Transcript: From OER Learner to Leader


This is the audio transcript of the pre-recorded session “From OER Learner to Leader” during the Open Education Conference 2021 (#OpenEd21). Watch the recording on YouTube and join in the conversation on Twitter!


  • Monica Brown
  • Apurva Ashok


Monica: Hi, everyone! Thank you so much for joining us today.

My name is Monica Brown (she/her/hers pronouns), and I am the assistant program manager at Rebus Community. I am coming to you today from Redmond, Oregon on the unceded territory of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. I thank them for allowing me to live and work on this land.

Apurva: And hi everybody, I’m Apurva Ashok, the Director of Open Education at The Rebus Foundation. I lead the Rebus Community initiative and have the joy of collaborating with Monica at work. I use she/her/hers pronouns. And today, I’m joining you from Philadelphia, on the Indigenous territory known as “Lenapehoking,” the traditional homelands of the Lenape, also called Lenni-Lenape or Delaware Indians. I’m grateful for the privilege to connect with you all from this land.

Today, Monica and I will tell you about a professional development pathway we created at Rebus to support OER learners who were eager to establish themselves as OER leaders. We wanted to create a unique opportunity and pathway for leaders to build skills that help them beyond what is currently offered. As you know leadership can take on many different forms so with our program we have focused on using teaching, good instruction, facilitation, and managing a community of practice as a means to cultivate a leadership style. This session will explore how a professional development facilitator program that was created for faculty librarians and staff enabled emerging leaders to gain a robust set of skills in mentoring, facilitating, guiding project management, and more.

Monica: We brought on a group of alumni/graduates from our flagship Textbook Success Program to facilitate the course for future cohorts. To provide a brief bit of background, the Textbook Success Program is a year-long cohort experience for participants to develop foundational knowledge about open, collaborative publishing models and apply these principles in real-time on the OER they are creating. The program follows a weekly structure for 3 months, and then switches to a monthly cadence for the remainder of the year. Participants learn to:

  • Construct and maintain a robust project team,
  • Share their work and process openly and
  • Become OER advocates throughout their own professional communities.

Apurva: The TSP started in 2019 and as it has continued to grow, we’ve seen an increasing need and opportunity for additional leadership growth in the form of facilitating and leading these emerging communities of practice. 

So, we wanted to create a pathway for program graduates to continue their open education journey. In May 2021, we began our alumni facilitator program and worked with 3 alumni to lead the next batch of TSP participants. You’ll hear more from our facilitators Amy Minervini, Joel Gladd, and Bryan McGeary during this presentation.

Monica: The interest from our program graduates to continue their relationship-centered experience in TSP has been very evident. Bryan, who is currently facilitating multiple TSP cohorts, explains how being a Rebus facilitator has been an essential professional development experience for him. Quote: “Connecting with and learning from others (and hopefully helping them to learn too) is what makes any kind of educational endeavor feel like it’s worth the time and effort. That intangible, human element is something that is hard to quantify, and it is satisfying in a way that professional accomplishments and money can never be.” 

Apurva: To give you all a sense of the human element and the different connections that crop up in TSP, we’ve pulled together some data for you from our 2 summer cohorts. These cohorts comprise a total of 17 OER projects ranging across 15 discipline areas. Program participants average around 25 people per cohort (49 on the slide here across the two cohorts). They can work individually or in teams of up to 4 people. Each cohort contains participants from a range of positions on campus: librarians, administrators, instructional designers, and/or technologists – in addition to the faculty experts or instructors.

Our facilitators need to keep all these contexts, varying levels of expertise, and project goals in mind as they facilitate a total of 21 sessions over the year. Through these diverse cohorts, our facilitators have the opportunity to stretch their expertise by providing advice and support for people and projects far beyond their immediate experience. With the training and support provided by Monica, Rebus facilitators grow into their roles as mentors and guides for these cohorts.

Monica: As you may imagine, working with such a diverse group of people and projects opens the potential to build a wide range of skills. On this slide, we’ve compiled a few of the top skills that we see our facilitators building through this program.  I’ll just highlight a couple of them for you here including: 

  • Articulating best practices in the various pieces of the publishing process
  • Making connections between projects across disciplines and stages
  • And, of course, the management of the many simultaneous technical components

We see a direct correlation between these skills and the workforce demands of leadership positions in higher education. However central these skills might be, finding the opportunity to practice them is often pretty rare. This is why the Rebus facilitation pathway is so rewarding.

Apurva: Joel Gladd, another facilitator, notes in a quote here. He says, “I’m primarily an educator, but I don’t often get the chance to manage a cohort composed of other professors and academic leaders. This experience has helped me see what transfers from my own classroom experience and what requires a different touch, given the context”

This facilitation opportunity we’ve created is more than your average university teaching experience. There is a different touch required to lead a community of practice for other professionals. It’s a skill that many educators don’t have the chance to build in most college and university environments. We know that this experience has resonated with our facilitators, in part, because of the unique chance to work with professionals from across the world on their open education initiatives.

Monica: Yes, even for myself, coming into this role to train and coach our facilitators has provided me with some unique opportunities for growth. I was formerly an open education coordinator at a mid-size public university. There were many chances to get involved in policy, administration, and of course, relationship-building across departments. And yet, I’ve found that there wasn’t quite the chance to mentor and lead with my expertise to the extent that I’ve been able to with our facilitators program.  

Monica: So what type of further training did we conduct? Our facilitators were already equipped with the foundational knowledge around OER, open publishing, accessibility and inclusive design in OER when they were enrolled in our TSP. Some of them had also completed other programs focused on copyright training or open librarianship. We wanted to guide them around putting this knowledge into use with a community of practice, leading with care, and introducing others to these concepts. 

We put together a facilitator guide to act as a central document for facilitators to review expectations, curriculum, and resources. Initial onboarding involved going through this guide as well as identifying common problems they might need to address with their groups. We also implemented a mentorship model with one-on-one training meetings and debrief sessions to support facilitators in leveraging their strengths as they adapted to the challenge of facilitating their virtual community of practice and teaching adult learners. This coaching model allowed us to hone in on the areas that individual facilitators wanted to grow the most – whether that was being able to make quick connections between participants or manage the many technical pieces at play during a session. 

Over the course of the first 12 weeks of the TSP, facilitators had 1.5 hour sessions on a weekly basis with their cohorts, enabling them to rapidly apply feedback and build great working relationships with their cohorts. They learned the steps to successfully prepare for a session which not only includes getting familiar with a session’s lesson plan but also staying up-to-date with project teams and thinking ahead for what might be the next step a given team should take. 

Apurva: Of course, this process had its fair share of ups and downs. As facilitator Amy Minervini puts it: “The most challenging aspect has been navigating the technical aspects of facilitating. You have to be a stage manager of sorts—simultaneously presenting, monitoring the chat, answering DMs, keeping an eye on time & pacing, and making sure examples are at-the-ready all while being able to think on your feet and smile.

Even though I have been teaching for over 20 years, there is extra pressure when leading a group of peers—some who have more experience than me, many who are experts in their field, and all who are seeking to gain something from each session.”

Virtual facilitation skills take some time to develop, but the facilitators found it harder to settle in their role as “mentor” or “guide” — to go from being the person asking the question to the one having to answer them. 

Monica: One of the bigger insights our facilitators have had through this process is that leadership doesn’t correlate with knowing it all up front.

Amy shares: “Over time I have become less nervous because I don’t have all the answers. And I don’t need to.

With each session under my belt, I feel more comfortable leading large groups and feel extremely privileged to play a small part in advancing open educational resources and promoting the mighty community of open publishing.”

Part of the journey of becoming a leader involves knowing who to turn to when you don’t know the answers yourself — be it someone on your team, in your classroom, or elsewhere — and to be constantly learning. Being honest and vulnerable with your cohort in this manner creates an environment of shared learning, where everyone has the opportunity to contribute as much as they learn.

Monica: In our final few minutes before questions, we wanted to reflect on the impact we think this professional development program has had.

Apurva: As we’ve noted previously, in putting together this program, one of the critical needs we identified was an opportunity for OER champions to gain more hands-on experience that builds on their existing introductory knowledge of open. By allowing them to step into the role of teacher (and in this case, leader), we see tremendous results.

Monica: First, facilitators gain a host of skills having to do with virtual instruction and online communities of practice. By being the “stage manager” and alert to not only the technical details of an online classroom or forum, and also being attuned to how students are engaging in the class, our facilitators have built a number of observation, multi-tasking, and empathetic leadership skills.

Mentoring and teaching adult students in a variety of contexts also heightened their relationship management skills. Facilitators demonstrated responsiveness, flexibility, and an awareness of different challenges that may impede or affect OER production. In addition to being a space where larger developments in the field are discussed, the experience also serves as a foundation to grow general confidence to participate actively in the space of the discipline.

Apurva: Working alongside a peer network meant that facilitators had a space to be transparent about their reflections, struggles, and successes in their journey as an emerging leader. And I’ll say the supportive environment and mentorship model Monica provided ensured that facilitators felt comfortable navigating their leadership role in this mock or ‘trial’ setting where they could feel comfortable failing as much as they could feel comfortable succeeding.. 

Monica: We found that our facilitators demonstrated an accelerated leadership growth, even a few months into this program, as they accumulated the skills and confidence that would otherwise have developed over many years. Some facilitators are using this experience to enhance their tenure and promotion dossiers/applications while others are using this as a stepping stone for leading wide-scale OER initiatives in their regions.

Apurva: Bryan shares: “I think the nature of this work directly translates to what I do in my job [as a Learning Design & Open Education Engagement Librarian]. . .there’s that element of building my network and raising my profile that is important to my promotion and tenure case. 

But I would say that this experience has been (and continues to be) most helpful in building my confidence as an open education leader.”

I think that the idea really of trusting people to lead, and giving them the confidence boost they need to apply the expertise they bring to open education – that’s really the final ingredient to any successful leadership ‘recipe.’ To end, I think we’ll just say we hope that you have seen that investing in current and future oer leaders really ensures the longevity and sustainability of our collective work and open we certainly have seen this to be the case and um hope that this presentation has convinced you similarly.

Monica:Thank you for taking the time to listen to us today. We’ll note that the slide here contains some more details about the TSP program we have mentioned, as well as contact details if you want to get in touch. If you’re watching this session live, now is the time we’d like to turn to you for any questions and comments. And if you’re watching the pre-recorded session in your own time, please feel free to follow-up with us! We look forward to hearing from you. Thanks, everyone. 

Apurva: And especially Bryan, Joel, and Amy for all of your hard work and for your reflections today. Looking forward to hearing your questions and comments!

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