The University of Washington is a large state university with a student population of more than 46,000 as of the fall semester of 2017. The following case study can be seen as representative of a large state-funded institution in the very first stages of an OER program’s development.
The University of Washington’s (UW) OER publishing program is still in a nascent stage as of September 2018. The program was conceived of in 2015; an OER steering committee was formed on the UW campus, which conducted an environmental scan to collect information on what other universities were doing. Open Educational Librarian Lauren Ray has been spearheading the open education initiative at the University of Washington. A large focus of their program has to this point been advocacy and outreach. The University of Washington OER program has worked with the Open Textbook Network to raise awareness of open education amongst UW faculty. As the publishing program is just now starting out, many of the relationships with other departments and individuals on campus have yet to be cemented. The university press recently came under the purview of the library, which may offer opportunities for a symbiotic relationship in the future once the UW OER publishing program has become more established.
The library is funded through the state of Washington, as is the majority of the University of Washington; though there is a fee-based wing of the university, they’re not likely to take on an OER production program. The program’s first foray into publishing involved the library creating and funding a one-time grant program. The grants were awarded to four faculty members at the University of Washington. Each faculty member is to create an open educational resource, and has the opportunity to use Pressbooks in order to do so. As of September 2018, these projects are still in preliminary stages.
The UW OER program’s role has so far been to meet with faculty authors and learn their goals and needs. Ray has also been in contact with various people who may be able to offer support for the projects. However, much of the workflow is in development, and these four grant recipients are in many ways the pilot or experimental stage for the OER program. As Ray states, “We don’t have a defined, you know, ‘here, our service model is helping you with your workflow, or ‘our service model is being your project manager.’ Because we’re a big university – this is half of my role. We haven’t yet gotten to that point.”
Ray attributes the decision to host the university’s OER program in the library to the open education movement’s alignment with the library’s mission and core values. Ray states that, “Being the campus unit that addresses that access to information, equity is part of our mission and our strategic direction.” In addition, the library works closely with the Learning Services unit of UW’s Information Technology department, and has built that relationship with them as learning management systems have changed and instructors have begun to integrate technology into the classroom.
The relationship that the library has with other departments on campus is an advantage of their current structure, and helps to establish their credibility to faculty on campus as well. “I am in the process of building on a mailing list we have of faculty on campus who have expressed at some point an interest in open educational resources and open textbooks, and reaching out to them to find out how they want to be involved,” says Ray. However, advocacy is a large part of the charge than Ray hopes to lead: “Looking at ways that we can advocate for OER adoption is a big charge of my work and of our campus OER steering committee, which includes various units on campus.” Before Ray came into her position, other OER advocates on campus were attending faculty senate meetings and working with student organizations to increase buy-in across public forums on the UW campus. These individuals also took part in events like Open Access week, and the library’s scholarly communications outreach team played a part in the public efforts. Over the coming year, Ray hopes to work with the subject librarians for each individual department in order to raise awareness of OER.
The Role of Pressbooks at the University of Washington
The University of Washington acquired a Pressbooks network in 2018. They intend for the four recipients of UW’s one-time grant program to use Pressbooks to create their open educational resources. The University of Washington currently has two network managers for their Pressbooks network, and is looking into bringing on a third from outside of the library. Pressbooks is the main tool that UW will be using to promote and centralize their OER production. Pressbooks aids in addressing the University of Washington’s barriers to success by centralizing the institution’s open textbook efforts. According to Ray:
I think it’ll maybe help with kind of centering people who were already willing and interested in authoring OER around something that they can work with. Before Pressbooks, every faculty member who wanted to author an open educational resources had to work with their department or work on their own, or work with university IT to do that. I think it’ll hopefully make it easier for those who like Pressbooks and want to use it.
However, the two-year subscription model does produce some wariness from faculty, who are dubious about publishing content on a platform that two years from now the school may no longer support. If subscription to Pressbooks lapsed, the authors or book administrators would be required to migrate their books off of the network in order to maintain them, and faculty view this as a potential problem with the longevity of their Pressbooks-hosted texts.
Barriers to Success
The main barriers to success for the University of Washington OER program are time and money. As per prior explanation, the only production efforts on the campus at this time are being funded by a one-time grant offered by the institution’s library. Ray is hopeful that successful adoption and use of these resources within the institution will help make the case for more funding in the future, though it’s not yet certain where that funding will come from as the program works on scaling up to meet the needs of a large university. Though the state of Washington has offered funding for OER efforts, and there is a good attitude within the state toward open education in general, it’s yet unknown how that funding will affect UW. Size can also be a challenge for the university: “We’ve got many departments and many faculty, and the [faculty-to-librarian] ratio is pretty big, so there’s only so much that we can do,” says Ray. It won’t be possible on a campus as large as the University of Washington for the program to reach out individually to each faculty member or even department. To address this barrier, the library has worked on collecting data on the needs of the campus, and plans to use this data to address the most frequent and significant issues. The program also plans to do as much advocacy work as they can with faculty who have expressed interest in OER already.
One particular challenge the University of Washington library faces is how to staff a full OER program. According to Ray, “We’re a really big university, and I think in terms of what support looks like, what building a program of support looks like, all of the [OER-related] units that I was talking about […] there’s never enough staff there to do everything that needs to be done.” As the University of Washington OER program looks forward, Ray hopes to build a program that can grow to meet the needs of a campus with as many students and departments as her university has.
- “Fast Facts: 2018,” University of Washington Office of Planning & Budgeting, accessed Nov 14, 2018, http://opb.washington.edu/sites/default/files/opb/Data/2018_Fast_Facts.pdf ↵
- Ray, Lauren. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 12, 2018. ↵
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