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Friday, April 26, 2019 News

Regina Gong: Championing OER at Community Colleges

Open Education

We believe it is important that SPARC’s organizational governance reflect our commitment to equity and inclusion. In addition to the ten elected members of the SPARC Steering Committee, we have established seats on the committee to ensure two key constituencies are represented in SPARC’s strategic planning: early career researchers and community colleges. The early career researcher representative was added in 2015, and the dedicated seat for a community college representative was added in early 2019.

Regina Gong from Lansing Community College is the first person to hold the community college seat on the SPARC Steering Committee. Community colleges have been at the heart of the open education movement from its inception, and SPARC has welcomed growing representation of community colleges in our network through a new membership category. We are pleased to share this profile illustrating how Regina’s work has accelerated OER across her campus and beyond, achieving powerful benefits for students.

Regina Gong: Championing OER at Community Colleges

In 2014, Regina Gong was on an Academic Senate committee tasked with considering innovative ways for Lansing Community College (LCC) to make learning more engaging for students. She had recently heard a TED talk by David Wiley about Open Educational Resources (OER), and was inspired to pitch an OER project.

“The good thing about community colleges is that because we are smaller, the likelihood of starting a project is very high. You don’t have to get approval from layers of bureaucracy,” says Gong, who worked as a library software vendor in California as a systems librarian before coming to the central Michigan school in 2010 as Manager of Technical Services and Systems and later adding the title OER Project Manager. “Librarians have that innate trust and respect from faculty that we can leverage on across campus.”

Getting faculty buy-in

Gong was given the green light to introduce OER to LCC and she began by educating herself and providing training to the faculty. In a series of workshops, she emphasized textbook affordability and faculty agency—the ability of instructors to choose material, customize, adapt it according to the needs of their students, and innovate.

“Many students at community colleges are not able to afford the cost of textbooks because it is expensive so cost is definitely a barrier. A lot of our students are working while studying, juggling multiple roles, attending multiple institutions. The non-traditional students are now our traditional students,” says Gong, noting it was an eye-opener for many professors to hear how students struggled paying for class materials. “OER enable us to do the three ‘A’s’—affordability, access, and agency. It is really empowering. ”

As she encouraged faculty to try OER, Gong found faculty allies. One of them eventually became academic senate president, and ultimately was successful in getting the senate to pass a resolution supporting and encouraging the use of OER.

Expanding the base

To underscore her message, Gong hosted a full-day OER summit for faculty, staff and administrators at LCC and invited Michigan’s other 27 community colleges and four-year universities in September of 2015. She brought in OER leaders including SPARC’s Nicole Allen, Nicole Finkbeiner of OpenStax, and pioneering OER advocate David Wiley to speak.

“That was a turning point—especially when they heard from OER leaders that it is a movement and has the potential to impact a great deal of students,” recalls Gong, who has held three statewide summits since. “Attendees went back inspired and eager to try OER in their courses.”

Faculty began to embrace the notion that they could curate the best learning material with OER.  Still, with almost 90 percent adjunct faculty at LCC, it was hard to find the time. In the fall of 2015, five faculty members used OER in five courses.

Ramping up with wrap around support

By the spring of 2019, LCC had 140 faculty using OER in 53 courses. The cost savings that OER has generated for students to date: $2.7 million.

How did LCC do it?

Initially, a partnership with Rice University-based open textbook publisher OpenStax in 2016 helped expand OER adoptions on campus. As one of the cohorts selected for the project’s prestigious institutional partnership program, Gong created a strategic plan for the OER project that enabled LCC to think about ways to scale adoptions across high-enrollment courses and measure the impact of the initiative.

Because the OER project at LCC needed to reach a large number of students, they started with encouraging faculty teaching courses with the largest enrollments, such as Intro to Psychology, to adopt OER across all sections. Of the top 20 highest enrollment courses, 11 are now using OER. As more courses were added, Gong never stopped doing “OER 101” faculty workshops and providing professional development opportunities such as attendance to OER conferences and webinars. She also began doing national presentations and raised the profile of LCC as an OER leader.

Another strategy that worked was getting funds allocated by the LCC Board of Trustees to provide faculty support for those who engage in OER. In 2017, an OER Award Program with $500,000 funding was made available for faculty. Gong led the OER Award Committee and wrote up guidelines to give $3,000 awards for creating new OER, $1,500 for revising and remixing, and $500 for adopting OER.

“That really accelerated the pace and we got a good number of applications with many of them high-enrollment courses,” says Gong. Still, money alone isn’t enough. Support and training is needed at all stages right up through assessment of its effectiveness, she adds.

Student response reaffirming

Student feedback surveys on OER have been positive at LCC. When asked to rate the quality of OER compared with publisher textbooks, 68 percent of students say it is the same and 20 percent say it is better. Grades students get in courses with OER are on par with what they get in courses without open materials, research shows.

As for the cost savings, some students say OER is “life changing” and they use the extra money to pay for rent, food, and transportation. To get the word out to the faculty, LCC has hosted student panels where they can tell these stories—sometimes triggering tears from professors in the audience, says Gong.

“I feel like we are making a difference and we are impacting students in our own small way, and more importantly, it shows that we care,” she says.

Moving forward

To raise awareness, LCC developed a website for students to find out which courses offer OER. Next, Gong hopes to provide a way for students to discover OER at the point of registration. Plans are also underway to develop a publishing platform for faculty to use when creating and remixing OER.

Gong is working on a committee to build a statewide Michigan OER Network along with other Midwestern states to scale OER across K-20. She is also a doctoral student in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) Program at Michigan State University where she plans on doing research on women of color and their leadership in OER initiatives.

Her advice to other librarians: “Collaboration is the key. Being able to listen and work across many stakeholders on campus to deliver the value proposition for OER is also equally important. Get involved in the many opportunities that are available for us and, of course, participate in the open education community. I’ve learned a great deal and continue to learn more from this supportive and encouraging community.”

Gong joined the SPARC Steering Committee in 2019.

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