7 An Open Athenaeum: Creating an Institutional Home for Open Pedagogy

Rajiv S. Jhangiani & Arthur G. Green


At its core, open pedagogy describes an intervention aimed at improving teaching and learning. Open pedagogues recognize that education is never value-free or politically neutral. For us, education at its finest is liberatory, democratizing, critical, antiracist, and decolonized (hooks, 1994). As such, open pedagogy is a vehement rejection of the incumbent and predominant “banking model” of education, in which knowledge is something to be deposited, stored, and withdrawn at a later date (Freire, 1970). Open pedagogy instead represents a vision for education that replaces classrooms of control with communities of possibility. This is precisely why open pedagogues seek to empower students and educators to interrogate and subvert power structures that systematically limit their agency and restrict their access to high-impact education practices. Open pedagogy—an integral part of the contemporary open education movement (OEM)—is firmly and explicitly grounded in concerns about social justice.

In this chapter, we examine how to build an institutional home for open pedagogy, with particular attention to recommendations for libraries and librarians. While librarians have always been central to disseminating public knowledge, more recently they have engaged diverse ways of becoming community-led agents of social change (Morales, Knowles, & Bourg, 2014) and leading social justice activists (Library Freedom Project, n.d.). We believe that it is no coincidence that librarians are found at every frontier of open education. Indeed, academic librarians’ expertise and their interstitial, consultative relationships make libraries a natural home for open pedagogy.

As we write this chapter (2017), it is an exciting time to be part of a growing and vibrant international community of open education practitioners, one that hails from all segments of academia. Librarians are of course already an essential part of this community. They are enhancing the formal, informal, and professional learning support that they already perform by training their communities in open licensing, providing physical places for workshops on open pedagogy and other open educational practices (OEP), cataloging open educational resources (OER), and engaging in numerous other activities that support open education. The support of librarians is essential as the community debates and experiments with ways to implement more socially just, open approaches to supporting the universal human right to education (United Nations, n.d.). This support is essential given the experimental nature of open pedagogy, as it allows us to leverage collaborations across faculties and institutions as well as learn lessons from previous open pedagogical experiments.

In this chapter we examine the experimental terrain of open pedagogy as an approach and clarify how we are using the term. We then illuminate ways in which open pedagogy in higher education not only involves but often relies on academic librarians and libraries by exploring diverse, real-world examples of open pedagogy projects. Finally, we draw some common themes from the examples and offer an outline of ways in which academic librarians can support OEP in their various institutional contexts.

Open Pedagogy: Past and Present

The ways in which we define open pedagogy undoubtedly impact the ways in which we can support open pedagogy. While open pedagogues tend to engage deeply in constructivist and critical approaches to learning, the lack of a common understanding of the role of OER in open pedagogy has recently become a point of debate. While use of the term open pedagogy can be traced back to learner-centered approaches dating to at least the 1970s (see for example Cronin, 2017; DeRosa & Jhangiani, 2017; Jordan, 2017; Morgan, 2016), contemporary use of the term has most often been linked to the development of OER and OEP. The spectrum of narrow to broad definitions of open pedagogy that have formed the basis for recent debates tend to emphasize either OER or OEP (Green, 2017). Narrower definitions are closely related to the development and use of OER as defined by the 5 Rs (Wiley, n.d.; described fully in Section 1 of this volume) whereas broader definitions tend to link open pedagogy to a spirit of openness that underpins a wide array of educational practices that do not necessarily involve openly licensing (Grush, 2014), such as syllabus co-creation, public scholarship, and service learning.

These terminology debates reflect the experimental nature of open pedagogy and are the result of three factors. First, open pedagogy is a relatively new approach, so understandings of what activities it entails are under healthy and vigorous debate. Second, open pedagogy is a syncretic blend of several critical and constructivist pedagogies, so the ways in which relationships are framed among the subject matter, learners, teachers, learning objects, and their human environment can be profoundly divergent. Third, open pedagogues grapple on a daily basis with emerging practices devised for the unique challenges and possibilities entailed in using OER and integrating the radical transparency of open education practices into courses.

In the case of the open pedagogy debate, the community has to a large extent agreed to disagree. In fact, by early 2017 David Wiley (an influential writer, organizer, and advocate for open education) relabeled his earlier, oft-cited but narrower version of open pedagogy as “OER-enabled pedagogy” in order to move beyond terminology debates and establish a term that could be operationalized to research the use of OER within a constructivist teaching approach. He writes,

OER-enabled pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities …. We learn by the things we do. Copyright restricts what we are permitted to do. Consequently, copyright restricts the ways we are permitted to learn. Open removes these restrictions, permitting us to do new things. Consequently, open permits us to learn in new ways. (Wiley, 2017b, para. 5, 9)

In this chapter, we engage primarily with this latter definition of open pedagogy (or OER-enabled pedagogy), to which the creation, adaptation, and adoption of OER are central.

To the extent that engagement with open pedagogy increases the use and prevalence of OER, this pedagogical approach supports students and institutions. Indeed, a rapidly growing body of research attests to the positive impacts of OER use on student and institutional cost savings (Hilton, Robinson, Wiley, & Ackerman, 2014; Hilton, Gaudet, Clark, Robinson, & Wiley, 2013) as well as on student performance, persistence, and completion (Hilton, Fischer, Wiley, & Williams, 2016). While a focus on OER-enabled pedagogy may seem to overly weigh the importance of OER artifacts in relation to other open practices, we argue that it actually recognizes that open education is fundamentally a community of practice.

The open education community of practice involves diverse stakeholders interested in lowering barriers to education. The community is maintained and built through formal conferences (e.g. the annual Open Education Conference and OE Global), workshops (e.g. Digital Pedagogy), and informal networks that focus on sharing and learning practices such as ways to create OER, implement OEP, support open education policy, and build strategic initiatives. The activities and organizing that define OER-enabled pedagogy reflect lively and sustainable ways of invigorating the relationships in the community of practice and maintaining momentum towards the above goals.

The title of this chapter invokes an open athenaeum. An athenaeum can be an institution, library, or reading room that contains artifacts; it can also be a group of people that engages in the promotion of literary and scientific learning. The idea of the open athenaeum metaphorically represents the contemporary transitions that librarians successfully navigate and that we face in the OEM. It represents the challenges of transitioning from archiving and supplying materials to consulting and serving communities, from focusing on artifacts to focusing on teaching and learning ecosystems, from conveying to co-creating knowledge, and from focusing on OER to facilitating OEP. The open athenaeum thus enables open pedagogy as both a community of practice and as shared physical and digital resources.

Open Pedagogy in Practice

A broad range of approaches to understanding and defining open pedagogy offers a diverse slate of potential examples of what these projects may look like in practice. Although the six project examples that follow represent different aspects of the open pedagogy spectrum, they should each be recognizable for the manner in which they trust and empower students, encourage faculty to relinquish tight control and to depart from the familiar, provide authentic and meaningful learning experiences, serve the wider community, and make use of the permissions that accompany OER. In each case, the description of the open pedagogy project is followed by a reflection on the role and significance of librarians in supporting similar projects.

Project Management for Instructional Designers

Successive cohorts of graduate students enrolled in a course on project management at Brigham Young University revised and remixed an open textbook on project management to suit their needs and the needs of future formal and informal learners. The students aligned the book chapters with professional certification standards, filmed and integrated video case studies into the chapters, replaced generic examples with those written from an instructional design perspective, completed a word-for-word re-editing to improve readability, created text-to-speech audio recordings of each section, replaced copyrighted images throughout the book with openly licensed ones, and added a glossary of key terms. The revised and remixed book was republished as an open textbook, Project Management for Instructional Designers.1 David Wiley, the faculty lead for the project, wrote:


Each time I give this kind of assignment, I find that my students invest in their work at a completely different level and go far above and beyond what I ever imagined they could do. Now these students are co-authors on a book that is being used in programs across the US (and world? let me know if you’re using PM4ID in your class!) and have an incredible portfolio piece to showcase to future potential employers and their moms. (Wiley, 2012, para. 5)

It is worth noting that PM4ID was adapted using technology from Pressbooks.com.2 While the choice to use the Pressbooks website or the Pressbook plugin on a personal WordPress installation is perfectly suitable for publishing open textbooks, there may be advantages to having student work integrated into local, institutional installations of Pressbooks. Academic libraries can play a central role in making such local, institutional installations open to successive cohorts in one or several courses, making sure the book is cataloged and discoverable, and using Pressbooks to encourage awareness of OER and possibilities for open pedagogy projects.


Environmental Science Bites

Undergraduate students enrolled in a lower-division Introduction to Environmental Science course at the Ohio State University were tasked with describing some of Earth’s major environmental challenges and discussing ways that humans are using cutting-edge science and engineering to provide sustainable solutions to these problems. Their work would eventually form the different chapters in the open textbook Environmental Science Bites.3 In the words of Brian Lower, the faculty lead of the project,


In writing these chapters, our students learned a great deal about the publication process. They learned: (1) How to find information from primary and secondary sources and critically evaluate topics, issues, results and conclusion. (2) How scientific research is conducted and how results and conclusions are reported to the public so that people can make more informed decisions in their own lives. (3) That the peer-review evaluation system is an integral part of the scientific process, which enables scientists to maintain high quality standards and provides credibility to research and scholarly works. And (4) that peer reviews are a necessary part of the writing process because it focuses attention on particular details and considers the input of an actual audience. (Lower, 2015, para. 2)

The role of librarians in facilitating the above lessons in the creation process is central. Modules addressing open licensing, peer review, and information sourcing and evaluation can be made ready for use by students across the institution in different disciplines. Another interesting aspect of this project is that it is published on a Pressbooks installation on Unizin.org. Unizin is a consortium formed by several major research institutions in the US and currently supports digital learning technologies for 22 institutions. While it hosts an open textbook, it does not necessarily provide an openly available catalog of the OER students at partner institutions have contributed to their platform. Integrating these digital learning objects into the search functions of the partner institution libraries might increase their discoverability, increase their use, and allow professors across institutions teaching environmental science or other subjects to contribute to the collection.

Wiki Education Foundation

With the assistance of the Wiki Education Foundation, more than 22,000 students enrolled in >1,000 courses at institutions across the world have participated in the Wikipedia assignments, collectively revising and refining more than 37,000 articles. This includes medical students working with Dr. Amin Azzam at the University of California, who receive course credit in exchange for improving this public resource while improving their own ability to describe complex processes in layperson’s terms.4 Dr. Azzam feels that “it should be part of a physician’s social contract to provide high quality health-information on open repositories like Wikipedia” and that “as a result of all this training, my medical students are well-qualified to be improving the medical and health-related content on Wikipedia pages” (Salvaggio, 2016, para. 11, 14).


This open pedagogy project encourages students to interpret scientific knowledge and create accurate, up-to-date resources for public knowledge dissemination. Libraries and librarians can help navigate Wikipedia’s unique framework for contributions, create formal or informal working groups that allow faculty members across campus to smoothly integrate Wikipedia assignments into their courses by drawing from institutional knowledge of best practices and existing human connections (such as a campus Wikipedia ambassador5) to the Wiki Education Foundation and the Wikipedia community itself.


The Noba Project

The Noba Project’s efforts to address a wide array of psychology topics led to the creation of an annual competition in which students create short topical videos. The competition offers $10,000 in prizes for three-minute videos that best help viewers understand and remember the concepts around the topic. The students’ Noba Student Video Award projects are openly licensed for review and reuse under a Creative Commons license. The process empowers the students who create the content and results in learning tools for other psychology students (DeRosa & Robinson, 2017, p. 119).

In the words of Michael Harris, co-author of one of the award-winning videos about Personality Traits during the 2016–17 competition,

They say that teaching a subject is the best way to truly learn it, and I now see why they say that. After writing the script, filming many takes of talking to the camera and our (hopefully funny) examples of the big 5, then editing it with my very talented friend Matt all into a final product, I feel that I know this content in a way I never did before. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and had a great time making the film. I hope we see more media-meets-psychology projects like this in the future. (Harris, 2017, para. 1)

While many large institutions have special units focused on producing professional audiovisual content, the ability of libraries to provide facilities for learning and audiovisual production for students across the campus can be a key to success in projects such as the one above. Provision of physical infrastructure, a repository for the produced digital materials, and expertise in the Learning Commons of the library helps open pedagogy projects flourish and can create synergies across courses.

Geographic Information Science, Open Science, and Land Policy

In 2016, nearly one hundred students in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia (UBC) undertook an open pedagogy project to contribute scientific knowledge regarding British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).6 Using open science principles and open data, over 20 teams of students conducted independent analyses of subsections of the ALR in order to measure how much agricultural land was actually in the protected farmland zone. The key question here was whether official estimates of agricultural land used by the province and media refer to actual agricultural land or just to everything within the administrative boundaries of the ALR.


Student feedback on the project was positive. Many students noted their increased ability to critically analyze open data sources and open data accessing, processing, handling, analyzing, and interpretation. Many students expressed shock at the types of data that the British Columbia provincial authorities did not provide to the public under open licenses. They were also surprised to find instances where crowdsourced, open data (like Open Street Map) appeared to be more detailed than proprietary data sets. The students learned many core ideas about data quality in GIScience (geographic information science), yet the project also presented many pedagogical questions and quandaries for the instructors. For example, many students pointed out possible outcome differences between using open data and proprietary data for analyses. As an open science project, we needed to share our data yet proprietary data could not be shared. Given different methodological decisions taken by student groups, should the results be framed as part of the learning process or should the results, even if problematic, enter into the public debate to stimulate more research? How is it possible to design and use an open science project for successive cohorts? How do we assess learning in the context of open science? The students’ final reports, maps, and spatial data were published on a public-facing website providing open resources for people interested in BC’s agricultural lands. The project website provides a brief overview of the project process and groups of outcomes from the project, including lessons learned by the instructors for implementing GIScience, open science, and open pedagogy projects.

Once again, librarians were fundamental to the success of this project. The UBC Data & GIS Librarian came into the course to provide an overview of open and proprietary data sources, how to access them and attribute them, how to understand metadata, and how to use some basic software for visualizing data. Students and faculty were able to rely on the librarian’s technical expertise in data and vast knowledge of data sources while building their methodological approaches for the actual GIScience analyses.

Open Pedagogy in Broader Terms

While all of the above examples convey open pedagogy work with an array of openly licensed resources (from open textbooks to open data to open science documentation), broader understandings of open pedagogy practices can also be supported by libraries. For example, open pedagogy can be understood as openness in co-creating course outlines with students. As Kevin Gannon argues, current course outlines are not learner-centered:

The role of a syllabus has become contested for a variety of reasons, resulting in maladroit attempts to balance institutional needs and effective pedagogy. Because syllabi are now interpreted as contracts in addition to curricular documents, they have become the default landing site for university policies, accreditation box-checking, and myriad other items attracted to the platform like cat hair to a black shirt. (Gannon, 2016, para. 6)

What could be more learner-centered than the openness of having the students themselves agree upon the learning outcomes, course conduct, behaviors, and even the assessment strategies (Monsen, Cook, & Hannant, 2017)? This openness to engaging the learners in framing their relationships to each other, to the subject matter, and to the instructor provides an honest model of learning together. However, it is scary for many faculty to relinquish control over the course. While arguments about course outlines being an unbending contract or the intellectual property of the instructor need to be addressed, much of this fear might simply be because it is hard to imagine what a student-created course outline might look like and we have very few among us with experience in co-creating course outlines. So, we need more examples and best practices.

Librarians can make a major contribution to this type of openness. There is a valid argument for course outlines being cataloged and referenced in institutional repositories in the same way that other scholarly materials are treated. These repositories can be tagged with many keywords, and not just disciplines and departments. Some of these keywords might focus on the pedagogy employed and if students were involved in the creation of the course outline. This would provide faculty with invaluable insights into openness. How is it being done, who is doing it, and what are the expected outcomes and best practices?

Several other projects that do not focus necessarily on OER but rather on opening the teaching and learning process might also be supported by librarians. For example, Robin DeRosa’s work on an open anthology not only involved students creating OER, but making curatorial decisions in the selection of types of texts to include (DeRosa, 2016). Her students’ open pedagogy project resulted in The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature.7 Other examples include Rajiv Jhangiani’s (one of the authors of this chapter) work with students to create a question bank to accompany an open textbook for social psychology (Jhangiani, 2017c). As well, projects emphasizing public scholarship as a type of openness might be important. For example, UBC Geography students in an environmental geography course developed dozens of case studies analyzing wicked environmental problems (see https://environment.geog.ubc.ca/); these case studies are not openly licensed but emphasize creating and disseminating scientific knowledge through public scholarship. While we believe that openly licensing public scholarship provides greater potential utility for learners, these efforts nonetheless reflect a push towards openness and getting away from disposable assignments.


Whether or not these projects openly license their products and can be considered OER-enabled pedagogy, the above examples reflect open and collaborative approaches to effective pedagogy. Librarians can support the above examples of openness in pedagogy by working on discoverability, creating institutional repositories for types of resources, and hosting workshops that feature open educational practices. Below we distill many of the lessons learned from these cases into six recommendations. While these recommendations are easiest to implement in cases where institutional resources support full- or part-time support positions to support open education, the recommendations can be pursued through collaborative, sustainable partnerships with other units on campus.

Building an Open Athenaeum

So, just how does an institution facilitate open pedagogy? Let’s get down to brass tacks to look at some concrete actions that librarians can take to champion open pedagogy from the library. Our list draws from the above cases and our professional experience as faculty working closely with librarians and students, but it is certainly not meant to be exhaustive. Anita Walz points out, “Depending on our main roles and the needs of our institution we may implement and connect open educational practices very differently. There is no single model for librarian involvement in open education; I think this is a good thing” (Walz, 2017, p. 153). Towards locating a suitable model, Quill West proposes a useful framework of habits that librarians can focus on. She writes: “We achieve openness by exploring and encouraging the six habits of open practice: sharing, early drafting, supportive feedback, studying licenses, giving credit, and putting students at the center” (West, 2017, p. 140). The embodiment of these different habits within your particular institutional culture needs to be creative and contextualized. Likewise, you can adapt our suggested actions as they are relevant to your situation and how you approach open pedagogy.

Collaborate and Grow a Community of Open Practitioners: A Campus Working Group

If your campus does not already have a formal, cross-functional Open Education Working Group (OEWG), librarians can be the driving force to create one. The group might include faculty, administrators, union representatives, students, and staff from the bookstore, accessibility services, and the teaching and learning center. Although the composition of an OEWG may vary across institutions, the critical guiding principle is to not omit interested internal stakeholders, as the recommendations of the group may otherwise be perceived as confrontational. Moreover, the natural temporal turnover of students as well as the particular politics of administration and faculty units might unnecessarily undermine or politicize open education.

Having the OEWG run by librarians brings several benefits. First, it gives the work of the group the veneer of institutional approval and a stability that individual stakeholders cannot easily manage. Second, the formal group can serve as the go-to point for people interested in learning more (the provision of this information is a natural function of the library—the official commons—in the campus ecosystem). Third, the working group can plan and offer professional development opportunities for faculty (e.g., how to adapt an open textbook, how to design a Wikipedia assignment), run an open textbook review program that provides honoraria to faculty willing to write a peer review of an open textbook within their area of expertise (an especially handy way of countering the low-quality myth), run an OER grant program (to support faculty to make necessary changes prior to adopting OER), manage an institutional listserv for OEP, and apply for internal and external funding to support all of the above.

The technical expertise of librarians and the physical and digital spaces that the library supports are key assets for all of the above working group actions. This is the group that can ensure that OER are widely understood in terms of their permissions, so that even if people “come for the cost savings, they stay for the pedagogy” (Wiley, 2017a, para. 6). This approach—one that highlights both social justice and pedagogical innovation—carries the additional benefit of widening the appeal of OER adoption as only the first stop on a journey of exploration into open pedagogy.

Collaborate and Grow a Community of Open Practitioners: Informal Networks

One of the reasons why working groups are such a useful mechanism is that collaboration and partnerships are key to the success of this grassroots movement. So even if not formally connected within working groups or written partnerships, librarians may collaborate with the campus store to help them explore revenue models based on OER (e.g., selling print copies of open textbooks, including on demand) and the campus student association to help raise awareness about the impact of high textbook costs and the availability of OER. Librarians may also work directly with faculty interested in revising and remixing OER to build course-specific LibGuides (see, for example, http://nmc.libguides.com/psy250mccord/welcome) that allow faculty to share their work with institutional support but outside of the closed institutional learning management system (LMS).

In order to provide support for open pedagogy librarians should especially explore collaborations with the teaching and learning center (TLC). The TLC administrators and staff are the ones who will most likely be aware of the innovative pedagogues across different faculties, the teachers who are eager to explore new technologies and who might be excited at the prospect of empowering their students via open pedagogy.

Strongly supporting these innovators (especially within high-enrollment departments or flagship programs) as they engage with OEP is a strategy that can pay dividends, for when their efforts are recorded, recognized, and celebrated these innovative pedagogues become carriers for the message of OEP for the many early adopters waiting in the wings across campus. In addition to the organic spread of ideas through pedagogical mavens, librarian- advocates are then able to point to respected peer innovators on campus, a powerful strategy that aligns both injunctive norms (what people ought to be doing) and descriptive norms (what people are actually doing).

Assuming the goal is to normalize the adoption of OEP on campus, collaborating with the TLC once again provides several mechanisms to build and grow a community of practitioners, whether by creating faculty learning communities or other communities of practice (ideally led by the faculty innovators) that collaboratively explore the full potential of working in the open. Once again, fostering interinstitutional collaborations can help by reducing individual workloads, enhancing quality via peer review, and widening impact.

Raise Awareness

As you might have intuited from reading the above, a critical action is to raise awareness of both OER and open pedagogy, and here librarians can really flex their technical expertise and leverage their interstitial position. Awareness of OER remains relatively low among the academic community. Speaking from our experience, many students have never heard of open education and therefore cannot be effective advocates. Likewise, many administrators confuse open education with online education and therefore do not see how or why additional institutional support might be necessary or beneficial to the institutional goals. Faculty are not immune either as studies show that most faculty continue to confuse what is “open” with what is merely free or what happens to be in digital format.

This all points to the critical need for more education. We describe this as critical because, after all, it is not the “free” that enables open pedagogy but rather the “freedom” or the 5R permissions. Fortunately, this is precisely the sort of education that librarians are perfectly positioned to provide, both online through licensing guides and modules and face-to-face during consultations or professional development workshops. Organizing campus events that bring in external speakers is an effective strategy, partly because doing so provides inspiration with concrete examples of practice, but also partly because all too often the identical message conveyed by an internal expert is readily discounted.

Address Discoverability

Once the awareness barrier has been tackled, basic strategies to address the discoverability of OER can help ensure that open resources get into the hands of teachers and learners, who may then decide to take advantage of the 5R permissions. Addressing discoverability can take many forms—such as importing MARC records for open textbooks into the library catalog, integrating open repository searches into the discovery layer, or developing LibGuides for OER.

One interesting strategy that has been found to work at institutions across British Columbia is integrating open educational materials into seasonal displays that are often found near the entrance of the physical library. While a wide array of OER can be displayed and discovered, printing open textbooks and including examples of open pedagogy (student-created) projects can lead faculty, staff, and students to discoveries that stimulate curiosity, raises awareness, and encourages adoption.

Similar efforts to support OEP include gathering and publishing course outlines (if they are not made public elsewhere), publishing rubrics to assess renewable assignments, writing case studies to profile diverse examples of open pedagogy, or facilitating the deposit of students’ creative and academic work in the institutional open repository. Whether for OER or OEP, the goal is the same: ensure that practical tools and resources are made available and discoverable to faculty who learn about open practices and wish to adopt them. Happily, addressing discoverability is something that can be more easily achieved by proactively reaching out to and collaborating with peers at other, like-minded institutions or via consortia.

Enable Adaptation

Enabling adaptation across the institution can contribute to and in many cases may rely upon the technical expertise of librarians and the physical and digital infrastructure of libraries. While the physical infrastructure enables workshops on creating openly licensed materials for both students and faculty, the digital infrastructure and technical expertise in project management can be just as valuable. For example, drawing from ongoing work at the Rebus Foundation, Billy Meinke at University of Hawaiʻi emphasizes teaching OER production workflows (Meinke, 2017). Teaching these soft skills of navigating and managing the OER creation process allows faculty to see entry points for learner activities and for learners to better able to conceptualize how their contributions are part of a larger picture that perhaps involves learners at other institutions.

Libraries have the potential to lead the needed implementation of digital architecture for enabling adaptation. OER are not always in an ideal format for remixing or adapting (Levine, 2017). This poses limitations not just to adoption but also for the use of OER in open pedagogy projects. For example, in British Columbia, BCcampus led the successful implementation of Pressbooks as an open textbook repository. The repository allows people to freely access online and download digital copies of textbooks in several different file formats. In Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario, the BCcampus Pressbooks model and content is mirrored by agencies advancing open education in their respective provinces. While widely dispersed, these repositories often contain static editions of learning objects. So faculty and students are unable to easily edit and contribute in the same way they might through a more dynamic shared wiki or website. This limits adaptation and the use of OER in open pedagogy. UBC librarians Leonora Crema and Erin Fields recognized this hurdle and decided to experiment with implementing a locally hosted Pressbooks installation that allows faculty and learners to import and edit openly licensed materials from other repositories. This enables long-term OER adaptation projects across courses and departments. It is likely that enabling local adaptation of OER will translate into better rates of adoption and to learning objects more relevant and engaging for students in their local contexts.

Inspire and Emphasize Practices

Librarians can provide multiple entry points to meet people at their understanding level of open education and broaden the open education discourse beyond OER cost savings to OEP and open pedagogy. After all, “if cost savings were the only goal, then OERs are not the only answer. Materials could be made free, or subsidized, which are not openly licensed” (Weller, de los Arcos, Farrow, Pitt, & McAndrew, 2016, pp. 84–85). Open pedagogy offers other benefits such as peer-to-peer efficiency in the adaptation and dynamic updating of materials. When faculty move from being consumers of texts to realizing the potential power of adapting and creating OER for enabling OEP then “we’ve come within striking distance of realizing the full power of open” (Wiley, 2016, para. 16).

Aside from making fuller use of the available permissions, the broader takeaway for those of us seeking to advance the open education movement is that when we advocate for OER we can engage in aspirational visions of education and avoid the appearance of judgment or guilt. Aspiration better supports innovation and engages in “approach motivation” (Elliot & Covington, 2001). In a broad aspirational vision of what we may be able to accomplish in open pedagogy and OEP, material cost savings may be the least significant benefit of OER (Jhangiani, 2017a).

Indeed, “for faculty who enjoy experimenting and innovating, open textbook adoption does feel like a meagre position to advocate. These are instructors who care deeply about authentic and open pedagogy, who may take full advantage of the permissions to revise and remix, and who understand that adopting OEP is really just about good pedagogy …” (Jhangiani, 2017b, p. 275). On the other hand, as principled agents in a principal-agent dilemma, faculty who adopt high-priced textbooks may feel guilty about their decision and bend a course to better conform to and utilize an expensive textbook. These empathetic teachers are cases where the social justice reasoning for open textbooks may resonate particularly well (Jhangiani, 2017b, p. 275).

The above recommendations indicate the need for librarian-advocates to know their audience and meet them where they are, something that is made easier by the multiple entry points to OEP. These entry points are described by Weller and colleagues (2016) as three categories of OER users:

Of course these categories are neither static nor mutually exclusive, as individual faculty will evolve, whether in terms of the specific Creative Commons license they are comfortable applying to their newly created work or their motivation for adopting OEP. Nonetheless, they offer some insight into the different starting points for different faculty in their journey towards greater openness. Librarians can chart the typical paths of these different types of users, link these users to one another, and provide the ligaments of the community of practice so necessary for open pedagogy.

  1. The OER active are engaged with issues around open education, are aware of open licenses, and are often advocates for OERs … An example of this type of user might be the community college teacher who adopts an openly licensed textbook, adapts it and contributes to open textbooks. (pp. 80–81)

  2. OER as facilitator may have some awareness of OER, or open licenses, but they have a pragmatic approach toward them. OERs are of secondary interest to their primary task, which is usually teaching … Their interest is in innovation in their own area, and therefore OERs are only of interest to the extent that they facilitate innovation or efficiency in this. An example would be a teacher who uses Khan Academy, TED talks and some OER in their teaching. (p. 82)

  3. Finally, OER consumers will use OER amongst a mix of other media and often not differentiate between them. Awareness of licenses is low and not a priority. OERs are a “nice to have” option but not essential, and users are often largely consuming rather than creating and sharing. An example might be students studying at university who use iTunes U materials to supplement their taught material. For this type of user, the main features of OERs are their free use, reliability and quality. (p. 85)


We reiterate that it is no coincidence that librarians are to be found at every frontier of the open education movement. Librarians are the ones whom students approach when they need to borrow a textbook that has been placed on course reserve. Librarians witness pairs of students daisy-chaining interlibrary loans to last the length of a semester. Librarians conceive of and manage alternative textbook programs. Librarians try to persuade their faculty to make greater use of the institutional repository. Librarians build guides to help faculty and students locate the subscription-based resources for which the institution has dedicated precious resources. Librarians deal with increasingly exorbitant and opaque database subscription fees. Librarians are the perennial champions of improved access and student support because they have benefited from hard-won lessons learned along their profession’s journey from print to digital and from resources to services. From conversations about open textbook publishing to the push for embedding inclusive design principles within OER creation, librarians are offering expertise, infrastructure, insights, and communal cornerstones for OER and OEP.

These experiences, combined with their expertise and the consultative nature of their relationship with faculty perfectly position the library to be the open athenaeum—the institutional home for open pedagogy.


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OER: A Field Guide for Academic Librarians | Editor's Cut Copyright © 2018 by Christy Allen; Nicole Allen; Jean Amaral; Alesha Baker; Chelle Batchelor; Sarah Beaubien; Geneen E. Clinkscales; William Cross; Rebel Cummings-Sauls; Kirsten N. Dean; Carolyn Ellis; David Francis; Emily Frank; Teri Gallaway; Arthur G. Green; Sarah Hare; John Hilton III; Cinthya Ippoliti; DeeAnn Ivie; Rajiv S. Jhangiani; Michael LaMagna; Anne Langley; Jonathan Lashley; Shannon Lucky; Jonathan Miller; Carla Myers; Julie Reed; Michelle Reed; Lillian Hogendoorn; Heather M. Ross; Matthew Ruen; Jeremy Smith; Cody Taylor; Jen Waller; Anita Walz; Andrew Wesolek; Andrea Wright; Brady Yano; Stacy Zemke; and Liza Long, Amy Minervini, Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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