The 17-institution Connecticut State Colleges & Universities System (CSCU) formed a systemwide open educational resources (OER) Council in 2017 that was primarily focused on the adoption of no-cost or low-cost (NOLO) course materials as a means to provide equitable access to learning materials.
Our CSCU consortium of library directors partnered with the OER Council to construct a website, OpenCSCU, providing curated OER, a support network and a faculty-recognition program. The OER Council also has hosted annual OER workshops. Additionally, the CSCU system office funded a “mini-grant” program to further assist adoption. Much of the council’s focus and its connected OER efforts have been centered on equitable access to affordable learning materials. Over time, the council has expanded its focus to include open practices as a critical component to diversity, equity and inclusion in support of student success.
Even as we made strides in expanding the reach and focus of our OER efforts, the council recognized a communication gap persisted. The primary means of disseminating information from the council had been its representatives. We recognized that our institutions may have been at varying levels of engagement with OER and that our council representatives may have had competing priorities. It became clear that to better serve our institutions we needed to create a centralized communication channel to provide broader engagement and reach. Enter the blog.
With the OpenCSCU site established as a clearinghouse for OER-related information, it was a natural progression to take advantage of the existing technology for this new communications effort. Recognizing the limitations of our previous communications methods which relied heavily on email, the council sought to better utilize the OpenCSCU website feature set. The website runs off the Springshare LibGuides platform and provides a blog option that is flexible and visually appealing. Creating posts with persistent URLs (such as “/blog” vs. system-generated code) and a consistent location would allow us to easily disseminate up-to-date content more widely beyond the confines of email, such as through social media channels and other means of link sharing.
The CSCU OER Council formed a task force to explore how the blog could support the council’s goals of broader dissemination of open practices, recognizing the work of practitioners and advocates and growing the open community.
Creating the blog
As the task force began its work, we felt compelled to establish guiding principles for this initiative. We wanted our OER efforts to be deeply rooted in equity as well as community members’ innovations and successes. A consistent piece of feedback we had received from our previous efforts was a call for more perspectives from faculty and less from staff and administration. (After all, our faculty are the primary audience.) As a result, we decided early on that our featured posts would focus on faculty practitioners and their application of open practices and principles within their courses but also would include perspectives of students, staff and administration.
The lengthiest discussions centered around determining editorial standards for the blog. The task force looked to established academic blogs for insights and inspiration. The New England Board for Higher Education (NEBHE) and its New England Journal of Higher Education provided some invaluable guidance to help us move forward. The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) also shared documented standards for its long-running blog site, Frontiers.
As a result, our standards focused on acceptable content and tone, readability and accessibility, format, media usage, licensing and the editorial review process. As OER advocates, we emphasized the requirement of open licensing for submitted content.
The OER Council’s blog task force made a conscience decision to solicit selected authors versus issuing a broad call. Our intent was to recruit three to four innovative faculty to share their stories in Year One of launching this new initiative. This approach ensured that we had a full year of highly relevant content. In future years, we will be providing an online form for interested individuals to submit proposals.
In determining the quarterly release schedule, we considered how our featured blog posts might correspond with national and regional events such as the Open Ed Conference, Open Ed Week, and the Northeast OER Summit, to coincide with heightened interest in OER. In addition to our invited authors, we agreed that we would supplement the quarterly features with timely and relevant news and events, spotlighting professional development and grant opportunities
The future of the blog
On September 21, the OpenCSCU Blog launched. Its featured post was entitled “Presenting and Promoting Open Pedagogy Through Different Frameworks” by Nicolas Simon, an assistant professor at Eastern Connecticut State University who was joined by three of his students: Tara Nguyen, Jean Rienzo and Maya Vanderberg. With feedback still coming in, the editorial board has shifted to planning the next featured post and identifying newsworthy items to share in the interim.
We plan to present practical examples that can be replicated by others, including an in-depth look at open pedagogy, regaining intellectual property rights, and publishing an open text. Looking beyond the next scheduled releases, the editorial board in conjunction with the full OER Council have started to explore the next steps for the blog. In the short term, the editorial board will establish and publish criteria for selection. In the long term, we will explore how the blog can facilitate two-way conversations.
Overall, we intend to provide guidance and support to readers by demonstrating the value of open content and practices to better serve student success. As we share more content, we hope that our reader base will grow and that our blog posts will encourage conversation and innovation in open education. We hope to generate broader awareness of open practices and build a community of practice that not only validates and normalizes open pedagogy, but also inspires new efforts.
Hayley Battaglia is the serials & electronic resources librarian at Hilton C. Buley Library of Southern Connecticut State University. She is a member of the CSCU OER Advisory Council, chair of the OER Committee at Buley Library, a graduate of the Creative Commons Certificate Course and editor of the OpenCSCU Blog.
Kevin Corcoran is the executive director for digital learning at the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities System. He currently chairs the CSCU OER Advisory Council and the statewide Connecticut OER Coordinating Council and serves on the NEBHE OER Advisory Board.
Eileen Rhodes currently serves as the interim director of the Connecticut State Community College Library. Prior to this, she served as director of library services at Capital Community College in Hartford, Conn., for more than seven years. She is an OER advocate, initiating a “NOLO” labeling program at her college to identify courses with no-cost/low-cost course materials.
Nicolas P. Simon is an assistant professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University. The supplemental works co-authored with his students have been featured in Introduction to Sociology, third edition, published by OpenStax.