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BCcampus Open Education Working Group Guide: Informal or Formal?

An excerpt from the Working Group Guide, by Krista Lambert and Lucas Wright

Informal or formal working groups

There will be different working-group models for different institutions. When deciding what would work best for your institutional context, you may want to consider the following things:

  • Should this be a grassroots movement?
  • Will this be top-down supported?
  • Is open a strategically recognized path at your institution?
  • Are there already people working on open education initiatives or with open practices who would be logical parts of an informal working group?
  • Are there administrative requirements or rules that you will have to comply with in formulating your working group?

As open working groups emerge in various institutional contexts, questions about their structure and formality invariably arise. Should the group have a formal structure? Should the group function in an ad-hoc manner, similar to a community of practice (CoP)? Obviously, one model does not fit all institutions. Let’s explore both models.

Informal working groups

Characteristics: CoP model, builds grassroots support across campus units, membership is flexible and inclusive.

Informal groups tend to grow organically through grassroots movements based on shared beliefs and practices. These types of groups tend to continuously evolve and show high levels of dynamism and are responsive to the needs of the group. Similar to the evolution of CoPs, these types of groups tend to easily build trust among their membership. Group leadership emerges through the work of the group and may not necessarily be identified with a core group of representatives. The membership works collaboratively and cooperatively on tasks to further the interests of the group. Typically, high levels of motivation are the norm in these types of groups.

Due to the informality of the group, there are some disadvantages. A grassroots movement requires dedicated individuals to ensure the work of the group succeeds. It requires the commitment of individuals to set up meetings and events.

Formal working groups

Characteristics: Task and goal oriented, membership includes core representatives with defined roles and responsibilities.

Formal working groups tend to self organise around a clear structure and well-defined goals. For example, at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), the Library and the Learning and Teaching Centre established the need for an open working group as the institution began to explore the use of open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP). Following a brief assessment of who was engaged in open practices at BCIT, a formal working group was created. Group membership included anyone who was interested and involved in varying levels of open education, which meant the group was fairly large at approximately twenty members. Due to the size and composition of the group, it was decided that the group should have a formal structure to ensure regular meetings and a clear definition of purpose. Based on this example, a formal open working group may include the following elements:

  • A chair who calls the meetings and sets the meeting agenda. The role of the chair is mostly to work with the group to set direction and work with the leadership team at the institution.
  • A vice-chair and/or co-chair who fills in for the chair when needed and supports the work of the group.
  • A secretary who keeps minutes and assists with the administration details of the work of the group.
  • Terms of reference to guide the work of the group.
  • A strategic action plan.

Formal groups tend to be task and goal oriented. The group sets their own goals and defines the tasks to accomplish over a determined period of time. Typically, formal groups develop Terms of Reference (ToR) to guide their work. The ToR can be developed collaboratively by the membership or by the core representatives to be sanctioned by the membership. In the case of BCIT, the core representatives developed ToR that were later discussed with the membership and approved.

Formal group structures have a number of advantages:

  • They facilitate consistency and continuity in the work of the group.
  • There is leadership accountability.
  • There is financial accountability, which is important when working groups are responsible for institutionally granted budgets.
  • They tend to be more stable.
  • The establish roles provide a framework for succession. (Typically, the vice-chair or co-chair will assume the chair position as the chair retires from their duties.)

Formal group structures also pose challenges:

  • The formal structure may get in the way of the creativity and flexibility needed to get things done.
  • Formal structures make it difficult to be responsive to the needs of the group.
  • An individual (or a small group of individuals) may dominate the agenda for the group.
  • If volunteers do not step up to serve in the core representative group, it may jeopardize its sustainability.

In Practice

KPU: A changing role for the working group

In the case of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), what started as an informal open working group shifted to a more formalized one. Initially, a group of interested people gathered regularly to discuss open initiatives in general and to coordinate on-campus events. Over time, the purpose of the group and positions within that group began to shift in nature. BCcampus OER grants were distributed from that body, a formal position emerged within the university structure, and “open” became recognized at an institutional level within the academic plan. Soon, an “Open KPU” office also formed, and it became clear that the group had moved beyond casual conversation! Now the group is working on its own strategic plan, is continuing to administer grants, and acts as a sounding board and support for the Open KPU office.

BCIT: Formal at the top

In the case of BCIT, the open working group has a formal structure “at the top”: a chair, a co-chair, and a secretary. While the structure is formal, the group membership remains fairly informal, and anyone who is involved in open can join in. In fact, anybody who is working on an OER grant is added to the group as a member by default. Monthly meeting invitations are sent to the entire membership, and on average the meetings are attended by approximately ten people consistently. The steady presence of the chair, co-chair, and secretary keeps the group acting within its defined scope. The influx of new people at meetings brings about new perspectives and new ideas. So far, this model has worked for BCIT.

UBC: Informal by design

At UBC, the open working group initially started as a way to support individual open projects. In particular, the group came together to develop and instruct an online course on “Teaching in WordPress.” As this process continued, the participants began to develop more and more trust and collaborate more effectively, and the group began to work on more projects, including the open.ubc.ca website. This has branched into working together to support and advocate for open education in general. Although there are regular attendees in the group, the group has decided to focus less on formalizing itself and more on working together to complete projects. This means that the group does not use a terms of reference nor does it create sub-committees. This is instead done ad-hoc with different people joining and leaving depending on their goals and involvement in open education.

SFU: Start up

At Simon Fraser University (SFU), a new open working group has recently been formed by representatives of the Library, Teaching & Learning Centre, and Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) to develop awareness and build capacity for OER adoptions by sharing information and coordinating efforts among key campus stakeholders who lead and support open education initiatives on campus. Although this group is currently fairly informal, they opted to draft a brief Terms of Reference document to articulate their general purpose and goals, as well as to establish shared expectations around meeting schedules and group communications.

Emily Carr

Currently, there is not an established open working group at Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD). Initial discussions have begun between the Teaching + Learning Centre and the University Library to establish an open working group. The Library has created an Open Educational Resource section in the ECU Library Catalogue and has set up Library Guides to support and reference topic-specific areas. The Teaching + Learning Centre has purchased several printed versions of open textbooks from the B.C. Open Textbook Collection and added them to the ECUAD Teaching and Learning Library Series for books on pedagogy, teaching, and learning.

Capilano

Capilano University’s (CapU) open working group spun out from their Senate Instructional Technologies Advisory Committee and reports to it. It started fairly informally—without a terms of reference or an agreed-on strategy—with the primary goal of bringing together people interested in advocating for OER at the university. It includes members from the Library, the Centre for Teaching Excellence, faculty, the student union, and the administration.

Learn more:

Working Group Guide: Members and Partners

An excerpt from the Working Group Guide, by Lauri Aesoph.

Recruit members

When establishing an open working group, a key point of consideration is who could or should be involved. Depending on your institutional context and the purpose of your open working group, an initial recruitment strategy is to reach out to key stakeholders who might influence or impact decision-making about creating, adapting, or adopting open educational resources (OER) on campus. Key allies and potential stakeholders on campus may include the following:

  • Librarians
  • Teaching and learning centre staff
  • Student society representatives
  • Faculty champions
  • Bookstore staff
  • Technology professionals
  • Administrators
Key Stakeholders and Their Roles in Supporting OER Initiatives
Stakeholder Key Role(s) in Supporting OER Initiatives
Librarians
  • Are knowledgeable about educational materials
  • Work with faculty and students to find, adopt, and adapt OER
  • Organize and catalogue OER
Teaching and Learning Centre Staff
  • Work with faculty to train on the use of OER
  • Support course and curriculum design and pedagogy for open teaching assignments
  • Support faculty who want to incorporate OER within a course
Student Society Representatives
  • Advocate as the end user of all educational materials
  • Inventory OER use on campus
  • Determine students needs/interest in OER
  • Connect with other stakeholders on campus
Faculty Champions
  • Implement open into their classrooms
  • Lead by example by having an open practice
  • Encourage colleagues to participate in open
  • Conduct research about open
  • Work with articulation committees to include OER in the curriculum
Bookstore Staff
  • Offer print-on-demand services
  • Stock print copies
  • Distribute OER
Technology Professionals
  • Install and support open technology and websites
  • Research and integrate open tools and OER within campus systems
  • Develop open source software
Administrators
  • Advocate for, promote, and budget for open initiatives
  • Align OER with strategic and organizational plans

When establishing a group, roles and responsibilities for members may vary—some may be doers, some may be advocates, and some may provide support. Formal groups working towards accomplishing a specific goal or task may have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for members from the outset. In comparison, more informal groups may initially have more fluid roles and responsibilities as members’ time and interest permit.

Partner with other institutions

You may want to consider expanding your open working group to include open working groups from other institutions. These relationships can help foster knowledge transfer and staff exchanges, and you may want to work together to develop workshops for online webinars, build subject-specific OER guides, and write grant applications. British Columbia has a number of examples of cross-institution open partnerships. For Open Access Week 2018, open working groups from several institutions collaborated to plan the Open but not Free: Invisible Labour in Open Scholarship panel. Another example would be the B.C. Open Education Librarians (BCOEL) community of practice.

Develop a Common Vision

Sharing knowledge is an act of knowing who will use it and for what purpose. This often involves mutually discovering which insights from the past are relevant in the present. To share tacit knowledge is to think together.[1]

Working to developing a common vision for the group can be a prerequisite for the success of the group. One approach to developing this vision is the CARE Framework. The CARE Framework was developed to support open educational resource (OER) stewards on campus. This framework can guide the group as you consider developing a shared vision.

The CARE Framework

The purpose of the CARE Framework is to articulate a set of shared values and a collective vision for the future of education and learning enabled by the widespread adoption and use of OER. It aims to address the question of how an individual, institution, or organization, seeking to be a good steward, can contribute to the growth and sustainability of the OER movement in a way that is consistent with the community’s values.

At the centre of the CARE Framework (see Figure 1) are a wide variety of stakeholders—OER creators and users, working as individuals and as part of organizations, in traditional and non-traditional educational settings—seeking to act as good stewards of the values of a sustainable OER movement. Locating people at the centre of the CARE Framework serves to remind us first and foremost of the broader social context and purpose of the OER movement.

OER Stewards Contribute, Attribute, Release, and Empower
Figure 1: The CARE Framework for OER Stewardship.

People serving as OER stewards pursue a wide variety of strategies and tactics relevant to their specific context to improve access to education and opportunity over time. Yet, what all good OER stewards should have in common is a commitment to practices that serve to demonstrate their duty of care to the broader OER movement:

  1. Contribute. OER stewards actively contribute to efforts, whether financially or via in-kind contributions, to advance the awareness, improvement, and distribution of OER.
  2. Attribute. OER stewards practise conspicuous attribution, ensuring that all who create or remix OER are properly and clearly credited for their contributions.
  3. Release. OER stewards ensure OER can be released and used beyond the course and platform in which it was created or delivered.
  4. Empower. OER stewards are inclusive and strive to meet the diverse needs of all learners, including by supporting the participation of new and non-traditional voices in OER creation and adoption.

Attributions

Media Attributions


  1. R. McDermott, “Knowing in community: 10 critical success factors in building communities of practice.” International Association for Human Resource Management 4, no.1 (2000): 19–26. 

Learn More:

Working Group Guide: Members and Partners

An excerpt from the Working Group Guide, by Lauri Aesoph.

Recruit members

When establishing an open working group, a key point of consideration is who could or should be involved. Depending on your institutional context and the purpose of your open working group, an initial recruitment strategy is to reach out to key stakeholders who might influence or impact decision-making about creating, adapting, or adopting open educational resources (OER) on campus. Key allies and potential stakeholders on campus may include the following:

  • Librarians
  • Teaching and learning centre staff
  • Student society representatives
  • Faculty champions
  • Bookstore staff
  • Technology professionals
  • Administrators
Key Stakeholders and Their Roles in Supporting OER Initiatives
Stakeholder Key Role(s) in Supporting OER Initiatives
Librarians
  • Are knowledgeable about educational materials
  • Work with faculty and students to find, adopt, and adapt OER
  • Organize and catalogue OER
Teaching and Learning Centre Staff
  • Work with faculty to train on the use of OER
  • Support course and curriculum design and pedagogy for open teaching assignments
  • Support faculty who want to incorporate OER within a course
Student Society Representatives
  • Advocate as the end user of all educational materials
  • Inventory OER use on campus
  • Determine students needs/interest in OER
  • Connect with other stakeholders on campus
Faculty Champions
  • Implement open into their classrooms
  • Lead by example by having an open practice
  • Encourage colleagues to participate in open
  • Conduct research about open
  • Work with articulation committees to include OER in the curriculum
Bookstore Staff
  • Offer print-on-demand services
  • Stock print copies
  • Distribute OER
Technology Professionals
  • Install and support open technology and websites
  • Research and integrate open tools and OER within campus systems
  • Develop open source software
Administrators
  • Advocate for, promote, and budget for open initiatives
  • Align OER with strategic and organizational plans

When establishing a group, roles and responsibilities for members may vary—some may be doers, some may be advocates, and some may provide support. Formal groups working towards accomplishing a specific goal or task may have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for members from the outset. In comparison, more informal groups may initially have more fluid roles and responsibilities as members’ time and interest permit.

Partner with other institutions

You may want to consider expanding your open working group to include open working groups from other institutions. These relationships can help foster knowledge transfer and staff exchanges, and you may want to work together to develop workshops for online webinars, build subject-specific OER guides, and write grant applications. British Columbia has a number of examples of cross-institution open partnerships. For Open Access Week 2018, open working groups from several institutions collaborated to plan the Open but not Free: Invisible Labour in Open Scholarship panel. Another example would be the B.C. Open Education Librarians (BCOEL) community of practice.

Develop a Common Vision

Sharing knowledge is an act of knowing who will use it and for what purpose. This often involves mutually discovering which insights from the past are relevant in the present. To share tacit knowledge is to think together.[1]

Working to developing a common vision for the group can be a prerequisite for the success of the group. One approach to developing this vision is the CARE Framework. The CARE Framework was developed to support open educational resource (OER) stewards on campus. This framework can guide the group as you consider developing a shared vision.

The CARE Framework

The purpose of the CARE Framework is to articulate a set of shared values and a collective vision for the future of education and learning enabled by the widespread adoption and use of OER. It aims to address the question of how an individual, institution, or organization, seeking to be a good steward, can contribute to the growth and sustainability of the OER movement in a way that is consistent with the community’s values.

At the centre of the CARE Framework (see Figure 1) are a wide variety of stakeholders—OER creators and users, working as individuals and as part of organizations, in traditional and non-traditional educational settings—seeking to act as good stewards of the values of a sustainable OER movement. Locating people at the centre of the CARE Framework serves to remind us first and foremost of the broader social context and purpose of the OER movement.

OER Stewards Contribute, Attribute, Release, and Empower
Figure 1: The CARE Framework for OER Stewardship.

People serving as OER stewards pursue a wide variety of strategies and tactics relevant to their specific context to improve access to education and opportunity over time. Yet, what all good OER stewards should have in common is a commitment to practices that serve to demonstrate their duty of care to the broader OER movement:

  1. Contribute. OER stewards actively contribute to efforts, whether financially or via in-kind contributions, to advance the awareness, improvement, and distribution of OER.
  2. Attribute. OER stewards practise conspicuous attribution, ensuring that all who create or remix OER are properly and clearly credited for their contributions.
  3. Release. OER stewards ensure OER can be released and used beyond the course and platform in which it was created or delivered.
  4. Empower. OER stewards are inclusive and strive to meet the diverse needs of all learners, including by supporting the participation of new and non-traditional voices in OER creation and adoption.

Attributions

Media Attributions


  1. R. McDermott, “Knowing in community: 10 critical success factors in building communities of practice.” International Association for Human Resource Management 4, no.1 (2000): 19–26. 

Learn More:

Working Group Guide: Frameworks and Approaches to Community

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Indigenization Guide: Inuit

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Indigenization Guide: Métis

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Ongoing Adoption – Estimating, Calculating, and Tracking

40 institutions, 618 faculty, 135,636 students, and $12,781,625 – $13,650,884 in savings realized through the

Hard-back OpenStax books come to Canada

Canadian fans of OpenStax’s hard-bound books no longer need to worry about international shipping and duty fees; OpenStax print textbooks are now for sale in Canada.

Post by Lauri Aesoph, Manager, Open Education [original date: Oct. 18, 2019] updated Jan. 14, 2020.

Thanks to a partnership between Vretta, a Toronto-based education technology company, and OpenStax, a Rice University-based nonprofit that publishes openly licensed college textbooks, print copies of OpenStax books will now officially be distributed in Canada. Canadian instructors and students who use OpenStax textbooks–and the bookstores that stock them–can now order these high-quality, full colour textbooks more easily, faster, and for less money through Vretta’s order form page. Prices (in Canadian dollars) are posted on the page, and bookstores – and others – that order 10 textbooks or more receive a 20% discount.

Books on a shelf
Photo credit: Jemel Agulto, OpenStax

Like other open textbooks, OpenStax books are still free online through the B.C. Open Textbook Collection or directly from the OpenStax catalogue.

Update

Two more options are now available for anyone in Canada wishing to buy a hard-back copy of an OpenStax open textbook. In addition to the Vretta order form page, these books are now available through Amazon Canada either by going directly to Amazon.ca (look for Vretta as the distributor) or by visiting individual OpenStax books posted in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection. These hard-cover books are available for 13 of the 33 OpenStax textbooks posted in the B.C. collection.   Since October, faculty and post-secondary bookstores in British Columbia and across Canada have purchased 20% of Vretta’s initial OpenStax inventory. A refund policy has also been posted to the Vretta ordering page.  

“Vretta is proud to deliver OpenStax hardcover textbooks across Canada. The initial response has been nothing short of great and it is very encouraging to know that there is a real demand for these resources. As demand continues to grow, we will strive to ensure that we meet the needs of students and institutions by continuing to restock our shelves with various titles.” says Shoeb Mozammel, Account Manager for Vretta.  

BCcampus and Vretta continue to meet monthly to oversee this endeavour. Feedback and questions are welcome at opentext@bccampus.ca.

Learn more:

From Zed Cred to ZTC: Clarifying what institutions really mean

B.C.’s colleges, universities, and institutes have learned to be careful when using the word “zero”

Post-Secondary Directory expanded to include all of Canada

A valuable open reference for post-secondary institutions across Canada has been completed. One of the
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