SPARC Open Education Leadership Program: Building Advocacy and Community in Unprecedented Times
As the SPARC Open Education Leadership Program wraps up its third year, alumni and soon-to-be graduates are doing their part to make Open the default in education—from small colleges to large universities.
Even as they face new challenges brought on by COVID-19, the 27 fellows in this year’s cohort are busy tracking data on the impact of open educational resources, designing open education trainings, and tapping the expertise of the SPARC network to expand the use of open materials by students and faculty.
SPARC designed the 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 in 2018 and another 23 in the second cohort last year. The third cohort will bring the graduate total to 64 when they complete their capstone projects in May.
Each year, the curriculum has evolved with feedback from participants, says Tanya Spilovoy, Ed.D., who leads instruction for the program and is director of open policy for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
“The advantage of teaching with an open pedagogy philosophy is the ability to be responsive to the needs of students. We are all learning from each other,” says Spilovoy.
This year, the curriculum is delving deeper into leadership from different angles and experiences. Past fellows have been invited to lead this year’s weekly discussions to give new perspectives. Also, there is a greater emphasis on the process of advocating for change and being an adaptable leader—letting go of what cannot be controlled, and focusing on what can be done now.
Fellows are applying these lessons as they adapt to unprecedented times.
“We never could have foreseen the COVID-19 crisis, but the program has prepared fellows to be flexible and mindful of thinking outside the box,” Spilovoy says. “We have focused on adjusting project goals and prioritizing self care, drawing inspiration from Angela DeBarger’s OpenEd keynote. Despite the many challenges, it is heartening to see the fellows applying new knowledge and leadership skills to the current situation.”
Boosting knowledge and confidence
Becoming a fellow in this year’s cohort was perfect timing for Christine Faraday, Open Educational Resources Coordinator at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York. After 10 years as a reference and instructor librarian, she was promoted and now the campus looks to her as an authority on OER.
“You are all of a sudden in a position to be a leader. It’s daunting,” says Faraday, who says the program has given her a solid background in OER and guidance on how to set realistic goals. “I learned that it’s not about being perfect, it’s about knowing the resources and people to ask.”
For her mentor, Faraday was paired with Kevin Corcoran, Executive Director of the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, who was particularly helpful when she was preparing a presentation on OER to the academic senate on campus in February. With his feedback, she says she fine-tuned her message and better anticipated what questions might be raised.
“I thought more about what I wanted the faculty to walk away thinking and added concrete next steps,” says Faraday. “I went in feeling confident because of his help and the response was fantastic.”
Faraday has recently taken on a national leadership role as a member of the steering committee for the annual Open Education Conference, which the whole cohort attended together last fall.
As Helen McManus works on their capstone project this spring showing the reach of OER and its impact on student learning, they have turned to a fellow from last year (Corey Wetherington) as a model for how to create a data dashboard. The publicly available instructions were useful as McManus hopes to share their results and demonstrate the advantages of OER.
The experience of being a fellow positioned McManus to transition from working with Northern Virginia Community College to a new position they recently took at George Mason University as Head of Collection Strategy.
“Going through the program, we grew as leaders and people able to navigate advocacy and its challenges,” says McManus.
Leveraging experience and resources
At Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Alabama, Web Services Librarian Michael Porter is designing OER training that is accessible on any device and integrates with any Course Management System (CMS). The learning modules include not only how to locate, access and publish OER, but highlights OER research as well as audio and video interviews from leaders in the field.
“It’s a series of self-paced, interactive, mobile friendly learning modules. The goal is to create a responsive, anytime learning experiences that can be used to promote foundational training for OER,” says Porter, one of this year’s fellows. “It provides flexible learning content that can be updated on demand to ensure that the learning remains relevant.”
He says the practical tools and resources he gained as a SPARC fellow were essential in developing his capstone project.
“A major benefit of the program is access to practitioners and their advice,” says Porter. “The ability to share ideas and get feedback on your project—it’s very helpful having that level of camaraderie and community.”
Listening to past and present fellows, Jennifer Beamer, Scholarly Communications Coordinator at Claremont College in California, says she’s learned the importance of collaborating as a team on campus.
“As much as I love open, I can’t do this by myself. To make it sustainable in the long-term, it takes a coaching model where you bring others in to help,” says Beamer, who is creating a handbook for subject librarians to spread out the responsibility for presenting on OER.
Beamer has also successfully tapped into students on her campus, hosting a series of events during Open Education Week in early March. Her campus’s #TextbookBroke campaign dispelled the myth that students who attend her private consortium of colleges were not hurt by the high cost of textbooks. At an outdoor event on campus, library volunteers collected stories from nearly 600 students about their struggle to afford books.
“Now we have this swell of interest and we have to keep the momentum going,” says Beamer.
Networking and broadening perspectives
For Elaine Thornton, the contacts that she developed in the open community have served her well since she participated in the program’s pilot year. She is Open Education and Distance Learning Librarian at University of Arkansas and has reached out to colleagues across the country when developing programs. For instance, as Thornton tried to increase student involvement in OER she contacted another graduate who was farther along in forming alliances with student government leaders, who shared surveys and strategies to use on campus.
“The resources created by members of the cohort have been very valuable. Why re-invent the wheel? I love that there is a lot of sharing,” says Thornton, who in turn has given others templates she developed to use interviewing faculty about OER. “There is no one way to do this. Every environment is different. But it is always good to have a wide lens on things other people are doing.”
Thornton has served as a mentor in the second year of the leadership program paired with Martha Yancey from West Virginia University. While Thornton says she listened and offered direction to her mentee, it was a two-way learning experience. As a result of hearing about Yancey’s idea to host a showcase of OER applicants, Thornton said she replicated the activity during Open Education Week this spring on her own campus.
As mentors work with fellows, it’s important to be flexible if things don’t turn out as expected, says Ariana Santiago, Open Educational Resources Coordinator at M.D. Anderson Library at the University of Houston, who completed the SPARC program in 2019. She learned her role this year as a mentor was about listening and being supportive through her mentee’s project. Rather than being discouraged when conditions change, Santiago’s advice is to adjust course and modify goals.
“You get exposed to so many different perspectives and you learn from hearing about what’s going on at other institutions,” says Santiago. “Finding out what the challenges and opportunities are in different environments really broadens your perspective on OER—both as a fellow and a mentor.”
The learning and impact continues
Fellows from last year’s cohort have also stayed connected through collaborative projects. Santiago teamed up with others in her cohort to do conference presentations and coauthor an article for an academic journal. She was also selected to be a curriculum designer for an ACRL Roadshow, conducting workshops on OER and affordability.
Thornton is pursuing her doctorate in education and has leveraged her experience to become an instructor in the Open Textbook Network’s Certificate in OER Librarianship Program.
For Stephanie Quail, Teaching and Learning Librarian at York University in Canada, participating in the inaugural year of the leadership program provided her with the expertise needed to engage OER stakeholders at a higher level. For her capstone project, she delivered OER presentations to 10 library departments at York to expand library staff’s knowledge of open education. This outreach helped increase the profile of open education at York U Libraries and OER was included in job and departmental descriptions when the library recently restructured.
“We are really primed for institutional level action for OER. All the pieces are falling into place and with support from administration I think we are going to make significant inroads,” Quail says. “SPARC positioned me to be a leader in that space.”
Leveraging her experience as a SPARC fellow, Quail was accepted in a competitive application process to serve on the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) Open Education Working Group. In 2019, she also served as a consultant on an eCampusOntario project that conducted a scan of business OER. The fellowship enabled Quail to network and do projects on a larger scale, she says.
“The program was a great place to start and grow as an advocate,” says Quail. “You can learn the types of skills you need to carry out institution-wide initiatives. SPARC helps you to take it up to the next level.”
Expanding into the future
SPARC is already thinking ahead to how the program can adapt to meet the evolving needs of campus communities, especially as they navigate new challenges presented by COVID-19.
One big change planned for 2020-21 is to broaden eligibility beyond library professionals, so that others working to advance open education on campus can participate.
“We consistently hear that the collaborations and new perspectives forged within a cohort is the most valuable part of the program. We’re leaning into that,” says Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC.
While the program will continue to support library professionals from SPARC’s membership community, opening it up to instructional designers, project coordinators, and other roles will enrich the experience for everyone, says Allen.
Both Spilovoy and Allen note that one of the program’s strengths is that it was built to operate fully online. While the next cohort will need to navigate many changes in their own environments, the program offers a tried-and-true model for providing support.
“These days we all understand the importance of relationships when we cannot be in the same physical space,” says Allen. “We are so proud of how each cohort has reached across borders and time zones to support each other’s growth. That kind of care and community is more vital now than ever.”
For more information about the 2020-21 application process, tuition rates, and eligibility for the SPARC Open Education Leadership Program, click here.