Angela Haydel DeBarger is a program officer in education at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Her portfolio focuses on Open Educational Resource (OER) Strategy. She is particularly interested in the intersection of OER and deeper learning, with the aim of creating inclusive, purposeful and coherent learning experiences for students and teachers.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. 

Can you talk about the Hewlett Foundation’s history with Open Education Resources and why the foundation identifies OER as a priority?

The goal of our education program is to work with communities, educators, school districts and post-secondary institutions to ensure every learner has the resources, agency, and support they need to succeed. And our work in open education resources has been part of the foundation’s long-term strategy to harness the benefits of open licensing in order to increase access to education, share knowledge, and foster instructional innovation. OER goes a long way in ensuring that a lack of educational materials does not become a barrier to learning. 

I’m curious about how you got personally involved in working within the OER space. 

I first learned about OER when I was developing and studying project-based learning as a program officer for Lucas Education Research. We wanted to make sure projects deeply engaged students in core disciplinary ideas and practices. It was also important for us to collaborate with educators and researchers to create projects that connected students and their communities, and supported meaningful interactions between teachers and students. 

We believed for this to happen, teachers and students needed to feel a sense of ownership in the work – to see their experiences, ideas, and perspectives represented in the projects. And so OER seemed to me to be the perfect way to invite teachers and students to customize projects, make projects their own and share their experiences with others. These could be lessons and assessments that teachers were adapting as well as student-generated products and creations. 

Are you doing OER work in both K-12 sector as well as higher ed, and what do you see as the distinction between the two if that’s the case?

Yes, we’re working in both sectors. I think the way decisions are made in the adoption and creation of OER can differ in the two contexts. With districts, it’s going to be important for us to explore partnerships with administrators and teachers to help  coordinate curriculum, assessments, and professional development. In higher ed, we’re thinking about the role of centers for teaching and learning, and libraries, and how OER connects with the mission and goals for student success at institutions. 

Are there any partners you work with that you feel are doing innovative work in the realm of textbook affordability?

One of the exciting parts about working at the Hewlett Foundation is collaborating and supporting an ecosystem of institutions working in OER. One of our longtime partners has been Rice University’s OpenStax which has provided over $200 million in savings to over 3 million college students. And when I talk about an ecosystem I’m including organizations beyond those that are creating openly licensed books and materials. For example, grassroots efforts led by students have been very important in creating enthusiasm for OER among educators and administrators on their campuses. In the U.S. context, there’s Achieving the Dream, CCCOER, the Open Textbook Network, and SPARC, which are all doing excellent work in the space. 

I also want to highlight the importance of leadership at the state or province levels. State system leaders in higher ed at BCcampus and in New York and California, to name just a few,  have been important in fostering the growth of OER initiatives at their institutions and securing government funding. So when I think about Hewlett’s work around textbook affordability it’s really that ecosystem of partnerships that come to mind. 

How do you see OER affecting the issues of diversity and inclusion in higher ed?

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot and am encouraged to see that in the field of OER we’re talking more about how open is not the same as equitable and inclusive. Creating inclusive learning environments is more than putting an open license on a product. I’m excited to see educators and researchers grapple with questions like: how do we incorporate inclusive design principles and practices in the creation of materials? And how do we support educators in taking advantage of the flexibility of open materials in order to be more responsive to the learning needs of their students? OER’s use with a diversity of learners has great potential to inform pedagogy more broadly.

What do you see as the next crucial steps in the OER movement?

We’ve been talking a lot about this at the foundation and believe if we want more educators and schools using OER then we need to demonstrate clear benefits beyond cost savings. That includes evidence of how OER enable more relevant, engaging and meaningful learning for students. We also need to do work at the systems level to put open education at the center of learning. And finally, we need to be intentional in facilitating diversity and inclusion, not only in terms of who has access to knowledge but also in who can be creators of knowledge. 

We’re also thinking about the potential for learning on a global scale. Recently, the UNESCO OER Recommendation just passed, and it was a real milestone in the OER movement. It encourages countries around the world to make larger investments in OER and incorporate them into their educational systems. So I see a real opportunity to build on the momentum of the recommendation and to engage new scholars in open education.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or OER in general?

We want to make sure that our work at Hewlett in open education is responsive to the communities we work in. This year, we’ve been revising our strategy to examine the needs and opportunities in the field, checking our assumptions, and remaining agile as to where the field is headed. Going forward, I anticipate we’ll continue working to expand awareness and adoption, but with a greater focus on some of the things we’ve been discussing like deeper partnerships with districts and institutions to coordinate implementation, as well as field-building globally to disseminate new knowledge and practices. We’ll have our new strategy ready in March 2020, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with the field.