20 Montana State University Library’s Efforts to Incentivize, Recognize, and Reward Faculty Use of OERs

Doralyn Rossmann; Brian W. Rossmann; Leila Sterman; and Christina Trunnell

Case study writers:

  • Doralyn Rossmann, Professor and Dean of the Library
  • Brian W. Rossmann, Associate Professor and Open Educational Resources and Scholarly Communication Librarian
  • Leila Sterman, Associate Professor and Scholarly Communication Librarian
  • Christina Trunnell, Assistant Dean of the Library

Institution: Montana State University, Carnegie R1, Doctoral Universities: Very High Research Activity

Type of intervention: This case study provides examples from the Montana State University Library in providing a university award, grants, and promotion and tenure (P&T) role & scope language to incentivize, recognize, and reward faculty use of OERs.


Montana State University (MSU) is a public, land-grant institution and the flagship university in Montana. The authors are library faculty members focused on open education and scholarly communication and library administrators who serve as assistant dean and dean.

Tenure-track faculty seeking retention at MSU are required to demonstrate effectiveness in the three areas of teaching, scholarship, and service along with integration of at least two of these areas. To receive tenure and promotion to associate professor, faculty must demonstrate effectiveness in teaching and service and show accomplishment in scholarship along with integration of at least two of these three areas. Promotion to full professor requires demonstration of excellence in scholarship along with effectiveness in teaching and scholarship. Again, integration is expected to be shown across at least two of these three areas.

The four-person case study author team has had various involvement in OER through different jobs held during the time this case study occurred. We are the primary team who manages multiple OER efforts at MSU. Collectively, we created an MSU Excellence in Open Education Award to recognize a faculty member who has made efforts to further open education at the university. Our team develops award criteria, performs outreach to encourage nominations, and serves as the committee to select the award winner. We also manage a library-funded OER grant program, conduct workshops about applying, select recipients, and support awardees in the process of OER adoption, adaptation, and authorship. To recognize OER use among our faculty for teaching and to model such recognition for other departments, we updated the library’s faculty role & scope document to incorporate OER efforts into our teaching criteria. We crafted the language that was approved for this document. We provide consultation to other colleges and departments looking to modify their role & scope documents to include OER work. Additionally, two of the authors used their work with OER efforts in making the case for their own promotions as faculty at MSU.


In 2020, the Montana State University Library established the MSU Excellence in Open Education Award to recognize a faculty member who demonstrates compelling and significant impact in areas related to affordable and OERs. To establish this award, a library faculty member had to learn more about the requirements to establish such an award, write a proposal for the award, get approval from the library dean to create and fund the award, and then have the award approved by the provost’s office. This award is given annually as a part of a broader awards event, the Montana State University Founder’s Day Faculty Awards. Each award winner from the Faculty Awards event is highlighted on MSU’s home page with an accompanying article about their achievement and through a recognition ceremony. Typically, university-level awards such as these are included in the P&T dossiers for candidates as an indication of recognition of their meritorious teaching. This award was established in 2020 by the MSU Library and has been given to a faculty member every year since. The first award winner referenced receipt of the award in his successful application for a sabbatical to update his OER text. The second award winner was an assistant professor in statistics at the time of receiving the award and has since been tenured and promoted to associate professor. She referenced her OER award in her tenure and promotion dossier as an indication of her contributions to student success through a teaching lens. The third award winner is a department chair in MSU’s two-year program, Gallatin College, and was the first such awardee for any Founder’s Day Faculty Awards for that college. Also, 40 individuals, including these award winners, have been funded by the MSU Library’s OER grant program to help with the adoption/adaptation/creation of OER. Grant recipients highlight these grant awards in their P&T dossiers as evidence of their teaching efforts to improve student retention and success. The Excellence in Open Education Award is an opportunity for nominees and winners to demonstrate that their efforts to use OER have recognized value beyond the classroom.

In addition to establishing an Excellence in Open Education Award, the MSU Library adopted language regarding the value of OERs into the MSU Library’s role & scope document in both Instruction and Scholarship. The following section was added to the document regarding performance indicators for instruction: “Instruction: …Use of open educational resources (OER) in instruction. OER are defined as ‘teaching, learning, and research e-resources that are free of cost and access barriers, and which also carry legal permission for open use. Generally, this permission is granted by use of an open license (for example, Creative Commons licenses) which allows anyone to freely use, adapt and share the resource—anytime, anywhere.’” Under qualitative and quantitative expectations, this language is used in the Scholarship section: “The candidate shall…describe efforts, if any, to provide open access to scholarship. Open access materials, including Open Educational Resources (OER), are provided through a licensing model for scholarly communication that makes research information available to readers at no cost.” These changes are meant to recognize the use and value of OER, to educate the many readers of the role & scope document, and to set an example for other colleges considering adding such language in instruction or scholarship or both. Given that these modifications will not go into effect until the next P&T review cycle, we have not had anyone put forward their dossier under this new document, but it was reviewed and approved by the University Retention, Tenure, and Promotion Committee and the Provost’s Office, which makes these groups more aware of OER and the importance of their adoption by faculty.

Moving forward, our library plans to continue promoting OER use and recognition of these efforts. A next step includes library support for other campus units looking to add OER use into role & scope language. After a major revision to the MSU faculty handbook in 2018, all departments and colleges had to rewrite their role & scope documents, which took effect in 2019. In 2023, the vice provost, who chairs the University Retention, Tenure, and Promotion Committee and signs off on all role & scope changes, sent a message to department and college review committee chairs encouraging them to update their role & scope documents and to consider adding mention of OER use in those documents. Library faculty members subsequently visited a Faculty Senate meeting to promote the use of OER, the library grant program, and the library’s willingness to consult with units to adapt OER language into their role & scope updates.


The activity of establishing the Excellence in Open Education Award has required additional work on the part of the library. Since we established this award in the relatively early days of open education efforts at MSU, we did not have that many people who would be qualified for nomination. As such, we had to proactively encourage supervisors of those who we knew to be making open education efforts to nominate those individuals. In each of the first three years, only one person was nominated per year. This most recent year, we had a lot more OER grant recipients to draw from and ended up with seven nominees. This uptick is both a result of our outreach efforts to solicit nominations and having more people doing open education work because of our funding and efforts on their own.

Regarding the addition of OER language to the library role & scope document, there was disagreement among library faculty about how specific we should be in defining OER, as this wasn’t a form of publishing unique from any other in terms of content. If items are published “openly,” they are not necessarily better or worse quality than what is found in a paid resource. We reached a compromise in acknowledging that open education is in keeping with library values and, thus, has a place in our role & scope document. Specifically, we already had language in our role & scope documenting the value of open access in making information available to users at no cost; OER naturally aligns with the value of making information more broadly available, thus providing a good path forward to reach a compromise.


The authors recommend four steps for librarians to support OER.

  • First, recognize that open education efforts have a lot of variety in terms of adoption—it can vary widely by institution, by discipline, and by stage in career. Small steps are successes and can be building blocks for future efforts.
  • Second, find places where you can make a difference. For example, is there a regular review cycle for role & scope documents in the institution where the addition of OER language could be advocated by those who approve such documents? Are there opportunities for the library to create public recognition, which provides additional visibility for faculty using OER? Are there funding opportunities or services the library can provide that are not otherwise present at your institution and can help move OER forward in a way faculty can cite in their annual reviews or promotion dossiers? In our case, establishing an award for open education has increased awareness of the open education movement. Likewise, establishing grants for faculty has given them incentive to use OER with the added benefit of listing grant awards in their CVs, dossiers, or annual reviews. We also encourage faculty with whom we work to declare their OER efforts in their curriculum vitae, annual reviews, and P&T documents, including providing them with sample wording.
  • Third, look for opportunities. Now that we are seeing declining enrollment in higher education, student retention is a hot topic. Capitalize on open education movements with administrators as a way to retain students. For example, our institution recently considered the adoption of a flat-fee inclusive access model for textbook procurement. The library had a seat on the task force considering this option and successfully convinced the decision-makers to adopt a hybrid model that lowers overall fees for inclusive access as more OER are adopted. The goal in this situation is to keep costs lower for students, and having the adoption of OER as a part of textbook provision can reduce cost barriers and access, thus improving student retention.
  • Lastly, model the behavior you hope to encourage. If you are advocating that open education is a good thing, you should be able to show that you are walking the walk and know how “to do” open education. At our institution, the library did this by adopting references to OER in both the instruction and scholarship sections of the library’s role & scope document. We also offer consulting with departments as they update their role & scope documents to add similar language. Finally, in a three-credit-hour undergraduate course offered by the library, Social Media Practices, portions of an OER text are used in conjunction with freely available websites and library-subscribed journal articles and tutorials.


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Valuing OER in the Tenure, Promotion, and Reappointment Process Copyright © 2024 by Doralyn Rossmann; Brian W. Rossmann; Leila Sterman; and Christina Trunnell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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