26 OER as the Key to Tenure and Promotion

Christine Miller

Case study writer: Christine Miller, Associate Teaching Professor

Institution: Thompson Rivers University

Type of intervention: OER at the heart of ABE (Adult Basic Education)


Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is a public, NWCCU-accredited university nestled in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. With a student population of about 27,000 enrolled in both online and on-campus programming, TRU serves students in the region and internationally with its main physical campus in Kamloops, British Columbia, several smaller satellite campuses scattered throughout the region, and robust online/distance programming. TRU operates according to the University Act that guided its creation, with several purposes, including offering Adult Basic Education, baccalaureate, and master’s degree programs; engaging in research and scholarly activities; promoting teaching excellence and open learning methods; and serving the educational/training needs of the region.

TRU has evolved over its 50-year history from its roots as a vocational/academic college (Cariboo College, created in 1970), to its rise as a university college (University College of the Cariboo) in the late 1980s, to its amalgamation with BC Open University to become a full-fledged university (TRU) in 2005. Governance at TRU is tricameral—a board of governors oversees corporate decisions, the senate makes academic decisions, and the Planning Council for Open Learning (PCOL) is responsible for oversight and operationalization of distance and online learning. TRU has deep roots in open educational practice through the Open Learning division and institutionally through faculty commitment to OER.

I am an associate teaching professor in the University and Employment Preparation Department (UEPrep) within the Faculty of Education and Social Work (EDSW). I began my employment with TRU as a sessional instructor seven years prior to receiving a bipartite tenure-track position within the department in 2017. I applied for tenure and promotion in 2021 and was granted both in 2022. As a bipartite faculty member, I teach Adult Basic Education (abbreviated as ABE and also referred to as University Preparation or UPrep) level biology and general science, with a heavy focus on provincial-level biology, an equivalent to grade 12 biology, which many students take to prepare themselves as they apply to health care programs.

I am very involved in service at many levels in the university with several leadership roles. I currently serve as university preparation program coordinator and faculty council co-chair and am the Open Educational Resources Development Grant (OERDG) coordinator. This is in addition to many other service roles where I am/was a contributor and/or committee chair.

Brief Description of the T&P Process at TRU

The tenure and promotion process at TRU is governed by our collective agreement, with standards that vary by department. To apply for tenure and/or promotion, a candidate must prepare a portfolio that shows evidence of how they meet each of the requirements. The collective agreement lays out specific items that must be included in the application portfolio, including the following:

  • A letter of application
  • A CV
  • A teaching dossier
  • A service dossier
  • A scholarly/research dossier, if applicable
  • A minimum of three annual professional activity reports
  • A list of at least six potential external reviewers

If any of these components are missing, the application will not be considered. It is incumbent on the applicant, with these items and other types of evidence/examples, to outline how they meet the criteria for tenure and/or promotion with respect to their departmental standards documents.

There is a strict timeline, outlined in the collective agreement, for the submission and adjudication of an applicant’s portfolio. In August, a faculty member notifies their departmental chair and dean that they plan to apply. A complete application portfolio is submitted to the dean’s office in September. The portfolio is adjudicated by three external reviewers and the Departmental/Faculty/School Tenure and Promotion Committee (DFSTPC). The DFSTPC reaches a decision, taking into consideration the feedback from external reviewers and their own findings on the application. They then forward their recommendation to both the applicant (for their information) and the University Tenure and Promotion Committee (for adjudication). The UTPC sends their recommendation to the president for review, and then the president will notify the applicant with notice of whether they were successful in their application.

Individuals who obtain a tenure-track position have a maximum of six years in which to apply for tenure. It is common for tenure-track faculty to apply for both tenure and promotion in the same application.

What is not explicitly stated but is expected is that an applicant for tenure and/or promotion show an increasing sphere of influence both within and externally to the institution. In addition, a portfolio should show a progression from being a practitioner, to being a manager, to being a leader, whether in the scholarship of teaching and learning, program-specific development, and/or scholarship.

Overview of OER Activities at TRU and Author’s Roles in Those Activities

TRU has a rich history of participating in and supporting the use and creation of OER. See the timeline below for some milestones in TRU’s participation in and contribution to OER in the last decade.

I was first introduced to the concept of OER by our OER librarian, Brenda Smith, at a 2017 information session she was running to promote adoption/adaption by individual faculty in their classroom teaching. She encouraged me to apply for the OER Development Grant—a then-brand-new grant administered jointly by the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, the library, and open learning. I received this grant to work on my very first OER project—an open textbook adaptation for provincial-level biology. From there, I went on to partner several times with BCcampus to work on a variety of projects, including two open courses and a stock photo collection.

My enthusiasm for creating OER eventually led me to accept the role of OER Development Grant Coordinator (2021–2023)—a support position put in place in response to OERDG recipients reporting a need for more supports as they went about adopting/adapting and creating open content. This role involves helping faculty apply for the grant, helping successful applicants get organized (set timelines, do check-ins) and access the help they need when they run into problems, as well as training sessions for Pressbooks, H5P, and Creative Commons Copyright.


Arguments the Author Made for Their OER Work in T&P Application

OER is not named in my department’s T&P standards documents, union collective agreement, or the Senate’s guiding principles for T&P. I had to figure out how to make my contributions to open fit into a system guided by a series of documents that were drafted before open was ever recognized, in a way that wasn’t a stand-alone but was woven into who I am as an educator, a colleague, and a biologist. As a bipartite faculty member, my tenure and promotion application was assessed with a specific weighting—80 percent on teaching and 20 percent on service. I wanted to be sure to show that creating and using OER fit into both categories as evidence of my excellence in teaching and curriculum development and as my contribution to the field of ABE.

Development of OER was a critical theme for my application for T&P—as part of my personal philosophy of education, and evidence of excellence in teaching, and for outlining my increasing sphere of influence. My work in OER was varied—a textbook adaptation, two open-source courses (lecture slides, students notes pages, lab manuals, test banks), a stock photo collection (Indigenous Peoples in Education), and a collection of scientific diagrams.

OER appeals to me as someone who is creative, loves to share, and wants positive change in society. I see the value of OER for students and instructors—reducing barriers to education related to cost and creating easily accessible teaching resources for instructors who may just be starting a new teaching role or are looking at improving curriculum. I also see OER as part of equal access to information and education—these are not things that should be hidden behind passwords or $400 price tags. These values/sentiments ended up embedded in multiple areas in my application portfolio. I made my first argument for the inclusion of OER contributions in my application letter with the following statement: “My work in open educational resources (OERs) reflects my desire to contribute not only to student success and academic access but also to the discipline of Adult Basic Education (ABE).”

Dedication and contribution to OER permeated my application and portfolio from beginning to end. My teaching philosophy statement showed my commitment to eliminating achievement gaps through lowering student costs and to indigenizing curriculum as reflected in my OER work. I evidenced teaching excellence by highlighting my curriculum-specific resources that have been adopted nationally and internationally through various sharing platforms. I used my OER as confirmation of educational leadership and mentorship—showing how my work in OER has influenced the adoption of OER across BC institutions offering ABE sciences.

Process Mostly, Results Less

Since using OER as evidence of meeting my department’s standards for tenure and promotion had not really been done before, I had to be very intentional about tracking my impact on students, colleagues, and the field of ABE. Below, I outline some of the difficulties inherent in evidencing the impact of OER and the ways in which I was able to overcome this.

BCcampus funded many of my projects, and it was very helpful to have my work showcased in their high-quality collection (BCcampus Collection can be found here). It made my work visible and accessible, as well as provided a way for me to track some amount of the adoption of my resources, the textbook adaptation in particular. A barrier I came across in documenting the adoption of my textbook Human Biology across the province, however, was a low rate of reporting of adoptions. I had shared the textbook at the BC ABE Articulation Science Working Group, and through discussion with colleagues, it seemed that around 10 institutions had adopted the textbook—unfortunately, only 2 institutions had reported the adoption to BCcampus, which meant that I was unable to provide evidence of the true sphere of influence I was trying to show in my application. In addition, the TRU-hosted Pressbooks didn’t allow me to track information about the number of times my book URL was accessed—again, making usage tracking very difficult. In the end, while I was able to show my book had been downloaded/printed/adopted a certain number of times through BCcampus, what I presented as evidence in my portfolio grossly underrepresented the use of the textbook in my field.

I had shared my collection of biology-related diagrams through Wikimedia Commons, and this was an interesting juxtaposition to sharing through BCcampus. Wikimedia Commons facilitated better use tracking; I was able to access how many times each image was viewed (not just downloaded or a reported adoption) per month, and as long as I checked monthly, I had very reliable statistics on how often an image was accessed. For example, I had ended up creating a PNG file of the periodic table, since I had trouble finding one with a Creative Commons license that had just the right amount of information on it. This graphic, created in 2018, is viewed between 500 and 1,000 times per month and has been since I first posted it. However, while Wikimedia Commons provided a very wide audience, it was hard to show that I was contributing to my field of ABE specifically.

Another complication I had to work with while using my contributions to OER in my application was the length of time it takes to complete an OER. Many of my projects involve years of work, and I applied for T&P after four years—meaning that I had to show that all my OER (completed, in-progress, emerging) were important and impactful. To do this, I relied on new adoptions, interinstitutional collaboration, and showing how my emerging work was filling very important gaps (i.e., the stock photo collection).


I am very proud of how I wove my work in OER into T&P processes and standards drafted before “open” was integrated into TRU’s T&P policies and standards. My application for both tenure and promotion was successful, and I feel that TRU as an educational and academic community is overall very supportive of open initiatives. This may be due to our roots as both an access-oriented and distance/flexible learning institution.

We are now in the throes of revising our departmental standards for T&P. One of my main goals in this process is to include OER in the standards documents as an example of how an individual might show excellence in teaching, learning, and service so that I can pave the way for OER enthusiasts coming up the ranks.

I am also committed (as in it’s my 10-year dream) to have an entire suite of ABE courses that are zero textbook cost. We have already made some serious headway in the sciences and maths, and I’d like to continue and expand that good work—to support students in accessing education by reducing cost barriers. I also hope to work with educators across the province to adopt resources that are ABE specific, adaptable, and meet the needs of both new and experienced instructors.


If you are going to use OER in your tenure and/or promotion applications, here are my best recommendations:

  • Start small—you don’t have to dive right into the deep end of OER. Start with an adoption, then think about adaptations or creations!
  • Share! When I first developed my resources, I didn’t picture anyone else ever really wanting them. However, I presented my projects at the ABE Science Articulation Group, and it quickly became apparent that there was a need for OER, especially in ABE. This presentation quickly led to invitations to present elsewhere, invitations to collaborate, and ideas about what was needed next.
  • Be neurotic about tracking adoptions, downloads, usage, and so on. People adjudicating your package understand numbers, and the more data you have, the less you have to work to convince people that you are having an impact on students and colleagues.
  • Get involved with groups/communities dedicated to open at your institution and beyond. I would not have had the same opportunities for grants, supports, and mentorship without the wonderful group of OER enthusiasts I had the great fortune to work with at TRU and BCcampus—our open education librarian, the director for the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, the Open Education Working Group, and my case manager with BCcampus. All these people helped and supported me and were critical in my OER journey.


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

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