on a first-of-its-kind initiative to empower strong, effective library leaders for open education. Since then, our Open Education Leadership Program has become a cornerstone of SPARC’s open education program and has added a new dimension to our work as a catalyst for action. As we gear up for a third year, we thought Open Education Week would be a good time to reflect back on how the program has had an impact. We asked writer Caralee Adams to conduct a series of interviews with the SPARC community to create a profile.
SPARC Open Education Leadership Program: Empowering Catalysts for Change
With her newly minted master’s degree in library science in hand, Abbey Elder took a job as the Open Access & Scholarly Communication Librarian at Iowa State University in 2017. She was enthusiastic about the potential for Open on her campus and had an ambitious list of potential projects.
It was as a fellow in the inaugural cohort of SPARC’s Open Education Leadership Program that Elder says she found direction and support.
“In the first half of the year, we were taught the basics. Then, I got practical experience working with a mentor,” says Elder, who created a series of videos, launched a mini-grants program, and developed a survey to see how faculty members in various disciplines approach OER differently. “For anyone interested in Open, I’m trying to make it an easy change.”
SPARC’s Nicole Allen and Tanya Spilovoy designed the new leadership program to help library professionals deepen their knowledge of open practices and improve their effectiveness as advocates. The program graduated a first cohort of 14 fellows last spring, and the second cohort of 23 is expected to complete their training in May.
“The role of the individual as a catalyst for change is central to open education’s success,” Allen says. “The movement has grown rapidly. Our leadership program is about empowering people to develop skills and connections to have a broader impact.”
Laying a strong foundation
Structured like an online graduate-level certificate program, the curriculum starts by grounding the fellows in the basics of open education, including search and discovery, open licensing, publishing, open pedagogy, and project planning. The entire cohort also attends the Open Education Conference, the community’s largest annual event. In the second half of the year, the fellows propose their own campus capstone project and work one-on-one with an experienced mentor for guidance and support.
“In the SPARC Open Educational Leadership Program, the participants are acquiring so much knowledge. Most importantly they are benefitting from the expertise of the SPARC staff and are learning from each other,” says Lisa German, Dean of University Libraries and Elizabeth D. Rockwell Chair at the University of Houston Libraries. “This incredible program is creating a cohort that can lead open education far into the future.”
Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University and SPARC Open Education Advisory Group member, said the program is valuable because many people who become open education advocates in libraries do so through a grassroots process.
“They hear about it from someone else or at a conference and their development is somewhat informal,” says Bell, who has served as a mentor for both cohorts. “This was a good time to develop a more formal program and professionalize what it means to have an open education specialty.”
Building connections and community
This year, Bell was paired with Christopher Hollister, who began his job as University of Buffalo’s Interim Head of Scholarly Communication just as the 2018-19 SPARC program started, although he had been with the library for 20 years.
For his capstone project, Hollister is creating an OER Studio to educate, engage and train faculty and instructors in open education content. “The leadership program has taught me how to deal with challenges that come along with new initiatives and how to rely on colleagues in OER community to help me along,” says Hollister, co-founder of the open access journal, Communications in Information Literacy. “There will continue to be bumps in the road, but that will not stop me.”
“Open education advocacy can be lonely work when you are not connected to a community,” says Allen, who began a thirteen-year career in open education advocacy as an undergraduate student. A key component of the program is bringing people who are passionate about open education together to support each other.
“Being a leader is not about knowing all the answers. It’s about knowing where to turn to leverage your strengths,” says Allen.
Developing strategies and resilience
“The curriculum is infused with practical exercises that support fellows becoming change leaders in their own communities,” says Spilovoy, who leads instruction for the program and is director of open policy for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
As the fellows pitch ideas, they are also encouraged to be nimble, change direction, and regroup after setbacks. “We focus on the fellows’ interests and strengths, and provide support for each individual to become a more confident, resilient, tenacious leader,” says Spilovoy.
The fellows go through the training as a group and benefit from the network. “We start together and we finish together,” says Spilovoy. “We are accountable to ourselves and to each other. It’s the community mindset.”
Spilovoy, who did her doctoral work in education change leadership, says she’s been impressed with what the fellows have been able to achieve with initiatives on their campuses, applying the strategies they learned in the program and drawing on the expertise of others to make their visions become reality. “People are pushing beyond the curriculum,” she says. “I hope that they go way beyond where we started.”
Contributing to the broader open agenda
Last year as a pilot fellow, Hope Power, Teaching and Learning Librarian at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada helped establish a new OER working group with representation on campus from the Library, Teaching & Learning Centre, and the Simon Fraser Student Society. The group hosted a half-day community event to highlight OER projects on campus and has another planned for this spring.
“It was successful beyond our expectations,” says Power. “Last year was a good opportunity to engage people and raise awareness. We want to continue to highlight OER work on campus and push the conversation to open pedagogy as well.”
The fellowship opened doors for Power to engage with open initiatives more broadly, including an opportunity to work with The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) to identify OER needs and priorities for action at a national level. Power says she has stayed in touch with the former fellows and has collaborated on conference presentations. This year, she is serving as a mentor to a librarian in the second SPARC cohort.
In year two, applications to the program tripled and Allen says there are plans to continue with a third cohort in response to the demand. The entire curriculum is openly licensed with the hope others will make use of the materials to train more open education leaders.
Ariana E. Santiago, a current fellow and Open Educational Resources Coordinator at the M.D. Anderson Library at the University of Houston, says the program gave her a sense of the bigger open education landscape. Understanding the viewpoints of various stakeholders including students, faculty, administrators and policymakers has helped her tailor communication to different audiences. She also feels supported by her classmates. As questions arise in her research on OER adoption workflows (the subject of her capstone project), the cohort has been quick to respond with help.
“I’ve gained a lot of confidence and knowledge around Open that I think will contribute to my ability to lead and help our campus move forward,” says Santiago. “I want Open to be something that is really built into the university. The fellowship has been a great opportunity and resource. I think it will make a big difference at a lot of institutions.”