17 Open Practices as Scholarly and Creative Work at Oklahoma State University

Kathy Essmiller

Case study writer: Kathy Essmiller, Asst Professor, Research and Learning Services | Coordinator, OpenOKState/OER Librarian

Institution: Oklahoma State University, Doctoral Universities: Very High Research Activity

Type of intervention: Letters from University Libraries Associate Dean of Research and Learning Services using shared vocabulary highlighting OER as scholarly work.


Oklahoma State University (OSU) is a doctoral-degree-granting institution in the Midwest. OSU is considered classified as very high research and, as a land-grant university, emphasizes research that has a direct impact on the state and beyond. Around 25,000 students are enrolled in distance, face-to-face, and hybrid programs at OSU, with approximately a quarter of those students working toward graduate degrees. The OSU University Libraries support the research, teaching, and learning activities of students, faculty, staff, and community members associated with the university, as well as providing research and extension support for other statewide efforts. OpenOKState is a library-supported program that supports and advocates for OER and open practices on the OSU campus.

The retention, tenure, and promotion (RPT) process at OSU has university guidelines that leave space for contextual specifics. While the overall faculty handbook includes basic requirements for awarding retention, promotion, and tenure, colleges and individual departments have a great deal of autonomy in customizing those requirements to meet the perceived expectations of their field. Faculty requesting consideration for retention or promotion are evaluated by a departmental committee of already tenured faculty at or above their rank. Once the committee and the faculty member’s supervisors approve retention, promotion, or tenure, the application proceeds through a college-level committee and then to the provost, who can agree with or override previous committee decisions. When a candidate is being considered for promotion, this process also requires letters from peers in the field at or above the rank of promotion. These letters are expected to come from scholars not directly connected with the faculty member seeking promotion and are a vehicle through which the departmental and college-level committees discern the degree to which the candidate for promotion has had an impact on their field of study.

Faculty rank plays a meaningful role at OSU. Faculty rank categories include noncontinuous, continuous nontenure track, and continuous tenure track. Of those ranks, only continuous tenure-track faculty may participate in faculty governance procedures and decisions, giving them control over, for instance, campus-wide changes in RPT. Continuous nontenure track faculty—such as clinical professors, professional practice professors, and teaching professors—have access to promotion opportunities but are not eligible for tenure and do not serve on tenure committees. Adjuncts, visiting professors, and lecturers are considered noncontinuous faculty and have varying options for retention but none for promotion or tenure. This variation plays a role in how OpenOKState approaches supporting faculty as they describe and document their open practices for their research and teaching dossiers. Additionally, only individuals with faculty rank retain ownership over all their work (including work created specifically for teaching courses). The university claims ownership of instructional works provided by instructors who do not hold faculty rank.

In 2013, the University Libraries’ long-term plan was updated to include an emphasis on cost-reduction efforts through the support of OER. After enacting a series of decentralized projects funded by a one-time private donation, the libraries hired a full-time OER librarian to evaluate the projects thus far and design a sustainable program. The details of the first portion of that analysis are included in an article by Essmiller, Thompson, and Alvarado-Albertorio (2020). As the analysis was being undertaken, faculty council completed a survey requested by the provost, which documented faculty understanding of how students procured their textbooks. The survey findings led the faculty council to pass a resolution supporting the creation and use of OER, including in the resolution their conviction that such practices should be considered scholarly work for purposes of RPT. Following the resolution’s passing, then Provost Sandefur created a video speaking in favor of considering research, teaching, and learning with OER as scholarly work. The OSU graduate student governing body passed a resolution similarly supporting the use of OER, and in 2022, the undergraduate governing body also passed a recommendation requesting faculty use of OER. The purpose of this case study will be to describe how this cross-campus support has been leveraged for faculty inclusion of OER as scholarship in RPT dossiers.


In response to the faculty council recommendation described above, the provost issued a call for the library to convene an OER advisory group. The initial purpose of the group was to invite faculty conversation into how the provost’s recommendation might be implemented at the department level. It soon became clear that, even in departments whose faculty and administration were eager to include a culture of open, the timeline under which RPT documents were set for review would prevent the timely accomplishment of this goal. A multiyear integration of open practices and OER as a stand-alone category in RPT documents could happen over the course of 3 to 10 years, but the advisory group was eager to capitalize on the current momentum.

As the OER librarian and coordinator of OpenOKState, I began to explore other ways this recognition might be achieved. It is relevant here to mention I am a third-generation educator and a musician. I grew up and worked with people and artists who regularly shared teaching and research resources with colleagues, customized resources borrowed from colleagues, and incorporated student work in ways that impacted the broader community. They had been implementing open practices (Atenas et al., 2022) without knowing they had a name. This “outsider” perspective, as described by Rogers (2003), may have allowed me to see the issue from a slightly different angle. I already believed open practices / OER had been in place long before the term was “coined” (Miao et al., 2019, p. 10). As a social science / learning science researcher, I was also aware of what appeared to be an inaccurate bias toward what was and was not considered research. I was soaked in the realization that what many faculty considered to be innovative had long been centered in others’ practices. Rogers (2003) defines an innovation as an idea or practice perceived as new. Rogers (2003) also states that where innovations appear to be compatible with current practices, the level of diffusion of the innovation increases: “According to diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers, 2003), the diffusion throughout systems or organizations of ideas or practices perceived as new is influenced in part by their perceived compatibility with existing practices, as well as the extent to which use of the innovation by respected leaders can be observed by individuals considering its adoption. The use of OERs in lieu of commercial resources remains an idea or practice perceived as new and continues to experience resistance in some areas of higher education” (Cronin, 2019; Essmiller & Daniels, 2022).

With this understanding of innovations being ideas or practices perceived as new, we shifted our approach away from trying to embed the term OER into RPT documents. If OER were not considered new, it did not need to be explicitly included. It seemed it would be effective to identify where in their current practices faculty were interacting (knowingly or not) with open and to help provide language for them, which describe those practices in scholarly terms embraced by their department. Context was key. Rather than going to departments and having them insert OER into RPT handbooks, the libraries opted to partner with faculty to incorporate existing RPT language into our description of open practices.


One of the first steps taken by the OpenOKState program was to begin describing OER and open practices as research, teaching, and learning resources and practices. It was hoped that moving research to the front of the description would heighten associated awareness and curiosity, linking OER and open practices with research and creativity rather than having them considered solely as course materials. Next, as the libraries’ scholarly services department worked with faculty regarding research and publication, they were intentional about including OER and open practices within scholarly and creative categories. These small changes were intended to gradually shift how faculty perceived their work in open.

At the same time, members of the OER advisory board provided copies of their departments’ RPT manuals. This allowed the OpenOKState team to identify how department-level specifics differed from the library RPT manuals as well as how departmental guidelines differed from RPT guidelines provided by the university as a whole. A deep dive into these manuals revealed many similarities and some differences. For instance, all the documents spoke of scholarly and creative works as having an impact on the field at state, national, and international levels. Some of them spoke of developing innovative strategies and/or constructing new knowledge. Almost all of them highlighted the value of collaborative, interdisciplinary work. While most provided examples for how these impacts might be demonstrated, only a few gave specific metrics, such as the required publication of a given number of articles in a given list of journals, and none explicitly ruled out OER.

With that information in hand, the OpenOKState team and OER advisory board were able to highlight how OER and open practices as described in the scholarly literature do, in fact, align with scholarly and creative works as described in department-level RPT manuals. To highlight this alignment, the library administration began issuing letters of thanks and commendation to those faculty involved in open practices on campus using language from their department RPT manuals to describe the work. We have also added a section to our OpenOKState Fellows application that asks faculty to describe how the work they have undertaken aligns with their personal and field-related research agenda; this enables the OpenOKState team to further speak of faculty work in open using a shared vocabulary familiar to others in their department.

For example, one of our faculty grant recipients is in a department whose RPT documents emphasize impact on the field, work that addresses existing gaps, and creative strategies. We were able to use that understanding to identify shared vocabulary. In the letter of acknowledgment, OpenOKState began by acknowledging the faculty member’s contribution to the scholarly and creative mission of the university. The letter described the open publication of their work as facilitating its use by others in the discipline. The letter opens and closes with identifying the resources created by the faculty member as scholarly work. We emphasized the role of the faculty member’s scholarly expertise in facilitating the local contextualization of the resources and identified how the work addressed a gap in the discipline. An example of the letter is below. Language tailored to match departmental expectations for scholarly work is in bold.

To Whom it May Concern;

The Oklahoma State University (OSU) Libraries wish to acknowledge Dr. Ashley Burkett’s contribution to the scholarly and creative mission of the university. As one of fifteen recipients of the OSU Libraries HackYourSyllabus mini-grant, Dr. Burkett has designed an undergraduate course for non-science majors and distributed the syllabus for the use by others in her discipline.

The OSU Libraries created the OpenOKState Open Educational Resources program in response to the high cost of commercial textbooks and the impact of that cost on the personal lives and academic progress of university students. Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research materials intentionally created and licensed to be freely accessed, shared, retained, and in many cases, modified at no additional cost to the end user. With support and funding from the OSU President’s Fellows, the OpenOKState program ran a HackYourSyllabus mini-grant initiative which supported faculty switching to non-commercial teaching and learning resources. The mini-grant provided financial and instructional design support for instructors to curate, modify and/or create non-commercial resources for classroom use.

Dr. Burkett’s course redesign incorporated a creative approach through which she used the study of dinosaur anatomy, physiology and behavior to introduce students to the scientific process and associated methods of investigation. In addition to conceptualization and creation of the course design, Dr. Burkett created instructional materials and activities which provided an exceptional learning experience for her students. The resources were created specifically to meet the localized needs of her Oklahoma State University students and were free for those in her course to access and use. Her course design has addressed a gap in her discipline, leveraging a unique pedagogical approach to help students discover how to come to their own conclusions based on evidence. In addition to these benefits to her students and department, Dr. Burkett shares her experience and expertise in creating OER through her service on the OSU OER Working Group.

The OSU Libraries wish to thank Dr. Burkett for her scholarly contributions to the field.

There are a couple of additional elements the OpenOKState program has been fortunate to draw on. Faculty work published in our institutional instance of Pressbooks, a platform that facilitates resource creation and modification, is indexed in Pressbooks Directory. Pressbooks Directory is intended to be a directory of all resources made publicly available through Pressbooks, which allows us to support our faculty in saying their work has international reach. The coordinator of OpenOKState is active in international OER organizations, including the Global OER Graduate Network (GO-GN) and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), and as such, has been able to collaborate with faculty sharing their work at international conferences including OEGlobal, OERX, and OER23. The OpenOKState program has also been positioned as a leader in statewide OER efforts, allowing us to come alongside faculty incorporating open practices and articulate their scholarly impact on the community and state. Two members of the University Libraries’ OpenOKState team hold graduate degrees in instructional design and learning, design and technology. These degrees bring an understanding of learning science and enable the team to articulate what may be considered primarily educational aspects of OER as open practices, which bring people together in innovative ways to create new knowledge. This expertise—combined with the understanding of the publishing ecosystem, discoverability, and expertise in information systems held by the libraries’ MLS and MLIS degree holders—provides an effective library team accustomed to approaching wicked problems from a variety of angles to set and achieve measurable, attainable, and meaningful goals.


  • Embrace a personal understanding that OER and open practices are not new.
  • Be seen. Go to a faculty council and book clubs and talk about your own research. Help your faculty see you as a researcher in your own right.
  • Identify how descriptions of OER and open practices in scholarly literature align with language used in departmental RPT documents. Use that shared language to describe OER and open practices.
  • Provide documentation, such as a letter from the library administration on official library letterhead, celebrating faculty work in OER and open practices using the language the faculty member’s department uses to describe scholarly and creative works.


  • Atenas, J., Havemann, L., Cronin, C., Rodés, V., Lesko, I., Stacey, P.,…& Villar, D. (2022). Defining and developing ‘enabling’ open education policies in higher education.

  • Cronin, C. (2019). Open education: Design and policy considerations. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Principles and practices of design (pp. 149–163). London: Routledge.

  • Essmiller, K., & Daniels, J. (April 26–28, 2022). “You say tomato, I also say tomato.” Presented at OER22, London, UK.

  • Essmiller, K., Thompson, P., & Alvarado-Albertorio, F. (2020). Performance improvement technology for building a sustainable OER initiative in an academic library. TechTrends, 64, 265–274.

  • Miao, F., Mishra, S., Orr, D., & Janssen, B. (2019). Guidelines on the development of open educational resources policies. UNESCO Publishing.

  • Rogers, Everett M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. 5th ed. New York: Free Press, print.


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

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