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Wednesday, August 28, 2019 News

Expanding the Scope: Illustrating the Impact of OER

Open Education

Our recent webcast discussed moving the OER conversation beyond just affordability to include the equally important benefits of open pedagogy, accessibility, sustainability, equity, and inclusion

Expanding the Scope: Illustrating the Impact of OER

What kinds of materials should instructors be using to make sure their students feel seen? Whose voices are we centering, and whose voices are we placing on the margins? What does academic freedom truly look like? How can librarians play facilitate a cultural change surrounding classroom resources? How can faculty step up their pedagogy to meet the increasingly diverse needs of students from all backgrounds? How do we move the conversation about OER beyond cost?

These are just a few thought-provoking questions that arose during SPARC’s webcast Expanding the Scope: Illustrating the Impact of OER. Many discussions about the benefits of OER tend to focus on affordability, and it is important to highlight the equally important benefits of open pedagogy, accessibility, sustainability, equity, and inclusion. For this webcast, we brought together three open education advocates with very different roles on their campuses to provide listeners with unique strategies, ideas, and frameworks for maximizing the impact of campus OER programming. You can listen to a full recording of the webcast here.

Hailey Babb: Allowing Students to Feel in Charge

OER student advocate Hailey Babb asks us to think about the issue of financial predictability—students need to be able to budget! While the cost of tuition is not exempt from fluctuations, most institutions make their semesterly fees available well in advance of their due date. However, textbooks and other course materials are not often included in this analysis. Further, the structures in place to help students with tuition such as loan and grant systems, do not always factor in the cost of learning materials. As a result, many students arriving on campus find themselves struggling to budget for the highly variable and unpredictable price of their textbooks, having already spent the majority of savings on their standard semesterly fees.

Hailey also points out that accessibility can mean different things to different students. OER opens doors and gives us the ability to better meet the needs of students, whether that means adding descriptive text to images or close captioning videos, she says. Breaking down these accessibility barriers is incredibly important for non-traditional students and students of varying abilities and circumstances.

For Hailey, pedagogy plays an important role in expanding the scope and illustrating the impact of OER. “Pedagogy can be translated to understanding that your professor cares about you and wants to make sure that you’re succeeding in your role. It’s very evident to a student who’s sitting in five classes a semester which one of those professors really cares about their students’ success,” she says. Open pedagogy is helpful for breaking down power dynamics and allowing students to feel more in charge of their own education.

Jasmine Roberts: Embracing Pedagogical Freedom

Jasmine Roberts, OER advocate and strategic communication instructor at OSU, made a similar argument during her presentation. “OER has made me a better educator,” Roberts says, recalling how OER forces faculty to ask themselves important questions about the classroom experience. Frustrated with her choices of traditional textbook materials, Jasmine got into OER via a grant program because her current textbook didn’t address some of the industry issues she’d identified, and the traditional materials didn’t seem like a good use of students’ time or money. She expressed that she didn’t feel seen by the materials she’d used in the past, and she wanted her classroom materials to reflect her teaching philosophy. 

“The beauty in OER is the permissions piece that enables collaboration,” Jasmine says. OER allows students to be contributors to knowledge and classroom content. Jasmine believes that this kind of inclusive teaching is important because instructors are teaching students, not content—and students aren’t just “knowledge buckets”! 

Jasmine’s one piece of advice for anyone working with faculty? Show them examples of remixed projects or textbooks to demonstrate the open permissions piece of OER, and to show that OER are not just digital textbooks.

Hillary Miller: Open Education’s Role in the Library

As the scholarly communications librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University, Hillary Miller expressed similar frustrations with the state of course materials. At her institution, leading with affordability has led administrative and faculty interest in OER, but without equal focus on the full benefits of OER, this approach can make it more difficult to distinguish OER from other “low-cost options” from commercial textbook publishers. Moving beyond affordability to discuss how OER can support inclusive teaching and pedagogy has created new partnerships at her institution and new opportunities to promote OER as more than an affordability solution. As a result, Hillary says she often ponders how we can make sure that inclusivity is part of the conversation as much as cost savings is.

When it comes to diversity in course materials, Hillary has found that many faculty assume traditional textbooks won’t contain content that is outright offensive (although these examples certainly exist), but at the same time, they don’t expect traditional materials to reflect the diversity of the students in their courses. For these faculty, OER is an opportunity for them to tailor their course materials to the experiences and interests of their students. Some faculty already work to compile more inclusive materials that are missing from traditional textbooks, and their interest in OER is led by their commitment to inclusive teaching practices, with affordability as an added benefit. Hillary feels that the most important thing she can do when discussing the benefits of OER is to lead with inclusion rather than affordability whenever possible as a way to make courses, classrooms, and campuses more inclusive.

Hillary is a graduate of SPARC’s Open Education Leadership Program, and her capstone project focused on library outreach for inclusive education through an OER lens.

Future Directions

As the landscape of educational materials continues to change and adapt to the needs of students and teachers, it’s important for us to be able to communicate how open education can benefit learners and educators in ways beyond cost savings. Open education can also empower faculty to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in new and rewarding ways and allow students to play a role in shaping the education they’re receiving. 

The webcast explored many important questions but also raised new ones. Questions for future reflection include: How can we design OER from scratch, and make diversity and inclusion not an afterthought but something that’s built in from the start? How can we support and prioritize projects that were created with inclusion and diversity built in? What kind of examples should I use to make sure my students are seen?

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