8 Using Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and OER Towards Earning Promotion and Tenure at a Research 1 Institution

Brian Lindshield

Case study writer: Brian Lindshield, Professor and Associate Department Head

Institution: Kansas State University, Doctoral University: Very High Research Activity

Type of intervention: Successfully using OER as part of tenure and promotions, working to change the culture around textbooks/OER.


Kansas State University is a land-grant institution that I joined in the fall of 2008 as an assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition (now Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health). It was a homecoming for me, as I earned my BS degree from the department in 2003 and grew up around 90 miles (145 km) from the institution. I was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2014 then promoted to full professor in 2021. The tenure and promotion process is similar to other very high research activity institutions with research, scholarship, creative activity, and discovery (RSCAD), along with instruction and service being evaluated. There is variation between disciplines in RSCAD expectations, with them generally being higher in science disciplines. To be tenured and promoted, it is expected that the candidate be a proficient instructor and a contributor to service. Most candidates meet these expectations, so RSCAD achievements in publications, grant funding received, success in mentoring/graduating graduate students, and whether a candidate has developed a thriving RSCAD program is often what determines whether a person is successful. I am also a cofounder and coleader of the Kansas State University Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative.


I wanted to teach an intermediate-level nutrition course without a textbook, because I felt exploited by their prices as a student and swore I would never do the same if roles were reversed. After having students use a wiki to collaborate was not something that neither the students nor I thought was successful, I utilized what had been developed to create an OER in 2009–2010 in Google Docs as described previously (Lindshield & Adhikari, 2011). Despite my investment of hundreds of hours into developing it, the OER was viewed as instructional materials, not research, toward my tenure and promotion achievements. As noted in the background, whether right or wrong, RSCAD productivity was going to determine whether I earned promotion, since I was confident I could meet instruction and service/leadership expectations. Thus, given my effort and interest in OER, it became clear to receive credit toward tenure and promotion for this effort that I was going to need peer-reviewed publications related to it. I had never conducted educational research; an instructional designer at our institution helped me understand how to do this and made suggestions on where I should submit the first article. I had not conducted survey research that would make sense to support this type of scholarship, so I leaned on a department collaborator familiar with doing this and analyzing the results. We published the first article in 2011 (Lindshield & Adhikari) about the development of the resource and a small amount of survey data about students’ perceptions of the resource. Through these and other experiences, I learned to conduct SoTL (scholarship of teaching and learning) research to produce peer-reviewed journal articles that were viewed as scholarly productively along my more traditional nutrition research efforts. In the end, I do not think I would have earned P&T without these publications. In 2013, when submitting my P&T materials, I had 10 peer-reviewed publications during my evaluation period with 3 being SoTL, including 2 published in the year before I was to be considered for P&T. Some of my nutrition research required years of effort to produce an article; SoTL was something that I could work on in addition to it and typically get to publication faster. The last SoTL article was one that I was actively trying to get accepted and published to include in my materials, and I submitted it to a journal that I believed might make a quick decision after a drawn-out review at a previous journal (Lindshield & Adhikari, 2013). I also had written an invited editorial on OER and open access in nutrition and food science for a new open access journal that I was excited about publishing only to have them at the end inform me that I would have to pay article processing charges (APCs) to have it published after not mentioning that throughout the invitation or acceptance of the invitation process. Given that I felt it contributed to my overall tenure and promotion materials, I chose to pay the APCs to have it published (Lindshield, 2013).

Funding to start the Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative was first applied for in late 2012; further details about it have been described previously (Lashley et al., 2017). So it was very new when I submitted my materials for tenure and promotion. It was fortuitous that we had a small nucleus of faculty interested in this and funding available for us to get this started. The initiative provides grants to instructors who move from textbooks to open/alternative educational resources. It also administers a fee on courses that do not require students to purchase course materials.

When I applied for promotion to full professor, I had published three more SoTL articles and an OER book chapter for that evaluation period, and my OER SoTL research had garnered an impressive number of citations, which when compared to my more traditional research, helped to reinforce its value. I included where my citations ranked me on for OERs on Google Scholar and where my research interest on ResearchGate was higher than researchers in educational technology while doing the same for my traditional nutrition research. I was also selected as an Open Educational Resource Research Fellow, which was a great honor to add to my achievements. The one benefit of the editorial is that I think it might have contributed to my invitation to serve as an academic editor for a new open access journal Current Developments in Nutrition in 2017. This is an honor and has led to a variety of service/leadership opportunities beyond serving in the role.

One criterion that is utilized at my institution for promotion to full professor is that the faculty member should have a national/international reputation. My OER work/advocacy gave me an opportunity to make the case that I had achieved this in the OER field as well as in the nutrition field. The success of the Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative and getting the State/System OER Committee were positive nontraditional service/leadership achievements toward this criterion. However, there is a need for more OER-engaged faculty to reach tenured positions. For my suggested external evaluators of my materials, one of my suggestions was the only option who was a full professor at a similar institution and science discipline that could evaluate my OER/SoTL contributions.

The Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative All In funding we received in 2021 but had been chosen as the next cause for late 2019 before it was postponed in 2020 because of the pandemic was like receiving a grant, since I wrote the application that was selected to be the focus area, and the amount raised was like a substantial research grant. While OER is not formally in T&P documents, there is a culture of less reliance on textbooks, with faculty members using OER, or not using any required purchased materials, than when I started in the department.


I have been successful in earning tenure and promotions while continuing my OER work. I think I have been able to change some minds about OER. For example, some instructors in my department have suggested to me unprompted that they would like to change to an OER, or not use a textbook, in the course they are teaching. However, the time involved has prevented some from following through with this expressed desire. With the initiative, I believe we have substantially raised awareness about OER at the institution. I think using OER is viewed as an option by most faculty here now, even though ideally, use would be higher than it is. We have not invested time into seeking P&T policy changes, because even if we were successful in doing so at the institutional/system level, it would likely take years before that filtered into department P&T documents.

I think the greatest gain in awareness has likely been at the system level. I asked to give a presentation on OER to system chief academic officers when I was the chair of the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents that was well received. This was a group of Faculty Senate presidents from four-year institutions across the state (I joined Faculty Senate wanting to advocate for OER at Kansas State University; I likely only became president because of my leadership related to OER and the Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative). There is now a System OER Steering Committee and OER was included in the system’s latest strategic plan.


  • Be comfortable with breaking the mold. I had to meet expectations but did so in a different manner. I was willing to accept that there was some risk in me choosing to do this. Others doing something similar will probably experience this as well.
  • Be prepared to make the case for the value of OER and the work you have done related to it. In my case, most were not familiar with it, and I am not confident that if I had not done this that they would have appreciated the value of it. It may take repeated exposures and interactions for them to further understand/appreciate OER. I did not only make the case in my tenure and promotion materials.
  • Learn to take satisfaction in small accomplishments that contribute to achieving something larger. I have become proficient in dividing large projects into small parts and setting goals to complete the small parts. This has allowed me to feel accomplished during the process rather than overwhelmed by the size of the total task.
  • Take advantage of opportunities that come your way. You never know where they will end up taking you. I have had some wonderful opportunities that I never would have envisioned.


  • Lashley, J., Cummings-Saul, R., Bennett, A., & Lindshield, B. L. (2017). Cultivating textbook alternatives from the ground up: One public university’s sustainable model for open and alternative educational resource proliferation. Int Rev Res Open Distributed Learn, 18(4).

  • Lindshield, B. L. (2013). Does the nutrition and food science community value openness? J Hum Nutr Food Sci, 1, 1005.

  • Lindshield, B. L., & Adhikari, K. (2011). The Kansas State University Human Nutrition (HN 400) Flexbook. EDUCAUSE Review Online.

  • Lindshield, B. L., & Adhikari, K. (2013). Campus and online U.S. college students’ attitudes toward an open educational resource course fee. Int J High Educ, 2(4), 42–51.


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

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