OER as a catalyst for faculty development
(NOTE: This is a work in progress. Let me know if you have suggestions in the comments.)
This cycle represents the potential of using content and connecting with peers as a part of a larger professional development process for educators. Here is a more detailed explanation of each part of the diagram.
 Course Continuous Improvement: Post-secondary education is composed of series of courses within a program curriculum. Courses consist of instructional materials, learning activities, and assessment tools. To remain relevant and integrate the most recent professional practices, courses must be regularly revised. In the past, many educators simply relied on publisher textbooks to “cover” new content. Nowadays, more options are available, including:
- Open educational resources (OER) as a substitute or a supplement to current textbook-based course materials;
- Academic databases;
- Electronic textbooks;
- Learning activities using technologies such as blogs, forums, wikis, podcasts, polls, etc.;
- Assessment tools such as clickers and online quizzes.
Educators must actively seek out these resources and tools using search engines, academic databases, and repositories of OER.
 Personal Learning Network: In the past, conferences were considered the main venue where members of a discipline would exchange discoveries (although teaching and learning has usually taken a back seat to cutting-edge research presentations). Today, virtual networks easily connect educators inside and outside the institution. The internet and, most recently, social media now make it technologically and economically possible to connect with peers worldwide to learn about new developments and share ideas, in real-time (instant messaging, video-conferencing, mobile technology, etc.) and asynchronously (email, social media services, video recording and streaming, online productivity tools). In addition to conferences, this virtual link between faculty members enables more conversations about a larger array of topics, including teaching and learning practices.
Participants in personal learning networks (PLN) over social media value the free and open sharing of ideas. Faculty members who master the art of sharing (i.e., who make “open” their default behavior) usually reap the largest benefits from the use of social media.
 Faculty Professional Development: Faculty members can enter this virtuous cycle from the course improvement angle (I want to revise my content and activities in a course) or the personal learning network angle (I already have a PLN, and I have encountered resources or ideas I could use), but it is most likely the point of entry will be course improvement.
For example, selecting an open textbook for a specific course is already a step in the right direction, but connecting with the author to make it better and with other adopters of the same textbook pushes the envelope even more. It engages the faculty member in conversations about instructional effectiveness, therefore providing a platform for professional development as a teacher in the discipline.
Exploring, selecting, or creating open educational resources is therefore an ideal conversation starter. Similarly to Wikipedia entries, most open educational resources have communities of reviewers and users ready to engage in the improvement of the OER. This is why I think OER can be the “gateway drug” to the development of a personal learning network, nudging participants to use social media and web 2.0 to engage in those conversations.
Besides connecting with other academics, true faculty development should include connecting with professionals in the field (practitioners). Opening up your course to include expert opinions from the trenches has the double benefit of contributing to your continuous development in your discipline and making your course more closely aligned with the reality of what your students will be asked to accomplish when they graduate.
Open educational resources and personal learning networks are processes of continuous improvement with the potential to transform faculty members into lifelong learners, improving their practice as teachers and as experts in their own discipline. Better faculty members with better exposure on the web will increase the University of Delaware’s reputation.