23 Beyond Funding: Examining the Unforeseen Dynamics and Outcomes of Thompson Rivers University’s OER Development Grants

Catharine Dishke Hondzel

Case study writer: Catharine Dishke Hondzel, PhD. Former director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Institution: Thompson Rivers University

Type of intervention: This case study provides an overview of an open education resource (OER) development and support project aimed at increasing the adaption, adoption, and creation of OER at a midsized regional university in Canada.


Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is a midsized, comprehensive regional university located in Kamloops, British Columbia. It is situated in the interior of what is now known as British Columbia on the unceded territory of the Secwepemc Peoples. The university began as a community college in 1970 and gained university college status in 1989, permitting it to offer bachelor’s degrees. In 2005, it was amalgamated with the Open Learning Agency under the Thompson Rivers University Act (2005), allowing for the expansion of programs in both in-person and distance-learning formats. TRU offers programs on campus and in distance format through the Open Learning division. The university serves approximately 25,000 students annually. Programs are now offered from the Adult Basic Education level through to master’s degrees. The university has a specific commitment to open education, which is mandated in the act, and the university is required by the act to use open learning methods and serve the open learning needs of British Columbia.

The tenure and promotion process for faculty members is overseen by the University Tenure and Promotion Committee (UTPC). The UTPC approves the university-wide as well as the departmental and divisional tenure and promotion standards and coordinates the adjudication of tenure and promotion applications. It is also the body that recommends the granting or denial of tenure and promotion to the president (TRU, 2022). Departmental committees serve as the first level of adjudication and offer their recommendation to the UTPC. Departmental standards reflect the norms of the departmental disciplines and are expected to be reviewed regularly. The departmental standards also outline, in detail, the role expectations faculty are expected to fulfill. All standards are posted publicly (see TRU Departmental Standards), and annual workshops and seminars are offered to prepare faculty to put forward portfolios for review.

TRU has three different types of faculty roles, which are assessed by the percentage of normal work according to the role expectations. Tripartite faculty roles include research (40 percent), teaching (40 percent), and service (20 percent). Bipartite faculty are teaching focused (80 percent) with a service expectation (20 percent), and instructional support faculty members fulfill a defined role, such as librarian, educational developer, or instructional designer (80 percent), and perform service (20 percent). Extensive detail is provided in departmental standards as to what this work is and what activities are recognized. At the time of writing, 17 of the 32 standards documents have now been revised to recognized open education-related work in categories of teaching or research;[1][2][3] however, there is no obligation in the university’s overarching Principles and Essential Features of Standards Documents (TRU, 2020) that open educational work to be recognized. Further detail on departmental standards at TRU is provided in the case study by Smith, Harrison, and Clarke Gray in this volume.

As the director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) from 2017 to 2022, my role was to support faculty primarily in their teaching and instructional support roles. CELT offers resources and learning opportunities to support faculty with the aim of improving teaching and learning across the university. These initiatives included collaborating on projects related to open education, including open resources and pedagogy.


In 2017, calls to support the integration of OERs into courses being offered at TRU were picking up momentum. Several notable events had brought awareness of OER into the forefront of student activism and academic initiatives. In September of that year, over 1,800 students at the university signed a petition calling for the creation of an Open Textbook Program (TRUSU, 2017). Meanwhile, the provost requested that all faculties and schools review their tenure and promotion guidelines so that open education practices were recognized. Across campus, discussions of what to do to support OER were growing, and faculty were increasingly reaching out to departments across campus with requests for OER support and funding.

Structurally, the university already had built in several supports for faculty who wished to create open resources. These included the support of a dedicated open education librarian, learning technologists who could support Pressbooks (a desktop publishing tool often used for OER), and a small community of champions at TRU who had successfully adapted, adopted, and created open course materials in the past. In addition, BCcampus, a provincial agency dedicated to expanding open access, offered a textbook repository and OER supports for faculty. However, like many other initiatives at the university, faculty were expected to take on open projects voluntarily. Some were able to incorporate the creation of OER as a means of knowledge mobilization in funded research projects, but many others were projects of passion or necessity designed to create resources that did not yet exist.

What support units at the university frequently heard from faculty members was that there was a desire to engage with OER, but they found it difficult to carve out the time for these projects and were disincentivized by the lack of perceived recognition for very a time- and resource-intensive project. Without widespread recognition of OER in promotion and tenure (P&T) standards documents, the work was difficult to categorize, and for many, it did not count toward career progression milestones. Though faculty feedback was not captured systematically, anecdotally, it echoed the barriers postsecondary faculty expressed when creating, adapting, and adopting OER that were comprehensively detailed in Jhangiani et al. (2016). Adding to the mix, faculty were facing increasing pressure from their students for free and open course materials (TRUSU, 2017).

In direct response to the calls from faculty and students at TRU, the directors of the three units collaborated to write a joint proposal to create the Open Education Resource Development Grant (OERDG) program. The University Library, the Open Learning division, and the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching all had mandates to serve faculty and collectively recognized that no unit on its own would be able to offer the level of support needed to structure and administrate a university-wide opportunity at the scale required to make a significant difference to faculty and impact the culture of OER at TRU. In addition, the three units already worked well together and understood the importance of an approach that represented the whole campus.

Early in the development of the program, the members of the development team realized that a program would only be successful if it was seen to be of added value to faculty members. Those who wanted to create OER voluntarily for the benefit of their students would always find a way, but that number would be limited to those with the time, energy, or resources to take on projects in addition to their regular workload. For OER work to be fully embraced by more faculty at TRU, there needed to also be a practical reason to choose OER instead of another type of work. For this reason, it was decided that the program would be designed in such a way that it would mirror the competitive internal research grant program. This way it would be clearly recognized in all faculty and school P&T standards, both those that had already revised their P&T standards, and faculties and schools that had not.

In early 2018, directors from each unit sent a collaboratively written OERDG proposal to the university provost as part of a strategic internal grant program the university offered for new and emerging staff-led projects. This initial modest proposal was to be comanaged by the three units and offer five faculty grants, worth $8,000 each. The funding was allocated for a one-course (three credits or equivalent) release, a small travel stipend, and in-kind technical support, including copyright review and editing, from the Open Learning division. In the initial year of the project, we received 16 applications for the grant. Given this, the provost provided additional funding, bringing the total to seven grants in the first year. Seeing the first year as a successful pilot, in 2019, the units collaboratively submitted a multiyear proposal for finding, extending the call to 10 projects a year for a total grant cost of $80,000. This second funding proposal was approved and included a provision to reassign a faculty member expert in OER as a dedicated facilitator for the OERDG. The facilitator offered regular workshops and resources for faculty applying and scoping their projects as well as acted as a consultant for faculty during the term of their grant. In these early days, there was great excitement as the program continued to grow; however, despite the outward success of the program, a few cracks were beginning to emerge.


After four successful rounds of grants, in 2022, the OER grant program funding was suspended by the university. At that point, 37 projects had been funded for a total investment of around $325,000 CDN. Upon reflection, there were several reasons why the program ended. One major reason was that OERDG had received significant pushback from the Open Education Working Group (OEWG), which is a campus-wide interest group supporting open educational practices on campus. The OEWG, composed of faculty and staff at the university, argued that the decentralized manner in which the grant was run made it difficult to support the increasing size of the projects being proposed (Monroe & Clarke Gray, 2022). The OEWG described structural barriers to the program as well as uneven workload and lobbied the university provost to pause the program.

Moreover, we discovered that the amount of funding offered by the grant was not equivalent to the amount of work required by faculty to complete the OER projects, especially for those who proposed the creation of a new resource. As discussed by Monroe and Clarke Gray (2022), funding was not flexible enough to meet project timelines, as it was tied to the university’s fiscal year, and the pockets of interest and expertise within faculties ebbed and flowed throughout the years. It was determined that a significant reorganization of the administration of the program would need to happen, with the recommendation that a centralized unit be put in place that would also oversee the development of open pedagogy, open research, and open publishing. If successful, that initiative may also open the door to concurrent work with departments to incorporate language around the open education in all promotion and standards documents, providing opportunities for it to be recognized for those who do not hold an internal grant. Centralization may also offer the opportunity for staged implementation over multiple years, avoiding the fiscal year cutoffs that departmental budgets are subject to, regardless of the stage of the project.

It is clear from the direct feedback that the leadership team solicited that the role of the facilitator was instrumental in helping faculty scope and manage projects, and feedback collected from participating faculty members strongly indicated that without the facilitator, they would not have moved as far on their project as they had proposed to. Even with that support, several projects were abandoned during the pandemic and as faculty shifted roles and responsibilities or research interests. One indicator of the overextension of the project is that to date, only 22 of the proposed 37 projects have been published as OER in the BCcampus Open Textbook Collection.

Overall, the grant program was successful in increasing interest in OER adaptation, adoption, and creation, which is something the three units continue to be proud of. It absolutely heightened the interest of faculty in OER in direct and indirect ways, and celebrating faculty members’ accomplishments, including their creation of new resources, remains a point of pride for the university. Though the momentum created by the OERDG was unable to be sustained, for the period of time in which it existed, it filled an important gap, and the 22 projects that were published will continue to make a positive difference to instructors and students well into the future. It remains to be seen how institutional resources will be redeployed and if or how opportunities for faculty to continue this work will exist in the future.


  • Work collaboratively: Working across departments was essential in having a campus-wide impact. Each partner brought their own resources and strengths, and the collaborative nature of the project made it easier for the provost to approve funding because there was widespread buy-in.
  • Think strategically: The inclusion of OER in promotion and standards documents was fostered by the development of a grant program that resembled internal research grants. When faculty could speak about an OER grant with the same language as a research grant, it was much easier to see how it fit in P&T standards and reflected academic work.
  • Grow carefully: One of the reasons this program was not sustainable was because it grew too big too quickly. The popularity of the program encouraged the leadership team to keep adding opportunities; however, the applicants were likely not fully aware of the work involved in completing the project, and because this was not the core part of anyone’s job, no one was fully aware when grant holders were slipping behind.
  • Recognize the effort: The program was popular because it was an opportunity to have time or funding to complete work that had typically been seen as “above and beyond.” By bringing faculty into a named grant program, they were recognized, and their work was made visible. By recognizing the work, it also helped extend the visibility of the program across the campus.



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Valuing OER in the Tenure, Promotion, and Reappointment Process Copyright © 2024 by Catharine Dishke Hondzel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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