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The Best-Laid Plans: How COVID-19 Hindered (and Helped) One Open Education Project

It’s been more than a year since B.C.’s post-secondary community – and the world – were blindsided by a pandemic. The education sector has had 15 months to adjust to the idea and find ways to function within the confines caused by COVID-19. 

Ironically, individuals who run projects funded by the BCcampus Sustainability Grant for Institutions — where the goal is “to improve the sustainability of current open educational practices, resources, support, and training on their campuses” — found their grant duties challenging. This is one university’s story and how it found a way to carry on.

Post by Lauri Aesoph, manager, Open Education Operations, BCcampus

The University of Victoria (UVic) Libraries were ready to take the next step in their goal to expand open educational awareness on campus. And even though the pandemic had begun, those at UVic — like the rest of us — did not anticipate the breadth and toll this global event would have on its campus and so reasoned that applying for the BCcampus Sustainability Grant was the logical next step.

Already UVic Libraries’ ePublishing Services staff had worked closely with faculty and students to advance the creation, adoption, adaptation, and dissemination of open educational resources (OERs) by offering publishing assistance and OER start-up grants to its faculty members in collaboration with other university stakeholders such as the Learning, Teaching, Support and Innovation (LTSI) centre, campus bookstore, University Systems service, and undergraduate student society.

A 2019 survey on the trends, adaptation, and creation of open textbooks at UVic clarified the challenges faculty faced in adopting OERs and which institutional supports were currently available on campus. This information was used to devise UVic’s 2020 grant proposal whereby not only would grants be awarded to instructors willing to replace a commercial textbook with an OER but also UVic could fund a new, complementary Open Education Faculty Fellows program. In addition, because UVic’s Libraries already take an open approach to publishing scholarly monographs, the project’s vision was to tie it to the Libraries’ publishing program. The plan was dubbed the Open Education Digital Initiatives Grants (OEDIG) program.

First Response

During the initial months of the pandemic, BCcampus amended its project reporting tool by including questions about COVID-19. The new version allowed grantees to provide a comprehensive account of the limitations and challenges they faced because of the pandemic, such as inadequate time to devote to project duties. Based on responses, BCcampus project managers did what they could to support grantees through extending project due dates and adjusting project plans. For the most part, these steps allowed institutions to proceed with their projects. In other cases, more was needed.

Inba Kehoe, head of the Copyright Office and Scholarly Communication at UVic Libraries, and one of the authors for the BCcampus Sustainability Grant application, admitted that “COVID-19 certainly created a number of challenges for us.

“Faculty were too stressed and overworked with the pivot to online to consider submitting a proposal at this time,” Inba said. Extra hours were already required to learn new technologies for online teaching and managing classrooms where students — also struggling — were learning at a distance. The additional energy and focus needed to apply for and participate in a new grant program wasn’t there. 

Not surprisingly, Inba also found it hard to make room for her grant and other open education work, so she took care of it by using a few moments here and there to slowly make progress.

Time and energy weren’t the only problems that Inba and her UVic colleagues faced with their sustainability project. They also needed more money for their planned on-campus OER grants to provide instructors with full release from their course loads and allow time to devote to OER grant work. And like time, money was tight.

When UVic’s OER grant program began in 2019 — in addition to UVic Libraries — funding was provided by UVic’s undergraduate student society, the LTSI, and the University Systems service. In the previous year, each grant offered a maximum of $5000. However, it was determined by UVic that $7500 was needed for the new OEDIG program so that faculty would have sufficient time to complete a full course redesign that fit with a newly adopted, revised, or created OER.

With time, the LTSI was able to gather extra funding from campus stakeholders to fulfill the $7500 per grant goal. Not only that, but the LTSI agreed to also administer the grant program as they had done the previous year. 

Needless to say, all this work meant pushing the original call for proposals time line from the fall of 2020 to early spring 2021, similar to the schedule shift made for other grants administered by the LTSI. With that decision made, Inba and her team posted the first call for OER grants with a March 11, 2021, due date. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 continued to assert its crippling effect on potential grantees, and only one proposal was received. Recognizing this was not the only grant fund available through the LTSI that had a low submission rate, UVic decided to re-issue the OER grant call with an early May deadline. This time, more applicants did take notice, resulting in four proposals on the project’s desk by the extended deadline. 

In the end, this year of disruption delayed UVic’s plan to require its sustainability grantees to complete their projects action by spring 2022 and, instead, pushed that deadline forward by a year to 2023. 

The best-laid plan can falter for a number of reasons, including a pandemic. During the past year BCcampus grantees have endured the many bumps in the road that COVID-19 threw at them. However, when these bumps threatened to derail UVic’s hard work, it held steady with patience, tenacity, and a willingness to accept the situation at hand to create a new plan and gain more experience in how to function in the open education field.

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We are actively promoting and facilitating opportunities to advance open education in the post-secondary institutions of British Columbia. Learn more.

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