Last month, SPARC was thrilled to announce the graduation of the 2021-2022 cohort of the Open Education Leadership Program, a year-long fellowship designed to help leaders deepen their knowledge of open practices and build a network of professional colleagues with shared interests. This year’s graduating class also represents some important milestones for the program itself: it marks the program’s five year anniversary and it brings our total graduate count above 100.
To celebrate these milestones, we wanted to highlight stories from this year’s graduating class.This year’s cohort was incredibly unique in the varied perspectives and expertise that each fellow brought to the program, and you can learn about all of this year’s capstones on the 2021-2022 cohort page.
Aligning Equity and OER
Most students at East Los Angeles College are the first in their families to attend college. They rely on aid to cover the cost of tuition, but often are not expecting to have to pay for the high cost of textbooks.
“I can’t tell you how many crushed students I encounter at the library who just didn’t realize it was a norm in college to purchase their own books,” says Cynthia Orozco, librarian for equitable services and associate professor at the community college in Long Beach, California. “It’s just devastating. A lot of our students just can’t afford these books.”
Orozco says she has long been committed to OER to help with the affordability issue many students like hers face. In 2017, the college received some state money for OER development, but it didn’t gain much traction with faculty. The pandemic highlighted the need for access to digital materials and Orozco says the time was right for her to think through how to make open education become a reality on her campus—and the leadership program gave her that chance.
“I could look through the SPARC materials online because they are openly licensed, but I wanted to work through them intentionally with other like-minded professionals and hear about different perspectives,” Orozco says.
The stakeholder assignment was particularly useful, she says, because it pushed her to interview people across campus about OER, including the naysayers. In response, Orozco tailored her capstone project to reflect issues she heard raised about the quality and cultural relevance of open textbooks. She provides tools for business courses, for example, to incorporate local brands or grocery stores (such as El Super) into case studies. The Pressbook is available online: “More Than Free: Creating, Revising, & Remixing OER to Support Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy at East Los Angeles College.”
“The fellowship gave me the space to really grow,” she says. “I’m excited to be able to help future fellows with their open work.”
Finding new strategies for outreach
As Yang Wu works to advance OER on his Clemson University campus and more broadly in South Carolina, he says the SPARC leadership program has taught him how to best tailor his message. “It’s important to connect OER with issues of equity and inclusion,” Yang says. “And to attract faculty interest, connecting to issues of tenure and promotion is very useful.”
Yang has been the open resources librarian at Clemson for four years and serves as chair for the South Carolina Affordable Learning Committee. Working to enhance his statewide outreach efforts, Yang said he learned from advocates in other states he met through the program. Understanding what has worked with different institutional structures gave him ideas for strategies to consider using in South Carolina.
“OER are becoming accepted in the state, but the process is fairly slow and there’s not a lot of statewide funding support,” Yang says. “We’re hoping to change that with something that can really provide benefits to people across the state and also raise awareness of the importance and value of OER.”
Tapping into a broader network
Zach Claybaugh, student success librarian at University of Connecticut, says being a “one-person OER show” on campus can be a challenge. Being part of the 2021-22 cohort enabled him to make meaningful professional contacts he plans to leverage in his job.
“The expectation is that we know all the ins and outs of the open education ecosystem. It’s a lot,” says Claybaugh who came to UConn last fall from a small private college. “Now, it’s really great knowing a wide variety of people who have areas of expertise if I need assistance. It’s really a powerful thing to have that larger, nationwide network.”
On his campus, Claybaugh advocates for OER working with faculty, administrators, and students. He said his mentor, Brian McGeary (a graduate of the 2020-2021 #LeadOER cohort and based at Penn State), helped him think strategically about his outreach efforts. Both campuses are confronting inclusive access (automatic textbook billing) programs and the two were able to discuss approaches to educate all parties about the implications.
For his capstone project, Claybaugh gathered the latest research about the positive impact of OER—from cost savings to academic success and improving graduation rates. He created a self-paced learning module to share on campus: “Want to Join the Open Education Movement: A Road Trip.”
Leveraging best practices
It was attending the Open Education Conference last October that first inspired Isaac Mulolani during his year as a SPARC fellow. He says he left with several ideas from the speakers that he wanted to try out at the University of Regina in Canada where he works as the open education and publishing manager at the Center for Teaching.
“I’m a firm believer in benchmarking—building on the success of others and leveraging, adapting and bringing the ideas into my own context,” says Mulolani. This spring, he started an OER Community of Practice and open pedagogy fellowship, both based on Open Education Conference sessions he attended. He is also incorporating what he learned about equity, diversity and inclusion at the conference into the development of OER on his campus.
In addition to helping faculty create open books, Mulolani has assisted with the development of open videos for certain courses such as those in the performing arts. Mulolani’s capstone project focused on developing a Pressbook describing commercial and free technologies available for creating OER.
He says the fellowship provided him with an opportunity to better understand his leadership style. “It’s important to know what I’m good at and also know the strengths of the people I am working with,” Mulolani says. “As a leader, I want to make sure the people are positioned so they can excel.”
Next fall, Mulolani says he hopes to work more closely with students to encourage more OER advocacy on his campus and collaborate with local governments across the region.
As a digital access and public services librarian at Columbia Gorge Community College in Oregon, Tori Stanek says she was eager to be a part of the SPARC leadership program. She wears many hats, promoting OER, working with a textbook affordability group on campus, and serving on a statewide OER committee. Yet, Stanek says she had little formal training on OER in graduate school.
“I thought if I was going to get serious about OER, it would be a good opportunity,” Stanek says of the training. Stanek developed OER learning materials for the community college’s “Guided Pathways,” new first-year experience course. It included student generated tutorials and suggestions for implementing open pedagogy into the course.
“I wanted to find a way to let new students know about OER – to eliminate what can be a barrier,” Stanek says. “The last thing I want is for students to be blindsided by textbook costs.”
The leadership component of the SPARC program also helped Stanek figure out how to advocate on campus and find resources to be successful, she adds.
The SPARC Open Education Leadership Program is an intensive professional development program designed 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.