File This Question Under Messy

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.


About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, #OER, professional development, adult education, and the federated wiki. A Memoir.
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18 Responses to File This Question Under Messy

  1. francesbell says:

    Lovely post Alyson. And what’s wrong is more about the injustice of precarious labour than the wrong of slowing the rate of OeR adoption. That’s a by-product. Sharing, particularly open sharing, depends on trust, basic needs being met and attribution.
    When I was a Master programme leader I felt very uncomfortable setting expectations for casual staff employed on the courses. I could fight the shift to casualisation (without success I might add) but my discomfort was nothing as compared with the real day to day injustices experienced by casual staff themselves. I wasn’t their line manager but I was implicated in a network of exploitation.


    • So right you are, Frances. It’s tough to talk about one without the other these days for me. The precarious nature of the faculty is the injustice. My own discomfort is nothing compared to reality of these teachers, and I continue to be implicated in “a network of exploitation” as long as I work in higher education–public or private. It does give me solace that somebody like you fought the shift as it was happening. There are days when it feels like what I advocate for is akin to putting a band-aid on a broken arm. Thank you for being a supportive reader.


  2. xiousgeonz says:

    Since I have a 40-hours-at-the-office position, I’m more challenged in making my own stuff … but my approach would be to promote my book as CC-BY and actively try to get it “out there.” Hmmm… could one GOogle that old text and see who was using it (when I’ve googled texts I’ve gotten to course descriptions at colleges) and send an email to that faculty?
    My thinking is that if even half a dozen others are out there using *his course* with *his name* on it per CC-BY … that this would be a great line on a CV. I’m guessing that where he is, currently, being on the cutting edge of OER isn’t that impressive but maybe in another year or two of the OER movement growing…?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great point about the Googling the old text, xiousgeonz, though it could take me on another path to complain about learning management systems. This text is bound by the LMS of this teacher so it’s not out there for anyone to discover. Perhaps I should have explained that more. The act of promoting one’s work would take a platform to do so as well as the time to cultivate the network who may care. In my experience, that’s not interesting to most teachers. Also, if this teacher does license the course, quantifying who is using what where becomes a whole other challenge. I like your optimism about movement growing–thanks for reading and responding:)


      • xiousgeonz says:

        I wondered about that reading it (since you did say he’d designed a course, not just a text).
        I think at some point — but probably not yet — the OER community can create that platform and the network. (It’s probably the kind of thing that if you try too early then the technology frustrations and lack of most people’s awareness would burn out the people who had been passionate… or it could turn into a faction-creating issue … LOL … my age is showing…)

        Liked by 1 person

    • Maha Bali says:

      The thing about CC-BY is that others would not need author’s permission to reuse their work. Just attribution. And that’s nearly impossible to track.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In response to the Locked in LMS Land… I agree – common cartridge and other formats are supposed to make things better but have not caught on enough yet. Canvas let’s you export courses and of course Moodle but I’m not sure about the other biggies.


    • LTI and CC can surely save the day locally openstackededublog. The ability to share within the LMS can be wonderful. No matter what the LMS, there is still a log-in which creates a barrier for teachers to redistribute their work. Perhaps that sharing can take place locally, so it’s a start. A repository of discoverable learning objects is not the answer either, so I wait with baited breath to see more solutions–especially for faculty who do not enjoy learning new technologies. Thanks for reading and commenting!


  4. You’re not a vendor in my eyes, Alyson. Very thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks, Steve. The trolls came out on this one, so thanks for always having such a positive view of what we do. There is a scarcity of understanding about what I do for living. (Econ puns rule!)


  5. teresamac says:

    Surely if a practitioner is concerned about their work being used by others the best way forward is to use a CC BY licence on it? It is better that the work be easily traceable back to the originator if it is original. My experience tells me that generally people connect little OER to the producer if there’s a licence applied. I’m afraid it is a matter that takes thought and decision making but the advantages are potentially significant for someone such as the example you provide here.


    • Ah teresamac, you are so lucky to have that experience with CC licensing! If only more educators had that experience, then I would be out of a job;) I think your comment points to a larger barrier to adoption and that’s how traditions of authorship and attribution blur the potential and value of CC licensing. The fear of my teacher is not about being overlooked as the author, but rather not being seen as the owner of the idea to create OER. So much depends on being seen “innovative” or “student-centered” that adjuncts, I believe, have little to distinguish themselves in a competitive market for jobs. I’m also not sure that hiring committees would take the time to trace back to the original writer. Maybe. I suppose it depends on what they want from a colleague and for the future of their departments. Thank you for your thoughts–it gives me hope that some educators have this positive experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, and sad story. Personally, being open and transparent and sharing my work has been a great boost to my career. Open brings your work to the surface and (if done correctly and ethically) attributes you as the author of the resource, giving you some valuable relational currency in your network. If the instructor in your example were to openly post that course on the web and make it discoverable, a future employer would have an easier time finding it, even if they are not currently looking to employee someone. That instructor may find that they are known in circles beyond their own knowledge because of that work, and opportunities could come from those unexpected places.


    • Thanks for commenting, Clint! I’m getting ready to move back to Bellingham, WA so I’m going to be closer to the Canadian awesomeness of BC. Big fan of the work you do for BC Campus. I’m completely with you–my career and personal life has benefitted greatly from openness and transparency. Some teachers–not all–see folks like me and they think we’re different because we’re “into technology.” I hear from teachers all the time that they just want to teach their discipline and that they aren’t like folks who are “into technology.” Then they look at their smart phone calendars and click their laptops shut to go teach their next course. Hmmm. What you mention about the “valuable relational currency” is really interesting and I wonder to what extend teachers like the one I wrote about don’t feel like they have a network. How to get those lone adjuncts to feel like they have a network and a community is something I’m quite passionate about. In the great Venn diagram of social and cultural capital, I see nothing but hope for educators yet I’m clueless on how to make it happen. Therefore I blog!


      • Welcome back to neighbourhood :). Blogging is a fantastic tool to begin to build a reputation and a network. And is also a great place to share the stuff you create. Another way to put your own stamp on your materials.


  7. Maha Bali says:

    I am feeling uncomfortable with the responses about publishing CC-BY and how open has benefited many of us here. The capacity to make your labor available openly is a privilege of not depending on the product of that labor for your livelihood and also a privilege of having enough social/Cultural capital to benefit from a network that recognizes the value of your work. Three people I respect who publish lots of stuff openly and aren’t in full-time stable jobs are Alan Levine, Doug Belshaw and Bryan Alexander. But they have strong reputations to begin with. That’s not the same as an obscure adjunct teaching in a small institution and who isn’t known online. People can and do take other’s work without attribution in my part of the world. Like regularly. I kmow it’s probably less of a problem in the US but it isn’t non-existent and we cannot and should not question the way this adjunct feels. You wonder if he’s right or wrong or right or wrong.
    I disagree. He is RIGHT. The institutions are WRONG. Which i think you know already… And i can see you saying that in your post and in your responses to everyone.

    So here is my view. When we have privilege we have a responsibility to do stuff openly so others can benefit. But doing so enhances our own reputations vs others who don’t do this. At least, though, we save the adjunct some time in developing their own courses from scratch by giving them something remixable to use that’s free.

    Imagine institutions who think the bulk of what a course is, is what is on the syllabus and the LMS and that they can put any teacher in the classroom to teach whatever is on the syllabus/LMS. Oh wait. Lots of institutions think so. Hence your adjunct feeling he needs to protect his intellectual property.

    I don’t know where I am going with this, exactly, but just to say that advising someone to put their stuff out CC-BY is not really gonna fly coz no, he won’t be able to track it and as you also said hiring committees won’t care. Until they do, he seems to be doing the right thing for his own situation


    • Thank you for bringing up the perspective of privilege, Maha! This post has been swirling in my mind for quite some time, and I think that’s the element that I missed. Privilege. I spoke to a group of librarians yesterday and they call their passion “open access.” When they make the cause for open, they are thinking about the very same scholars you mention above who do not have access to libraries. I can do research at a university library because my husband is working on his dissertation. I don’t have the time that I used to explore those resources, but I love that access. So many do not–Audrey Watters comes to mind.

      I see my work as trying to help teachers. This quote of yours is brilliant: “we save the adjunct some time in developing their own courses from scratch by giving them something remixable to use that’s free.” Yes, why not try to save those teachers time for which they are not paid. And you’re right, I don’t think it’s wise to add more precarity to one’s situation as an adjunct. Thank you for bringing up the notion of privilege inside and outside of institutions–that’s why YOU are such an awesome voice in the open community.

      Liked by 1 person

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