Key questions to drive smarter higher education content strategies


Open Educational Resources [OER] was quite the buzz at three recent higher education conferences — WCET, EDUCAUSE and OLC Accelerate. And it’s likely to get more attention, with usage of OER forecasted to triple as the primary higher-ed courseware over the next five years, according to a recent survey.

But as more colleges and universities institute policies to encourage faculty adoption of OER, institutions and their IT departments will need to grapple with a host of questions, including how to discover the best resources, improve adoption rates and develop best practices for implementation.

The average school already uses a mixture of digital content, traditional textbooks and an array of OER options — but most schools haven’t crystallized their vision for fully utilizing and supporting digital content, nor mapped out how to get there.

Before your institution gets tangled in a web of questions, here a few essential considerations, beginning by tackling the overarching question first:

Where do you want your content mix to be in four years?

Think about the efficiency and benefits of an enterprise-wide content management and delivery process if a strategy drove decisions behind the vision toward a unified approach to course content. All key stakeholders could put thoughtful planning into key foundational elements with an eye toward reducing content costs, gaining operational efficiencies and more deeply aligning and integrating materials with the learning experience.

Who should be involved?

Due to the current state of content being highly fragmented, a unified strategy will require a visionary executive sponsor to drive the initiative with input from various departments across campus. While there is no hard and fast rule as to whom will participate, it will likely be key members of the faculty, instructional design, information technology, auxiliary services, the bookstore, finance and outside partners, depending on the campus. Content that is mostly digital, interactive and embedded in the learning environment requires a different set of academic and logistical considerations.

What content will work best for your institution?

There are a myriad of content types to consider — OER, adaptive, disaggregated and publisher materials. But before you jump into all new content, review your current booklist. A range of publisher materials previously chosen by faculty may be available digitally, so faculty won’t have to reconsider their adoptions. If so, an institution can take advantage by approving digital inclusive access and asking publishers to provide associated pricing. This approach often delivers immediate savings and efficiencies with the proper change management to support faculty and students going digital. It also opens the door to future innovative content.

On the OER front, some faculty are already sourcing their own, but typically the Instructional Design department is separately educating faculty on what’s available, sometimes incenting adoption of lower cost materials through stipends or grants. Still for some faculty course materials aren’t enough, they seek ancillary elements to support their teaching, like assessments. A unified content approach brings more OER options to the fore, integrating them into an overall strategy and expanding faculty use. This lowers costs and positively impacts student outcomes.

What platforms will work best for your institution?

When considering the institutional use of adaptive and disaggregated content, you also need to consider what platforms are in use or on the horizon and how best to integrate them seamlessly with other systems, including disaggregated or digital publisher content.

Accessibility should be reviewed as well. Take eReader platforms for instance, many uniformly ensure that content is accessible. Random OER may be accessible in a PDF or on websites via links, but if ingested into an eReader platform such as VitalSource, their accessibility layer is applied ensuring the content is compliant.

How will you handle support services?

As an institution carves out its overall plan to find, integrate and manage more OER and digital content, consider the support services that should be provided to ensure adoption. Who is handling copyright clearances? How will students who have opted out of digital secure course materials? Who will oversee quality control i.e., ensuring a YouTube link for a history class isn’t broken over the academic year?

In addition, as OER and digital content adoption grow, thoughtful change management with a training and socialization initiative will encourage the effective use of new content. It will also help the institution identify, segment and phase-in student cohorts who are good candidates for digital open resources.

Obviously, having your institution’s IT experts involved throughout the process will help ensure your institution is able to keep up with, and deliver the widening range of content choices available to your faculty and students.

However, answering these questions now and establishing a unified, campus-wide strategy will not only help reduce overall content costs, it will also help improve learning outcomes and streamline operations. The result: greater student satisfaction and improved academic performance.

Kerry Pigman is co-founder, president, and COO of Ed Map, a content strategy and logistics company.