On Sustaining an OER Initiative

Having launched a new OER initiative at Florida State University (FSU) just over a year ago, in November 2016, I think it's worth taking a moment to reflect on questions of sustainability. Although our small team of librarians has made good progress in establishing and growing our inititative over the past year, how can we ensure that OER not only becomes an important strategic priority at our institution but remains so long into the future? What can our team do to work toward this goal, and what outcomes will we need to advocate for at the institutional level?

In organizing my thoughts on these questions, I can see a number of necessary outcomes in the following four categories:

Campus-wide participation

One shortcoming of our OER intiative to date concerns the breadth and depth of involvement from campus stakeholders. Although we have made good progress on engaging with students and faculty, our efforts to involve key campus partners have not been very successful. We have reached out to several prospective partners - including our campus bookstore, Student Government Association, Office of Distance Learning, Office of Faculty Development, and Center for the Advancement of Teaching - but the response thus far, despite being mostly positive, has not led to much meaningful participation. Given that our initiative is just one year old and essentially a grass-roots movement led by a few rank-and-file librarians, the lack of broad participation from campus partners is hardly surprising, and there's a good chance that we'll convince at least some of them to get involved in future.

Either way, our team is determined to keep working at this over the next year, because we know that our initiative will never become sustainable without campus-wide participation. Ideally, our hope is to convince our university's leadership team to create an OER taskforce with senior representatives from all relevant stakeholder groups and administrative units. We believe that a high-level, institutionally-endorsed taskforce would be invaluable in soliciting and formalizing participation from key campus partners, in addition to giving the conversation about OER and textbook affordability initiatives greater visibility across campus.


We launched our initiative with $5,000 of funding from our libraries' collection budget, and have since expanded our funding allocation to $15,000 through additional contributions from our libraries and from FSU's international programs. This funding has enabled us to launch a successful alternative textbook grants program to encourage instructors to adopt OER for their courses, and will also enable us to join the Open Textbook Network over the coming year. Although our team is extremely grateful for this funding, we are also acutely aware that it is temporary money from two sources, and therefore inherently precarious. If either of our sponsors experience a budget shortfall, or if a future round of our mini-grant program is not sufficiently successful, then the funding could easily be recalled.

For this reason, another key objective for our team will be to expand and diversify the funding for our initiative, soliciting contributions from new sponsors and making every effort to formalize any new commitments with a view to long-term sustainability. This will be a bit of a balancing act, of course, since with more funding will come greater expectations, and scaling programs up can quickly introduce new sustainability concerns. Done in the right way, however, we believe that additional funding will be an important factor in ensuring the long-term sustainability of our initative.

Dedicated positions

An initative can only become truly sustainable if there are dedicated positions to support it. To date, our initiative at FSU has been built around the efforts of a few passionate individuals, all of whom hold positions with duties and responsibilities that are not directly related to OER. Although we have each convinced our supervisors to allow us to devote a portion of our time to OER, this is no way to build a sustainable initiative over the long term. If any of us were to move on to different institutions, or if our supervisors were to decide that we needed to focus on other priorities, the continued growth and success of our OER initiative could be in jeapordy. In light of these concerns, we think that the creation of at least one dedicated position tasked with maintaining and advancing a campus-wide OER initiative will also be crucial to achieving long-term sustainability. There is strong evidence to support this view, particularly when one considers the level of support required to sustain large-scale OER initiatives such as MIT's Open CourseWare, which employed at least 29 people a decade ago and remains a much-lauded resource to this day (Wiley, 2007).

Policy reform

As we move forward, our team is also concious of the need to reform existing university policies to include language about OER and open educational practices. Because institutional policies not only have a measure of permanence and visibility, but also play an important role in influencing behaviour and decision-making, policy reform is arguably at least as important to ensuring the sustainability of an OER initiative as expanded funding or participation. Examples of policies and related documents that we could advocate to reform in future include:
  • Promotion & tenure guidelines, to ensure that faculty who spend time adopting, adapting, or creating OER are rewarded for their efforts
  • Strategic plans, to ensure that OER-related goals and objectives are explicitly included in decision-making by key campus partners and the university as a whole
  • Terms of reference for relevant university committees, again to ensure that OER-related goals and objectives are represented alongside other priorities 
  • Copyright policies and guidelines to clarify ownership of educational resources and empower instructors to use Creative Commons licenses and exercise their rights under fair use


Wiley, D. (2007). One the sustainability of open educational resource initiatives in higher education. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/38645447.pdf