Stories of Innovation: Mankato OER Professional Development Certificate Program

Carrie Miller, Ph.D, Instructional Designer, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Mankato OER Professional Development Certificate Program

What do you do as one small voice on a campus of thousands when you want to make a change?  Stand in the middle of campus and shout at the top of your lungs?  Put up a sign?  Start a social media campaign?

Those are all great ideas to get quick attention, which was part of my plan.  However, I also wanted to make a lasting impact and help faculty make a change in their course materials.  Shouting seemed counterproductive to that goal.  But I decided I could figuratively shout my intentions by creating a framework that helped my audience face the challenges of revising courses when they had limited time and limited reward for doing so. If that effort was successful, then the numbers could do the shouting for me.

I’ve always been passionate about the rising cost of textbooks.  As a (relatively) recent doctoral graduate, I was known to participate in what I like to call creative textbook acquisition, otherwise known as “avoiding buying books for full price”.  I utilized my public libraries and every online textbook site I could think of to purchase the lowest priced materials possible. And still, each semester, the textbook costs set me back hundreds of dollars.  My story is not unique.

When I moved into my full-time career, I wanted to do something to help reduce this financial burden by promoting Open Educational Resources (OER).  By helping faculty implement high-quality, low-cost material solutions, I could score a win for students across our campus, but I knew faculty would need help, as it is a big task to revise courses using OER.

I started out by conducting a study of students across the Minnesota State system.  I wanted to know – is this really an issue here in Minnesota?  Perhaps textbook affordability was specific to my previous system but not my current one.  The results of the study suggested that textbook affordability is a big concern here as well.  Studies conducted nationally show the same.



I had my data but I needed a plan.  A plan that provided support and recognition to faculty for the work that they would have to do to adopt new OER material.  A grant from the Minnesota State System Office supported a plan and resources.

The grant funding was allocated to support a graduate student to work full-time on an OER implementation pilot.  The remainder of the funding was designated for faculty stipends in recognition of the time they would spend in the year-long cohort.  We accepted 12 faculty applicants to the cohort and began to walk them into the world that is Open Educational Resources.  We also interviewed students and created a video compilation of their textbook stories.  We added to our digital resources, such as our Open Textbook Repository, and I created a podcast that was hosted by our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.  Our most important accomplishment was to start conversations around our campus with faculty, administration, students, the library, and our bookstore about this issue.  Creating a culture of awareness on our campus and providing a point of contact to coordinate all the efforts of the Minnesota State System Office and our own staff was a milestone in the project.


Our faculty cohort met once in the fall semester for an overview of textbook affordability and an introduction to Open Educational Resources.

In the spring semester, our cohort met four times as a group, diving deeper into issues such as Creative Commons licensing and publishing your own work as OER.

Additionally, our cohort split into two separate groups focusing on creating collaborative works, such as the first Graduate Student Handbook for our campus.

During the spring semester, the participants worked on one of three options:

  • Adopting existing OER material into at least one class
  • Publishing their own material as OER
  • Contributing to the collaborative OER project

The graduate assistant worked one-on-one with each participant to provide resources, search the OER sites for material, and provide accountability for completion of projects.  The participants received their funding at the end of the academic year upon submission of their project reports.

Along the way, we have continued to collect data from faculty and students on their attitudes about OER and what they need to keep the movement, well, moving.  We are also continuing our independent research on various topics connected to OER, so stay tuned for those results!carriemiller4

We are proud of our faculty participants and of the success they had converting at least one of their courses to OER.  Although several courses are not due to launch until Spring 2019, I have estimated that in three semesters, we will have saved students $22,671, almost the amount of the grant.  That the cost savings will continue to rise as more courses get converted and the OER material get reused each semester pleases me to no end.

Our framework continues to get revised from the lessons we learned over the last year.  Networking with colleagues running similar programs at other institutions has given me ideas for events I can host during Open Education week (March 4-8, 2019).  Attending events such as the Open Ed conference has helped me network with vendors and Open Ed communities as well as colleagues passionate about alternatives to traditional textbooks.  Most importantly, it has opened my eyes to the dedication that exists within our system to this issue of textbook affordability.

Here is a synopsis of our cohort success to date:

  • Our Business professor saved her students $197 each by switching to OER ($7486 saved total in one semester)
  • One Early Childhood professor saved her students $80 each ($2125 saved total in one semester).
  • A Special Education professor has committed to switching to OER by Spring 19 in her course, saving students $77 each ($2310 saved total in one semester)
  • Our Social Work professor will be implementing OER in her class, which will save her students $85 each ($850 saved total in one semester)
  • Our Mass Comm professor will adopt an OER as a grammar/writing handbook in Spring of 19 for the course, saving them $22 each ($990 saved total in one semester)
  • Our Communication Disorders professor has decided to work towards finding or creating OER for her course, saving students $198 each ($8910 will be saved total per semester)

While I’m still not shouting in the middle of campus, I’m letting the numbers speak for themselves.  And I haven’t taken out a billboard, but flyers will go out this semester advertising my continued support and programming for those interested in participating in our new and improved OER cohort. The best part is that I am no longer solo in my efforts and now we are moving forward as a community to tackle the issue of textbook affordability.

Do you have a story about a campus innovation you’ve been working on?  Consider submitting it for publication to “Stories of Innovation”!   Contact Stephen Kelly, Open Education and Innovation Program Coordinator, at for more information.

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