1. I believe a self-sustaining operation for OERu is the only long-term strategy that makes sense, as opposed to creating a dependency on or expectation of third-party funding. This approach maintains the grassroots ethos of the partnership and increases accountability for each of the partners both to add and to derive value from the partnership. I can't speak to the current financial realities of the OERu but membership seems to be growing by 5(?) or so per year...if that trend continues we should be at 45 within two years. Obviously institutions are intrigued and maybe even excited by the possibilities of membership. Pro rating for the immediate future would mean another 2-3 by December 2014. But apart from posing abstract numbers, the question then is what is the recruitment strategy? What has it been till now? How can the partners contribute to this growth? How has the word gone out to date? And finally at what point does the payoff of membership, however we define that (a good discussion question?), need to be apparent?
2. Others are better positioned than I to speak to this one.
3. This is a critical piece and building more and more courses makes little sense without this element being in place. I can only think in terms of shorter-term targets as course and student numbers are hard to commit to without knowing that a robust system of credit and transfer is already in place. Even if three institutions build a working model over the next 6 months, I believe that may help to get the ball rolling and others will start to gain confidence and emulate the model. The OERu model requires only a low-risk involvement at the early stages, but over time it does require some internal policy work or commitments (advocacy) in our institutions. We all need to figure out that at some point we gradually need to step out on the ice with the faith that it's solid.
4. That number seems high to me given the progress to date. If we target a degree's worth of courses and break that down over the next three years, it would give us some good targets and milestones. So: 40-50 courses completed and running with more in the works?
5. Again if 2-3 adventurous partners demonstrate this model over the next 6 months, and also thereby begin to show value to their institutions alongside the service model, that may trigger a me-too response among other partners. That's how the xMOOCs (for better or for worse) suddenly took off. I believe we have more grounding or substance however to sustain our model than the hysteria that characterizes(ed) that phenomenon.
6. I think a focus on the enabling activities above will give us a better sense of student numbers in a year's time.
7. We’re still at an early stage in the OERu development, and we'll need a number of credible working models of each of the various sub-components of the OERu project to give a more solid basis for making longer term quantitative predictions. Also, we need to be aware that within our institutions we need to resolve issues around assessment, recognition of credit and transfer, establishing expertise and capacity to develop/contribute OER courses efficiently, completing the excellent early work that is being done by the sub-committees, etc. A big part of the payoff, to my way of thinking, is the dialogues and innovation that are prompted within our own institutions through our involvement with the OERu project. In the end, both institutionally and collectively we can make positive changes for the future of higher education and the needs of students.
1. 45 seems achievable and the minimum necessary for fiscal sustainability. is there a maximum we might want to discuss in terms of being able to grow and stay focussed and connected?
2. 3 FTE seems fine.
3. 30% seems bit low: 50% would seem to me to be more respectable.
4. Can you remind me what you mean by a full course equivalent?
5. 20% seems like a safe target.
6. I assume we would use unduplicated head count: that always seems to me to be the most valid measure in open offerings: I agree with Irwin, we need to set this target in a year (which sounds odd, I know).
7. Agree with Irwin that the dialogue and community of practice/learning/sharing that OERU prompts is important. Under Goal 2 on developing resources to serve partners, I wonder if we should/could track one side of the "payoff" through scholarly (broadly defined) events, papers and presentations that partner staff are enaged with that disseminate OERu's activities and achievements?
Appreciate the feedback in helping the team calibrate strategic targets.
You raise a valid point about the "maximum" number of network partners. A key strength of the OERu is the fact that the network is a collaboration of "like-minded" institutions and we are small enough to be agile and nimble.
In terms of the possibility of allocating surplus funds for commissioning the assembly of OERu courses to fill the gaps in the emerging programme of study, we would need approximately 3 new partners to cover the cost of developing one course. My gut feel estimate is that 70 - 75 partners would be ideal, more than that will introduce new scalability challenges.
Agreed - the 20% target for sigining off operational guidelines on QA, credit transfer etc is a bit low. I agree, 50% is a better target.
Full course equivalent is the course unit as a component part for building a degree programme. In Canada, a full course equivalent would be a 3 credit course. We use this nomenclature to distinguish from micro-courses.
Agree with your other points and will note these for the Strategic Planning working group.
Appreciate your objective and thoughtful feedback on the OERu strategic targets. Particularly since TRU, as a founding anchor partner, completed one of the first prototype courses and you can offer authentic and realistic estimates drawing on your institutional experience.
You offer valuable advice for a proposed process model, namely that two or three partners build a working model through "demonstrators" which will build confidence in the network to emulate the approach. I think the strategic planning documents should provide guidance on the process side of things as well.
A few responses to your observations and questions.
Irwin wrote "I can't speak to the current financial realities"
As an OER initiative which was bootstrapped in 2009, we are doing surprisingly well with 64% of our total operational costs covered from membership fees. We are well on track to achieve a fiscally sustainable collaboration without reliance on 3rd party funding - very few OER projects to date will be able to show a plausible pathway to fiscal sustainability by July 2015.
Since inception, we have focused on maintaining a very low cost base which is now paying dividends.
The deficit to date has in part been funded through 3rd party donor funding most notably the Hewlett Foundation. We receive a small contribution (CAD15,000) from the Commonwealth of Learning for the UNESCO-COL Chair initiative.
The council of Otago Polytechnic has bank rolled the accumulated shortfall for our foundation years - a bold and couragous committment to open education. However, we anticipate that by the end of the 2014 fiscal year, the OER Foundation will have cleared the amount owing to Otago Polytechnic for the accumulated deficit.
The current grant from the Hewlett Foundation will cover our operational deficit till 30 June 2015. This means we need to recruit 15 additional partners by this date.
Here are the numbers. The total operational cost for the Foundation according to 2013 audited financial statements was US$214,000. The target for breakeven is therefore 54 contributing partners (i.e. 214K divided by 4K for gold 3yr membership) assuming we maintain our low cost base and keep membership fees at the same level.
The adminstration overhead for external grants for a small organisation with only 2 FTE staff like the OERF is considerable - research and authoring of grant proposals, report writing, external evaluation etc. This is not to say that we will not pursue grant funding once we achieve the breakeven threshold - but we will have the advantage of focusing grant funding on strategic (rather than operational) projects.
Irwin asks: "What is the recruitment strategy? What has it been till now? How can the partners contribute to this growth? How has the word gone out to date?"
When we established the OER Foundation, we attempted blind written letters of invitation. This strategy did not produce results. The most successful strategy is "word of mouth" where middle and senior managers in the OERu partnership speak with their counterparts at prospective partner institutions to consider joining our family. Once this "lead" is established, the OER Foundation sends a formal letter of invitation detailing the benefits and how the OERu functions. We always offer the opportunity to discuss the OERu with senior leadership at the prospective partner through a synchronous web conference. Almost all partners have used the opportunity to discuss membership during a web conference. This is usually followed by a number of communications with myself to clarrify questions with the prospective partner as required by local due dillengence procedures.
Partners can help by establishing a "lead" for prospective partners. The OERF can then follow through with the formal invitation and membership discussions. If each partner were to establish one successful lead - we would double our recruitment targets. So this is doable!
And finally at what point does the payoff of membership, however we define that (a good discussion question?), need to be apparent?
Drawing on our research, the three most important reasons cited for joining the network in order of priority are:
- To be part of an international network
- Our philanthropic mission to widen access to affordable education
- To explore new business opportunities arising from open education models.
The fact that we are a charitible organisation is a key driver in the decision to be part of the family.
With reference to return on investment discussions, I think a key focus should be on how partners can extract immediate but tangible benefits from the collaboration - rather than esoteric future OERu learner numbers. It will take time to build a cohort of OERu learners in the absence of a coherent programme of study.
Your point about the OERu being a catalyst for local instittional discussions about innovation and change is insightful -- and perhaps something we should stress more in our recruitment.
As always Irwin - thanks for your valuable inputs.