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Thursday, March 14, 2019 News

New Open Textbook Pilot Grantees Gear Up For Next Steps

Open Education

The Department of Education awarded the second round of Open Textbook Pilot funding to Chippewa Valley Technical College and Arizona State University. With approximately $2.5 million a piece, the two institutions will each lead consortia to expand the use of open textbooks and achieve student savings at their campuses and beyond. While the Department went against expectations by not opening a new call for applications, the grants will fortunately go toward projects that are poised to have a great impact for students.

SPARC recently spoke with the two new grantees, and we’re excited to share this first look at their plans. (We also have an update on the first grantee, LibreTexts, here.) Throughout the spring, we'll be hard at work advocating for Congress to renew and strengthen the Open Textbook Pilot for a third year.


Chippewa Valley Technical College

Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, will lead an effort to create OER for its nursing program in partnership with nearby Gateway, Northeast and Madison Area Technical Colleges.

“It’s a high-demand field where there is projected to be a shortage of workers,” says Vince Mussehl, Director of Library Services at Chippewa Valley, who has worked to advance OER on campus since 2014. “We want to entice students and they have high textbook costs. We want to reduce the burden on students and find a creative means to do that.”

Wisconsin’s system of 16 technical colleges has a common nursing curriculum, so digitizing materials will have a statewide impact. The grant team plans to develop the content in modules and competencies, rather than as classes, so the new open resources can be adopted elsewhere giving the project wider reach, Mussehl says.

Beyond making five open textbooks, Chippewa Valley aims to produce 25 virtual reality scenarios to provide students with nursing simulations.

The project will benefit an estimated 6,100 students in Wisconsin alone, with an average savings of $700 each, which will ultimately lead to savings of over $4 million over the course of a two-year associate degree. The hope is that these resources will be able to be adopted by nursing programs across the country.

Mussehl is part of a core team that will work with faculty to develop the resources and with dedicated library staff to harvest existing materials. They hope their success at Chippewa Valley will help make the case for state funding to support other projects.

“The way we are using these funds for nursing can be applied to other disciplines and use virtual reality for automotive repair or let history students walk the streets of colonial America,” Mussehl says. “I want to be more innovative and do this as an inspiration for other projects. There is so much potential in education that so many people don’t even know about yet. I hope this will help spearhead this awareness.”

Arizona State University

The project at Arizona State University will combine the innovation of a research university with the reach of two-year institutions, collaborating with three of the largest community college districts in the county: Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona, Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, and Miami Dade College in Florida. The specific focus of the content depends on the outcomes of an analysis of which high-demand workforce pathways would most benefit and conducted with the community college partners, says Ariel Anbar, the project lead and a science professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State.

Over the past six years, Maricopa Community Colleges and its Maricopa Millions OER project has been particularly successful at promoting awareness and adoption of OER across the ten colleges in its district. Some of its faculty members were among the earliest adopters of OER, and its district leadership is supportive of open education.  Just this semester in Maricopa, it is estimated that students saved almost $2 million because of faculty decisions to use low-cost/no-cost resources instead of costly traditional textbooks. Maricopa brings this deep “open” expertise to the grant.

“Our project involves the development of adaptive, interactive simulations to support learning in career and technical education pathways,” says Matthew Bloom, Open Educational Resources Coordinator with Maricopa Community Colleges and member of the project leadership team.

The grant will build on two existing initiatives developed in collaboration with the tech company Smart Sparrow: The Inspark Network, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop STEM adaptive courseware for a network of community colleges; and Infiniscope, supported by NASA to create free adaptive course modules for high school and middle school students.

Anbar says the new grant will support an intersection of the two prior projects to develop adaptive, open resources that are infused with the principles of active learning – what the team calls “Active OER.”

“I didn’t get into this with the mindset of taking existing materials online. I wanted to use technology to teach better,” says Anbar, who hopes to see the possibilities of OER evolve with the help of this new funding investment.

A workforce advisory board will assist the team to identify the degree pathways for which Active OER would be most useful. Then, the team will develop these resources and create an open-course builder to make it easy for faculty to combine Active OER and other OER from a curated repository to assemble open active courseware with the push of a button, explained Anbar.

“Our primary goal is focused on community colleges, but anything we build will be useful everywhere,” says Anbar. “At one level, it saves students a lot of money, but they also get better resources. We are trying to improve the way students learn.”

The expectation is that the grant will reach thousands of students, saving them millions of dollars in textbook expenses .

“We are always looking for ways to increase buy-in from faculty and administration. This project will give us the opportunity to strengthen the OER infrastructure in our district,” says Bloom. “Providing instructors with high-quality, active and interactive OER during and after this grant will make it even easier for reluctant faculty to make the choice to transition to open.”

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