Let’s face it, OER is a tough sell…

Convincing faculty, staff, students, friends and family that OER is important is a difficult and sometimes frustrating process.  For starters, even describing what OER is can be difficult.  If you don’t lose your audience after saying “open educational resources” you usually do immediately after mentioning copyright.

Faculty, especially, are concerned with copyright and its broader impact on the resources we are asking them to share. A couple examples from a concerned faculty member might be:

“Will I lose control of my work if I share it under a creative commons license?”

“Why would I want others to remix and reuse what I have spent so much time creating for a specific reason?”

If, however, you are lucky enough to ease faculty concerns regarding creative commons licenses and other copyright issues, you are likely to hear that their materials are not ready for the world stage, or that freely distributing their material will take away from their personal, or the university’s bottom line.

Peter Sefton, from the Australian Digital Futures Institute, in his blog presents very excellent and precise arguments that demonstrate how to win a debate with faculty who are concerned with the quality of their materials and the bottom line.

Peter Sefton and Neil Butcher of OER Africa have also pointed out that educational materials are already being shared through bitTorrents and other file sharing websites, so we should embrace and capitalize on this trend before colleges and universities end up like the music industry and newspapers. But, as Neil Butcher points out, until policies at universities are in place that reward the creation of OER, can we really expect people to change their behavior? Furthermore, even if we have the most logically sound arguments for why OER is the best and why everyone should participate there is still cognitive dissonance to manage. Sure, our arguments for OER make sense, but people are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence.” No big deal, but I just quoted Wikipedia.

So how can we continue pushing forward without sweeping policy changes that encourage the creation and dissemination of OER and how do we break through the mental blocks people build up against OER? Easy. Pleasant persistence.

What is pleasant persistence and why does it matter? Pleasant persistence is a frame of mind, or perhaps even a strategy that can be employed by any person in any work environment. Pleasant persistence is simply being respectful and kind, while at the same time unrelenting in your mission to convince someone of something, in this case, that OER rules #1.

Being cordial and respectful to your colleagues generally goes without saying, but in the case of OER (and anything else designed to change the way people work), it is important to keep your cool when people do not buy in as quickly as you would like them to. Pleasant persistence is a strategy that helps you deal with just that.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when venturing down the road of pleasant persistence:

1.     Stay positive and always be helpful. All communications, emails, phone calls  and face-to-face conversations should be in the tone of a customer service representative. Not in an annoying way, but you want to express that you are there to help. And that by spending a little time with you, one will learn a great deal about OER. The good, the bad, and everything in between.

2.     Try and try again. Faculty and staff may choose to ignore your emails, phone calls, and presentations, but that is not a reason to give up (unless you run out of funding I suppose) or to become combative. Keep on sending those emails and giving those presentations. Sometimes it takes 5 emails, or presentations, or phone calls to grab the attention of a faculty member. Just remember, keep it positive, helpful, and informative.

3.     Be concise, but don’t overload your audience. Eventually, people will start to listen. And when they do, you will want to offer up small, easily digestible, pieces of OER wisdom.  Offering just shy of the right amount of information and they may have to ask a question (good), but offering too much may alienate them with all of your OERness (bad).

4.     Check your enthusiasm. “An overly-enthusiastic response to a minimal piece of new information can cause unintended backlash, like future snubbing of requests.” This last one comes from our office manager and co-founder of Open.Michigan, Piet Kleymeer. Be sure to look out for other “Piet’s pro tips” in any of my future blog posts (assuming I’m invited back).

5.     Finally, be available. It will not help your cause if you send someone three emails requesting a response, and then ignore them when they finally write you back.

Does this really work? I like to think so, and we may even have some proof (in a totally unscientific way, of course). This past summer, I was lucky enough to land a job here at Open.Michigan. My job was to work with the Open.Michigan team to convince as many Medical School faculty as possible to publish their learning materials as OER. The Open.Michigan team had already laid an excellent foundation in which to continue building faculty participation on, but the overall growth of faculty participation had begun to slow down. Naturally, I believe, because the initial interest generated by the launch of a program can fade quickly and because people are busy. We are competing against a ton of other on campus activities.

So with pleasant persistence in mind we launched an email campaign targeting the Medical School faculty we hoped would agree to publish their material as OER. We didn’t always break through with the first few emails, or meetings scheduled as a result of those emails. But, through our continued efforts we eventually went on to double the number of faculty (over 80 now) who have agreed to work with us and we have even doubled the number of open medical school resources available for download on open.umich.edu. Bringing our total number of published medical school materials to 348 resources. Again, without the foundation set it place, this would not have worked, but once you have laid the groundwork, it’s only a matter of reaching out, over and over again, in a positive way.  And who knows, eventually faculty and the greater community of researchers, learners and policy makers will see the benefits of OER, and as a result, those sweeping policy changes mentioned earlier may come to fruition.

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