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Friday, April 23, 2021 News

Open Education Leadership Program Expands Horizons in Fourth Year

Open Education

In a year like no other, SPARC ran its 2020-21 Open Education Leadership Program completely online with a vibrant group of fellows from a variety of backgrounds, professional roles, and stages in their careers.

For its fourth cohort, SPARC expanded the program beyond librarians to include open education specialists in other related professions such as policy analysts, instructional designers and more. The class of 20 fellows made for rich conversations about what it takes to engage stakeholders and develop successful open education programs that serve all students, while working to more intentionally center issues of equity and inclusion.

SPARC launched the program in 2017 to help growing leaders deepen their knowledge of open practices. As the program’s first entirely virtual cohort, this year’s fellows successfully built community through weekly discussions, collaborative assignments and mentorships. In November, they also attended the 2020 Open Education Conference, which was held online for the first time in its 17-year history.

Through its first three cohorts, the Open Education Leadership Program has graduated 64 fellows, many of whom have remained engaged in the program as discussion leaders and mentors. That number will soon increase to 84 when the class of 2021 completes their capstone work in May.

Seeking community

Shannon Smith, scholarly communication librarian at Utah State University, says she was drawn to the support of the program’s learning community, especially during the pandemic. Working with open education since 2017, the timing was right for Smith as she looked for new ways to engage students as key players to promote OER.

“This year more than ever, I appreciated the opportunity to work in a small cohort and have  regular calls with each other to see what other institutions were doing,” Smith says. “Having that space for both sharing and building each other up was valuable to me. There was a feeling that we were all in this together.”

Smith says she enjoyed the wide range of resources on topics and the space to consider various perspectives. “The curriculum was not designed to give us answers. It was designed to get us thinking about the nuance around these topics,” she says.

As a recent graduate of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Tiffany MacLennan was a strong advocate for OER adoption in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. She says it was a challenge to find other people working on OER projects and the SPARC program provided those connections. Working as a research fellow and strategist for the Maple League of Universities, MacLennan, says the fellowship experience helped her figure out how to bridge her student work with OER in a broader context.

“I had worked in the student realm and the program allowed me to build a larger community and learn from others who were talking about OER in a different light,” says MacLennan. “With my SPARC experience, I was able to establish an OER Community of Practice at Maple League to act as a working group and foster discussion on what we can do together.”

Alongside Community of Practice, MacLennan hosted two webinars to educate faculty in her consortium about OER and created a funding proposal for four student OER fellows to carry on the work. In the fall, she will begin her graduate studies in public policy and administration.

Centering equity

Liliana Diaz brought a new professional perspective to this year’s cohort as a policy analyst at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). The opportunity was well timed because her 16-state regional compact was ramping up its OER work.

“I knew nothing about OER or open going into the program,” says Diaz. “It was a way for me to get up to speed with structure and learn from experts in the field—at a national and state level—and to learn from my classmates on the ground doing the work.”

For her fellowship capstone project, Diaz is developing a policy framework tool to center equity in the OER policy making environment. She says diversity, equity and inclusion is important to her as a Latina and first-generation college student herself, and it was meaningful to bond with others who shared the same passion. Diaz hopes her model will help those advocating for OER to partner with a variety of organizations to develop materials that can effectively inform policymakers.

“With COVID, it’s clear we need to think more about distance education and online learning,” Diaz says. “Textbook affordability is one way to make higher education more affordable, and OER is well positioned to tackle that.”

Ursula Pike is interviewing women of color in OER about their experiences for her capstone project. As associate director at the Digital Higher Education Consortium of Texas (DigiTex), Pike helps instructional designers from colleges and universities improve online courses. She is also a member of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee for the Community College Consortium for OER. In the SPARC program, Pike says she valued being able to critique the open movement’s treatment of marginalized voices in higher education and discuss ways to promote more diversity.

“I was able to talk to other OER advocates and see that many are struggling with the same issues,” Pike says. “It was really helpful to see how others handled challenges and share resources.”

Pike says she was also inspired by her mentor, Regina Gong, OER and student success librarian at Michigan State University, to be bold.

“It’s empowered me. I feel more confident in talking about open education,” Pike says. “I have a baseline of knowledge of what copyright and open licensing are and how to do an OER program that will make me more comfortable making presentations to others.”

Brad Ost was looking for new ways to get faculty interested in OER at his Atlanta University Center library when he joined the SPARC leadership program. Although he had worked with a scholarly communication and OER working group on campus for years, he says the fellowship expanded his view of open—especially as it relates to technology and cultural sensitivity to indigenous knowledge.

Ost’s library serves a consortium of historically black colleges and universities (Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College) and the Interdenominational Theological Center. For his capstone project, Ost helped produce an open access textbook on traditional African religions for a graduate level seminary course at ITC.

 Learning to be a collaborative leader

Angela Chikowero has worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library for close to a decade and has supervised others as head of course reserves and circulation. In her new role as research and engagement librarian, she says she needed to develop different leadership skills to work across campus with stakeholders to assess the feasibility of a new OER program.

“This fellowship helped me with the knowledge and communication strategies that I need to build the services from the ground up,” Chikowero says. “It also gave me ideas on how to form allies with students and various departments.”

Beyond the content of the leadership program, Chikowero says she enjoyed interacting with the other fellows and she formed lasting friendships that she would not have been able to make otherwise.

For her capstone project, Chikowero did an OER environmental scan of her institution, conducting two surveys—one for faculty and another one for students attending UCSB as part of the Promise Scholars Program. The results allowed her to find out if faculty would consider OER as an option for their students’ resources and plan next steps to broaden acceptance of the materials. While many faculty members were not aware of OER, she was encouraged that most were open to learning more and she is planning workshops to educate the campus on open course material alternatives.

Seizing the moment

David Tully had been working on OER and student success as a library fellow at North Carolina State University for a year before joining the latest leadership class. He says the SPARC experience helped him develop new strategies to engage with faculty members interested in making open interventions within their courses.

The November Open Education Conference was a highlight of the year for Tully, who says he was able to meet well-known figures in the library world—albeit virtually—and get new ideas for how to promote OER. He also valued debriefing with other fellows each day and hearing how others planned to apply what they learned.

Using the knowledge he accumulated this year, Tully designed a 13-part workshop series for faculty on OER. The sessions covered how to evaluate the quality of OER, course markings, student success metrics and open education pedagogy. Tully invited former fellows as guest speakers and the feedback so far has been positive. At NC State, Tully says there is new momentum behind OER with more than 2,000 students benefiting this spring semester along with $200,000 in textbook savings.

“I would recommend the leadership program and advise people to make the most of it,” Tully says. “There are lots of opportunities to make connections. Building those relationships strengthens everyone’s work going forward.”


The SPARC Open Education Leadership Program is an intensive professional development program to empower academic professionals with the knowledge, skills, and connections to lead successful open education initiatives that benefit students. The two-semester program blends online, peer-to-peer, and project-based learning to build a comprehensive understanding of the open education field coupled with practical know-how to take action on campus and beyond. The program is designed and led by Tanya Spilovoy, Ed.D. and Nicole Allen.

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