We fail to appreciate the virtues of the messy—the untidy, unquantified, uncoordinated, improvised, imperfect, incoherent, crude, cluttered, random, ambiguous, vague, difficult, diverse, or even dirty. ~my favorite quote thus far from Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford
These days, I tell a lot stories about the messy path to adopting open educational resources. For a selective extrovert like me, it’s a dream come true to hold court about a topic I love to talk about, and I embrace a little chaos. As I’ve travelled these last two months, I struggle a lot with being seen as a vendor-salesy-person in the eyes of faculty. My People.
In fact, when I attended conferences as a teacher, I only went to the vendor hall for the free drinks and appetizers. Rarely did I make eye contact with salespeople. When I introduce myself to teachers these days, I feel hyper-aware of how they see me. People who are vendors like me.
I try to gain a little pedagogical street cred by telling some stories about my frenetic path to my latest gig. How my best work is not with technology, but with people. Teachers.
For instance, my favorite little ditty is about an adjunct faculty member who has a beautiful OER course. Gorgeously interesting course—freely available but not open (I’ll get to that later). He’s currently working on the third iteration of the course, and I’m very proud to say that I talked him into it. Using all of the powers of persuasion that I could muster, I convinced this teacher years ago that this course would be good for his students. Good for his teaching. Good for his career. Good for his discipline. Good for the job market. Good for me. Good for him. Good for ye ol’ curriculum vitae.
The only textbook of quality for his discipline is the same book my teacher required me to purchase back when I was but a wee lass in college. Turns out, it’s the same book he had a buy as a student. Our own teachers, we marveled, probably struggled to teach with the content. Yet there was no other textbook on the market. No alternative. There is still nothing that competes with it. Yet.
We high-fived about still paying interest on that book thanks to our student loans. [Drink!] That 20% “resale” we got back from the bookstore is long gone. As a favor to support my fervor as an administrator, he committed to creating an “open” course to save his students money. What a guy. Look at me getting all leaderly-like with the teacher folks, I thought. Oh, the unpaid hours he spent between contracts to create this course. I could count it as an “OER” course on my list of teachers that I supported.
In hindsight, I thought that era of my career was stressful [pause for hysterical laughter here. Drink!]. His students saved $11,000 the first time he taught the course. Yay! He felt happier about his lectures. Confident that he was finally teaching from materials he owned. Excited by the ease with which he could remix and revise his content. Jazzed to see it come together in the LMS. Inspired by owning his teaching materials. Appreciated endlessly by people like me.
Then I asked him if we would be willing to license the course using a Creative Commons license.
“So that anyone can use it?” he asked.
“Of course! It would be amazing to share that course. Surely you’re not alone with being dissatisfied with your textbook. You are an amazing writer. So inspiring!” I said gleefully. Jazz hands. Sparkles, sunshine, supersonic sweetness. Big smiles.
“And when I attribute my work, which institution should I add to said license?” his eyes scrunched in suspicion. Happy Teacher vanished. The light from his eyes faded. The Administrator-Hater took over my Happy Teacher. Boom. Just like that.
I’d ask too much.
He’s an adjunct. Precarious. Casual. Without tenure. Part-time. Contract-to-contract.
I didn’t know what to say. The old horrors of my own adjunct era resurfaced. Empathy killed my ambitions. Self-doubt circled. Words escaped me. “Well, you don’t have to, I suppose. But…”
He looked me in the eyes for a long time.
“So what if I’m on the job market and somebody uses my textbook, you know the one I just wrote on my own time, as his own? What if that person gets the job I want using my work? Explain why I would want to give somebody else an edge when I’m competing on the job market.”
Here we go. Queue the broken record that we call higher education.
“Right, I get that. But still, think of the students who will benefit from saving money. Think of how approachable and good your work is for other teachers.” I sounded so desperate. The moment I start to doubt my own words, I’m transparent like a window.
“Yes, thanks. Kind of you. Your praise won’t pay my bills. The day I’m hired as a full-time teacher, I will license that course. Until then, I’ll worry about my students and my courses. I won’t let somebody steal this line from my CV.”
Oh dear. He’s right. He’s wrong. He’s right. He’s wrong. He’s right but wrong. Sigh.
Here’s the thing.
How many adjuncts are hoarding good courses because they don’t feel invested in by institutions? How many adjuncts think that their OER course will give them an edge on the job market? How many adjuncts use OER materials without their administrators knowing it? How many adjuncts share my colleague’s perspective?
I’d wager more than we know.
And I’m always on the side of the teachers who do not feel like stakeholders in the very organizational structure they help sustain. The very organizational structure that exploits them. The very organizational structure that made me choose another career. To this day, I side with teachers and I try to support administrators. It’s never easy. None of us feel comfortable in our skin in this complicated moment of change management. It’s messy.
I chalk my collaboration with this teacher up as part failure and part success. Yes, his students get the benefit of his work. They save money. They won’t be middle-aged people paying interest on books that didn’t improve their learning like me and many of my friends. However, nobody else will benefit until/unless he’s hired as a full-timer. Until. Unless. Until. Unless.
The major question on my mind these days is this:
To what extent does the adjunctification/casualisation of the labor/labour slow the adoption of OER?
More than we know, I’d wager.
File this question under Messy.