6. University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) is a large university of nearly 42,000 students.[1] Their OER production program has already successfully produced a number of open resources. The following case study can be seen as representative of a more established OER program in a state with relatively healthy institutional support for the open education movement.

Structure

The OER program at University of Texas at Arlington was a result of a top-down decision to increase the scope of scholarship from UTA staff and students. The UTA scholarly communication department is far larger than normal for a university library, with near one-third of the library personnel working under that umbrella. The OER publishing program is a smaller subsect of the scholarly communications department, led by Director of Publishing Jody Bailey. Open Education Librarian Michelle Reed is in charge of UTA’s OER publishing efforts, and facilitates production with faculty authors on campus.

Funding

The program is focused on both adaptation and creation. In the beginning of the program, interested authors were more excited about the prospect of creation. According to Reed, “We couldn’t really get as much traction as we wanted to with [adaptation], particularly related to our grant program. We decided to really needed to focus on understanding what kind of infrastructure our faculty needed to support their creation – their desire to create.”[2] UTA formed a grant program, funded by the library, called UTA CARES: University of Texas at Arlington Coalition for Affordable Resources in Education for Students. This grant program offers funding to authors who write or adapt a text for the classroom that is less costly than existing options. The program has developed to offer larger awards for faculty authors who choose to create new OER content. The library currently funds 100% of OER efforts through this program.

Administration

Reed’s role primarily involves educating faculty who are interested in creating OER about facets of open textbooks including intellectual property rights, accessibility measures, and software. For example, onboarding training for a faculty member may involve being run through what types of different Creative Commons licenses exist, or how to use Pressbooks. The library itself serves more as a facilitator than as a publisher. However, as Reed states, open education was a natural fit with what libraries have always done. Their interdisciplinary nature within the context of a college or university helps facilitate a growing program as well.”[3]

Community Relations

The OER program has established credibility by forming relationships with supportive UTA faculty. Reed mentions that one focus of the program is finding and connecting with early adopters on the UTA campus by identifying common motivators for engagement:[4]

Sometimes that’s a message of empowerment of faculty. We have some faculty members who’ve really responded to that and want to take control of their course materials back – so this is really exciting work for them to do. In some cases it’s the student success and affordability component.

In either case, the program works to support those people and their projects to the best of their abilities. This method has resulted in strong examples that can be used to showcase the program’s successes to the rest of the community. It also helps to establish a high level of credibility and give a sense of what the program’s intentions and goals are in the long run.  The program forms long-term relationships with faculty authors through the evolution of an OER project. UTA encourages that process, and enables creators to change and improve texts over time. “We see the creation of OER as being iterative by nature,” says Reed. “We’re not trying to create something perfect off the start. We’re trying to do our best, and then continue to invest our time and our energy to make it better every year, or as necessary for the content.”

Reed attributes some of the success of the program to support from the government of Texas. “We have had some successes that I don’t know that we would have seen if we were in a state that hadn’t taken a step toward OER at a state legislative level.”[5] In 2017, the government of Texas passed a bill for OER that required institutions to distinguish courses that used open educational resources in all academic schedules. Information about which courses were “OER courses” had to be made publicly available. The same bill also established a grant program for OER and called for a feasibility study into the concept of an institutional repository. Reed claims there’s been a high level of interest in open educational resources within the UT system as well.

The Role of Pressbooks at the University of Texas – Arlington

Access to Pressbooks has allowed UTA to standardize their OER program. Prior to the acquisition of their Pressbooks-hosted network, the program was facilitating use of the Pressbooks “Sandbox” network through the Open Textbook Network. The Open Textbook Network (OTN) is an organization that “promotes access, affordability, and student success through the use of open textbooks”;[6] Pressbooks has a partnership with OTN that entitles OTN members, like UTA, to test out Pressbooks on the “Sandbox” network, and also receive a discount on the annual cost of a Pressbooks network.  Other OER efforts on the UTA campus were disparate – some faculty worked on Google, or Word, or even YouTube. Pressbooks has created a structured, central location for OER production. Reed states that “It’s really allowed us to standardize our program in a very helpful way. It’s kind of chaos when everyone’s just off on their own doing whatever they want to do. It’s impossible to support that kind of program in my opinion. Difficult, I should say – not impossible.”[7] Reed has also found that faculty may find the Pressbooks interface challenging when they first encounter it. To combat this, UTA’s OER program offers onboarding training for faculty who intend to write OER on the platform. This is a required training for recipients of the library’s grants.

Barriers to Success

One of the biggest barriers to success UTA faces for the sustainability of their program is time. According to Reed:[8]

That’s usually what I’m asked about. If I’m talking to someone about OER, whether it’s [adaptation] or creation, the first thing I hear about is time. And so, my response to that is ‘Obviously, I can’t help you with time. I don’t have that capability – but I have money.’ And money – usually that’s good enough to end the conversation. But not always.

One solution that Reed has considered to address this problem are course releases. However, as the program is run through the library, they don’t have the jurisdiction to offer course releases to interested authors. Faculty can in theory use their grant funding to acquire a course release, but currently there is no standardized approach, as administrators at the institution have to sign off on any course release decisions independent of the OER program. Reed has in the meantime advocated for a more streamlined approach to course releases.

Aside from considerations for faculty time, the program’s success is also dependent on the time of its employees. Learning new infrastructure can be challenging and time consuming, and technology tends to be in constant development. Another pressing issue is the question of how to sustain the program as it scales up. “We have five grantees this year, so it’s next year we bump to ten,” Reed says.[9] With a program fully funded through the library, it’s necessary to keep their mind on the future. Other concerns involve advocacy; it’s never possible to connect with everyone, though UTA tries their best to reach as many as possible.


  1. "Fast Facts," The University of Texas at Arlington, , accessed November 28, 2018, https://www.uta.edu/uta/about/fastfacts/.
  2. Reed, Michelle. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 26, 2018.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. "Home," Open Textbook Network, accessed November 30, 2018, https://research.cehd.umn.edu/otn/.
  7. Reed, Michelle. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 26, 2018.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.

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LIBRARY is the new PUBLISHER by Taylor McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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