Grant funding can be an excellent way to attract funding in support of OER adoption. In higher education, grants often focus around teaching and learning innovation, as well as initiatives that improve student outcomes. Fortunately, OER aligns well with all of these objectives.
Grant funding often brings publicity and a higher profile for your OER initiative. Grants may also introduce new incentives to attract supporters and adopters.
Of course “free money” from grant funding isn’t usually totally free. Grants nearly always have some strings attached, involving tracking progress and accounting for what you’ve created with the funds. But grants can help kick-start or turbo-charge the change you’re working to make with OER.
Here are points to consider with this path:
Finding Potential Grant Opportunities
Look for grant opportunities at the local, system, state, national, and even international levels. Many education-focused grant opportunities can easily incorporate an OER element, even if the grant program itself doesn’t focus expressly on open educational resources. Grants are available from private foundations, government, and educational institutions themselves.
A good rule of thumb is: Identify grant opportunities that are a great fit for the kinds of things your department / system / institution is trying to accomplish. Then brainstorm how OER might be part of what you’d like to propose to win the grant. Are there ways OER can give you a special competitive edge for your grant proposal? Consider how using OER might strengthen the overall project design, pedagogy, and the value of the outcomes your project generates for others to use and benefit from.
Writing a Strong Grant Proposal
The key to a strong grant proposal is to write directly to criteria judges will use to evaluate your project. While you’re still in the project design process, take time to look over the scoring criteria so you know which parts of the grant application count most. Give those items due attention to ensure you’re maximizing your point totals.
When you bring OER into the grant application, make sure you’re providing an appropriate level of explanation so the reviewers understand what you’re talking about and the benefits OER offers to the project.
Being Smart about “Free Money”
When you receive grant funding, it usually comes with stipulations about what you can or cannot do with the funding, as well as accounting for how you spend the money. Create realistic budgets as you’re preparing a grant proposal, and then stick to your budget when it’s time to get the work done.
You should also plan ahead for reporting and compliance with grant terms. These elements of grants can create administrative headaches, especially if you’re scrambling to do them after the fact. When you go into a grant with a big-picture plan for these parts of the project, you have more flexibility to anticipate what you’ll need and to design the project (and its funding) with these goals in mind.
If your grant involves administering stipends or other incentive payments to members of your campus community, consider a payment schedule that aligns well with the work they will deliver. For example, award faculty an initial payment when you select them for the work, and then pay remaining funds based on them achieving designated milestones, such as starting to teach an OER course, or sharing student outcome data at the end of a term.
Diligent project management will help you run an effective, efficient initiative with your grant funding.
Plan for the Post-Grant World
Grant funding is awesome, but you don’t want the fabulous work you’re doing with a grant to evaporate when the grant ends. With this in mind, start early to think about how you will sustain the change you’ve created.
Some grants ask for a sustainability plan as part of the initial grant application. Even if this isn’t the case, you should plan for how you’ll keep the goodness going, assuming your project is worthwhile to continue. Some projects shift nominal costs to students so they can carry forward. Others find institutional funding sources or end up getting housed and managed as part of the library, teaching and learning center, or other entity.
Thinking about these options in advance may help you structure your initiative in a way that capitalizes on grant funding while it’s available and then rolls easily into an ongoing funding mechanism.
Examples of OER initiatives that got rolling with grant funding include:
- Achieving the Dream OER Degree Initiative: A 2016 grant program for community colleges focused on developing full degree programs using OER.
- Virginia Community College System: Initial funding to help expand OER adoption came from the Hewlett Foundation; after grant funding expired the VCCS system shifted to providing some internal funding to support OER adoption.
- University System of Maryland: The Maryland State Legislature approved the Textbook Cost Savings Act of 2017, allocating a grant of $100,000 to support adopting, adapting, and creating accessible OER. Administered by the Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, this funding was used to build momentum for the Maryland Open Source Textbook (M.O.S.T.) Initiative. It provided an interim step towards long-term, self-funding sustainability for this program.