Day 13 - OER Advocacy



The purpose of today’s module is to provide some information and ideas towards inspiring your own open advocacy in your local context(s) so that you can:

  • Communicate the value of OER and OEP at your institution across multiple stakeholder groups
  • Establish yourself as a open leader and advocate on your campus
  • Create and apply an action plan to help you guide your efforts

Day 13 - Advocacy

photo of a microphone on a microphone stand

Photo by Elliot Sloman on Unsplash


The purpose of today’s module is to provide some information and ideas towards inspiring your own open advocacy in your local context(s) so that you can:

  • Communicate the value of OER and OEP at your institution across multiple stakeholder groups
  • Establish yourself as a open leader and advocate on your campus
  • Create and apply an action plan to help you guide your efforts

Who’s “Creating” Today’s Module?

My name is Claire Coulter and I am an instructional technologist at the University of Guelph.  My work in the “open” has often been off the side of my desk, which has made it a bit of an unwieldy beast at times. That being said, in my work with eCampus Ontario as an “Open Ranger” (yay #OEORangers !), and together with my partner in crime, Ali Versluis (UG’s newly minted OER Librarian, @aliversluis, also facilitating this session) we have started to build some momentum on our campus. We are not experts in OER Advocacy (yet), but hopefully this module will provide some ideas to get you started: some practical, some evidence-based, all with the intention to help you be thoughtful in your work.  

What’s Your Why?

What does it mean to be an open advocate? And why do we care?  

As part of this mini-MOOC, we were each asked to craft a message answering the question “Why Open Makes Sense to Me.” It is a helpful question to ask yourself. We each have our own unique stories, but we also share a lot in common. Recently, at the Creative Commons Global Summit, some of us engaged here facilitated a storytelling session to help foster connections, to grow our networks, and to help identify our commonalities. Think about what your story is, and be prepared to tell it. You are already a leader.  

More, think about what it means to be an open advocate. If you need additional verbiage, you need only to look to the countless articles and blog posts on the topic of open to help you find the words to enhance your “why.” And the great thing about the open community is that we LOVE sharing, and so as long as you provide attribution (or whatever relevant CC license applies) we are more than happy to help you find the words!

Lastly, Petrides, Levin, and Watson (2018) suggest a framework of CARE that is helpful in thinking about the ways that we can work together to sustain the OER movement. It is a means to think about a set of norms and practices that we should all share as open advocates (or in the case of their position, “stewards”). You can read the blog post discussing their framework here.

  diagram with OER stewards at the centre with the words contribute, attribute, release, and empower surrounding it

“CARE Framework” is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Do Your Homework

photo of a computer with a lot of stickers and a textbook on a bed

Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash

While various educational systems share many commonalities, it is no great revelation to suggest that institutional contexts can be wildly different. If you are interested in being an open advocate, this first place to start is to do your homework. What we mean by this, is that it is important to attempt to learn all that you can about your institutional context. The old adage “knowledge is power” will serve you well. So, what does this mean in practice? Here are a few suggestions framed as questions:

  • What are your institution’s vision and mission statements?  How does open align with these values?
  • What strategic documents can you review to better understand where open might fit? Is there a strategic plan, mandate agreement, or goals document to review? Does your institution have a teaching and learning plan or whitepaper that might be relevant?
  • Are there any existing movements on campus that you can align with? Hint: the library is a good place to start -- they are big proponents of open everything! Having a good understanding of things such as the bookstore’s role within the institution (is it revenue generating? cost neutral?), what undergrad advocacy initiatives have been undertaken (have student executives run on platforms of textbook/course affordability?) in the past, whether student retention or attraction is an issue, will help you better understand larger conversations across campus and how you can possibly fit OER into that conversation.
  • Review your campus course offerings. What courses offer an opportunity to move to an open textbook? Are there courses where a transition would be more impactful due to large enrollments, costly textbooks, or required completion across programs?
  • Be aware of some of the commonly cited challenges of OER adoption. Understanding how these influence campus stakeholders will help you be prepared to provide a counterpoint to each. Do not be afraid to appeal to emotion by posing tough questions, but remember that data can be your best friend (bonus points if it is localized)!

diagram outlining the technical, economic, social, and legal challenges to OER

"Understand the Barriers to OER Adoption by The Learning Portal is licensed under CC-BY-NC.

Find Your People

Photo of five people holding their fingers together at the centre to make a star pattern

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Once you have done your homework, it is very likely that through this effort you may have identified some local folks that have a similar belief in the power and importance of open education. If not, it is important that you do so.

While we often talk about “open” as synonymous with “free”, this is not the case. Open advocacy costs: it requires real academic labour and it can be both isolating and tiring. This work will often be done off the side of your desk initially, as few institutions have mechanisms that recognize and reward such efforts. It is therefore crucial to identify colleagues (locally, but also beyond) that can help you to sustain your efforts. Although there will always be a group of curmudgeons, you should not be worried about them right now. Let them speak, maintain your objectivity, and engage the stakeholders who are listening. These stakeholders are often referred to as early adopters or enablers, and they align with your why. Their ears are open, they are listening and inquiring; they are ready to take action. At the early stages of change, spend a high percentage of your effort with this group.  

  • You will want to think if there is anyone on your campus engaged in this work. Does your institution have a Librarian that works with OER or Online/Blended/e Learning? Is there someone within a Research Support or Scholarly Communications team that might have Open included in their portfolio?  
  • Are there instructors who have adopted and/or curated open education resources for their courses? Can you connect with them to learn more so that you can champion their efforts visibly and vocally?   
  • Who are the instructors that are considered “innovative?” They may already be engaging with open education, but might not be calling it such a thing. Check lists of teaching award winners. These faculty members are known for being student-centered and creative, so it is very likely that they will be receptive to a conversation.
  • Do you have colleagues who are not working at your home institution, but are close by? Perhaps a community of practice can exist beyond the walls of your campus. In Ontario we are fortunate to have eCampus helping us to foster connections. Is there a similar organization near you who might act as a catalyst and connector?  
  • Who can you seek out to include in your personal learning network to help keep you energized towards sustaining the work? Are you on Twitter or other social media channels? There are hundreds of open advocates around the globe who have formed a community of care, collaboration, and reciprocity.  

Some of the text above is a derivative of content within The Champion's Toolkit, by the Alberta OER Initiative, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Craft Your Message

photo of a bottle with a paper inside it placed on a riverbed recreating the idea of a message in a bottle

Photo by Andrew Measham on Unsplash

Once you have defined your why, it is important to think about the “why” for others on your campus. What is important for the various stakeholders that you have identified? Remember, if you have done your homework, you should be prepared with this information, and so craft your messaging accordingly. Shift your mindset away from “what’s in it for me” to “what’s in it for them.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME (Your Why) ---->>> WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM (Their Why)

If you carefully consider your messages in advance, you are more likely to be prepared to talk to almost anyone about your project, which is helpful for impromptu run-ins with other interested parties at Starbucks, at campus events, etc.

Step One: Begin by Defining Your Goals

What are your goals? Begin by defining what you want to achieve by introducing open education at your institution. The more clear your goals are, the easier it is for people to engage with your activities. You cannot always be totally specific, but if you are honest with what you want the outcome to be, and you are clear with yourself and your constituents, you have a better chance of sharing a clear vision of your goals.  

Step Two: Choose Your Audience

It is best to craft different advocacy takeaways for each of your stakeholder groups. When you start to consider arguments for each stakeholder, make sure you do your homework, and spend time considering what will help support each group.

Lastly (and luckily just in time for this course), the College Libraries Ontario Learning Portal has some suggestions about the types of messages that will resonate with various stakeholder groups. Check out their website and click on Step 4 to learn more!  

Step Three: Craft the Message

At the heart of any message is the piece that is going to make the audience sit up and pay attention. The information used should be short, factual, honest, direct, and as compelling as possible. The most obvious message for students is the cost of textbooks, but that messaging may not resonate with faculty who might consider the cost of textbooks as part of the cost of education. In your message, try to avoid overtly provocative language that will make your audience shut down or disengage with you.  

Step Four: Ask for What You Want

The “ask” or call to action is your chance to tell your audience what you want them to do. Try to make your call to action simple, and try to provide a “do right now” as well as a “in the long term” presentation. For example, for faculty you could ask people to share one thing about their teaching, but in the long term ask them to adopt open materials. The ask needs to be specific so that your audience sees how their investment in the goals of the mission will benefit not only themselves, but other stakeholders. Again, the call to action part of your message will be different depending on your audience, but be ready to clarify with all of your audiences what you have asked for with other audiences.

Photo of the words You Got This painted on a sidewalk

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Step Five: Revise and be YOU!

Ask colleagues and supporters to provide feedback on your message; be ready for the message to change as you grow your project or program. Finally, remember that your message should always be honest, clear, concise, and organized. The message you craft will contain elements of your overall goal, but it will also be a reflection of you and your credibility is on the line when you share this message.  As you revise and refine your message, ask yourself, “Is this a true reflection of what I want? Will people see the real intentions behind this message?” The best messages are the ones that carry a piece of your passion for the topic. Do not be afraid to get personal when telling your story.

Some text is derivative content within Librarians as Open Education Advocates, page contributions by Quill West licensed under CC-BY 4.0, and based on additional derivative content, some by Nicole Allen and SPARC, originally published at “SPARC Resources” (CC-BY 4.0).

Some text is a derivative of content within The Champion's Toolkit, by the Alberta OER Initiative, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Talk to Everyone  

photo of a woman holding a megaphone sign

Humans of the Commons at the Creative Commons Global Summit 2018” by Sebastiaan ter Burg, CC-BY 2.0

After you have created some different messages, it is time to test them out. We suggest starting by finding existing opportunities at your organization. Departmental meetings, Senate meetings, tables or displays in a high traffic area, and local events or programming (such as Writing Retreats or Teaching and Learning focused conferences) are ideal venues to test your messages. Hitching your wagon to existing programming and meetings will make things easier for you logistically (as you will not have to jump through hoops to secure spaces or run your own event promotion) and ensures that your messages are reaching a wider (and potentially more impactful) audience. Being in front of these groups means that you can get their attention in a more active, meaningful way, rather than relying on more passive options like email.

That being said, there is obviously plenty of value in having in one-on-one conversations. Engaging with folks in smaller groups allows you to give them more of your time and they may feel more comfortable asking questions specific to their own circumstances or need.

We cannot overestimate the importance of looking out for champions everywhere, even in the most unlikely of places. After Open Education Week 2018, the two of us wandered the halls of particular departments, leaving succinct postcards in common areas for faculty members or students to look at. If any administrative or departmental assistants were present, we chatted with them about who we were, why we were leaving the cards, and what we could offer support with. This resulted in lots of great conversations -- often these staff members had children enrolled at the university, so they were already familiar with the issue of course content affordability. But our conversation let them know what options their children could pursue and how they could begin those conversations with their instructor. We also ran into an Associate Dean Academic during one of these hall walks and following this conversation, he has begun to champion our goals with his instructors, sending out emails on our behalf, and even brokering meetings between specific instructors and ourselves with the intent of finding solutions for the coming academic year!

In the “Champion’s Toolkit,” part of the Alberta OER initiative, the following are also offered as options to increase your impact (with a few additions from us of course!):

Formal Presentation

Securing a time slot with one stakeholder group can allow you to focus on their interests and create a pivotal moment of change in their perspective on OER and be the stepping stone to cultural change.

Speaking the language of those at the table or in the audience is a foundational stepping stone to cultural change. If you don’t know who will be in the audience, consider them all potential champions, and address the interests of all stakeholder groups.

One way that we are doing this on our campus is by targeting departmental meetings.  This allows us to take advantage of a pre-set time when a large(r) group of instructors are in one room, and with the invitation of the department chair.  

As mentioned above, other existing activities and local conferences are a great way to get the conversation started.  

Informal Presentation

Sharing your personal story is a great way to declare yourself as an OER champion in your community, and, can draw engagement and interest from people in a way that educating and informing may not.  

Under this category we would include our activities of simply getting out there and walking the halls and knocking on doors. While we do not want to simply replicate the activities of textbook sales reps, it is imperative that we meet instructors where they are, which is often in their offices!

Also included in this category is the potential to host a “Sprint” toward OER creation, adaptation, curation etc.  

Special Interest Groups

Dedicated topic groups are a great way to gather the right people in a room. With the right structure, this group can collectively navigate the landscape of change. With topics dedicated to a specific outcome, the individuals in the group can quickly shift into an empowered mindset of leadership and championship. In groups like this, it is important to equip people with roles and the knowledge required to support their success in such a role. This could look like an educational seminar, information gathering session or implementation project. Special interest groups are likely to leverage the engagement strategies listed here, and can be quite powerful to enact change.

Some examples of special interest groups might be the assembling of a task-force or committee - best if sponsored from on high, but ad-hoc can lay the foundation. Or, you can consider the group a community of practice if you feel that you might not yet have enough buy-in to formalize. Try and ensure diverse participation from across the various stakeholder groups at your institution. Lastly, ensure you keep records of your progress and evaluate your actions. At a certain point, you are going to want to be able to share your work and your impact.  

Facilitated Group Discussion

It is impossible to know how change will affect people without speaking with them directly. In addition to understanding the impact of change (such as adopting OER in a course), people are more likely to engage in change if they feel consulted. Facilitated group discussions can be a great way to uncover the common barriers to adoption, connect people with the support they need, and ensure that change is happening collaboratively.

Focus groups are a great opportunity to glean qualitative data that can inform your future actions.

Modeling / Exemplars

The “unknown” of change can be the biggest barrier of all. Modeling the outcomes of change and helping people observe what the end state will or can be is a great way to alleviate change related apprehension.

Celebrate your champions and early adopters! Tell their stories, or better yet, have them tell their stories and ensure you have a communications plan in place to do so!


Projects which create collaborative work between faculty, instructors, and pedagogical or edtech units on campus are an opportunity to organically introduce the opportunity for OER in a way that can avoid challenging status quo. Simply presenting OER as an option and weighing the benefits are a great way to support faculty in choosing to adopt OER.

We would include targeted 1:1 (or 2:1 in our case!) consultations under this category.  The way that we approach this is to be reviewing course offerings for the coming semester, with an eye to impact. We do our homework through a review of course outlines, enrollment, learning outcomes etc. We also review available OER that might be suitable for the course. We then email the instructors and request a meeting to discuss these options.  

Find your people, people!

Embedded Championship

This would involve identifying one or multiple individuals in an institution who have “high-touch” roles, to personally champion OER. Ideally this person would be an active participant on pedagogical / teaching and learning projects where opportunities for OER use can be organically raised during project activities.

Some text is a derivative of content within The Champion's Toolkit, by the Alberta OER Initiative, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Start Small, Think Big

In the beginning, open advocacy can feel lonely and laborious. Remember to start small and celebrate little wins. More consistent wins (even if on a smaller scale) will help you navigate the negative feelings associated with any rough patches. Celebrate these victories by sharing them on your own campus, but also with your personal learning network. Sharing these small accomplishments will help you lay the groundwork for bigger ideas and future collaborations.

Think about what exists as low-hanging fruit at your institution. What are some easy wins that you can identify to help you gather momentum? Have a plan in mind that helps you move from low-stakes (such as adoptions or adaptions) to high-stakes opportunities (such as organizational recognition and policies).

Michelle Reed, an Open Education Librarian from the University of Texas Arlington, has provided an example of what a continuum of activities could look like, with appropriate and module-specific additions added by us:

Start Small

A Bit More

Think Big

Share Resources

Engage in Formal Presentations/Conversations

Grant/Incentive Programs

Blog About Your Efforts

Form Partnerships/Committee

OER Identified Courses

Do Your Homework

Student Survey/Faculty Survey

OER Policy

Talk to Everyone

Adopter Awards/Profiles/Panels

Open as Part of Tenure and Promotion  

Some text is a derivative of content within Supporting Open Textbook Adoptions at University of Houston by the Michelle Reed, licensed under CC-BY 4.0.


Hopefully this module has provided you with some ideas and inspiration to get started. As a final word, we will only say this: it is imperative that you stay reflective and critical in the work. We all believe in the greater good of open, but do not let that mask important critical and difficult questions! Some important writings on some of these questions can be found in the following pieces:

Pragmatism vs Idealism and the Identity Crisis of OER Advocacy” by Rajiv Jhangiani

Copyright as a Colonizer’s Tool” by Lorraine Chuen

Who is Missing?” and “Not All Information Wants to be Free” by Tara Robertson

Day 13 Activity

Option 1:  Think of your “Why.” Can you answer the question “Why Open Makes Sense to Me”?  Craft a short paragraph and share it in the discussion area. Even better, share it as a series of tweets using the hashtags #MakingSense18 and #myopenwhy.

Option 2:  What are your goals? What are a few reasonable actions you can take in the next academic year? Share back with the group for feedback and advice.  

Going Forward: SPARC has an excellent set of worksheets to help you build a campus action plan. Review SPARC's Open Education Action Plan, and while it is unlikely that you can complete them in the timeframe of this MOOC, work with your people to develop a plan that makes sense for your campus.  

Explore More

CCs Why Open? Slidedeck


McNutt, K. (2016), OER Champion’s Toolkit. Retrieved from:


All content for Making Sense of Open Education Day 13 by Claire Coulter and Ali Versluis is licensed with a CC BY 4.0 International license (unless otherwise indicated with citation, referencing, and attribution).

Last modified: Tuesday, 5 June 2018, 11:46 AM