Monday, November 15, 2021 News

Promising Plans for Latest Round of Federal Open Textbook Grant Awards

Open Education

This summer, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the latest round of grants through its Open Textbook Pilot program, funding nine new projects at colleges and universities across the country. Since its creation in 2018, the Open Textbook Pilot has distributed a total of $24 million to efforts that will save students money, improve learning outcomes, and make college more accessible through open textbooks. As SPARC continues to advocate for expanded 2022 funding alongside our House and Senate champions, we are pleased to highlight some of the exciting plans the nine new Open Textbook Pilot projects have underway.

South Carolina-based project focuses on robotics course materials 

To help address the shortage of skilled, advanced manufacturing workers in South Carolina, Clemson University, Trident Technical College and Claflin University will use the federal grant money to develop three open textbooks in robotics. The effort is expected to save students at least $150,000 a year.

“There is a big demand for a trained workforce in the state, which has had an industrial boom in the last decade with several large high-tech companies moving to the state,” says Yang Wu, open resources librarian at Clemson.

Difficulty educating new workers and lack of good textbooks have contributed to the labor shortage. Often the robotics books are written at a theoretical level, more abstract and complex than practical manuals to prepare workers. They can also run $150-200, which is out of reach for many students who rely on financial aid.

The South Carolina project aims to produce books (one associate degree level, one undergraduate and one graduate) that are better suited for workforce development. They will be developed with input from industry partners, such as BMW and ABB Robotics, with support from the South Carolina Department of Commerce. Faculty and educational researchers writing the material will use focus groups to test draft copies and ensure the books reflect student preferences. There will be an electronic and print version of the textbook, as well as open source auxiliary materials online.

“We want to develop an OER publishing enterprise in Clemson and across South Carolina. This will be a useful initial effort,” says Yang, adding that the university also got additional funding from the state’s academic library consortium. “We really hope this Department of Education grant can elevate our goals, the reputation of the cluster and our partners and the state’s OER publishing activities.”

Massachusetts prioritizes cultural relevancy and diverse voices 

In Massachusetts, six institutions are collaborating to conduct training and support for faculty to develop culturally relevant, open textbooks. Framingham State is the fiscal agent, with Holyoke Community College and the state Department of Higher Education as co-principal investigators. Other participants on the ROTEL (Remixing Open Textbooks Through an Equity Lens) team include Northern Essex Community College, North Shore Community College, Springfield Technical Community College and Fitchburg State University. Leaders from the campuses met through the state OER Advisory Council.

The grant will cover stipends for faculty to develop open textbooks and is designed to encourage cross-discipline, cross-institutions partnership. The project will emphasize inclusivity in its training and intentionally reach out to faculty of color to participate. It will also include an assessment element to gauge if emphasizing cultural relevance will result in students of color having a better experience—tracking their academic success, says Millie Gonzales, PI for the grant from Framingham and interim dean of the library.  “It’s an ambitious goal,” she says. “We have three universities and three community colleges. We’ll play off each others’ strengths.”

The project will collaborate with the Rebus Foundation to handle training webinars and enroll a cohort of faculty in a one-year Textbook Success Program (TSP). The mentoring program, underwritten by a separate $75,000 Hewlett Foundation grant, will offer weekly training for 12 weeks and then support faculty with their projects through monthly, community of practice meetings for the rest of the year.

Textbooks will be prioritized that are part of the gen ed curriculum with multiple sections, so cost savings benefit the most students. The expectation is to fund the adaptation of 78 open textbooks (24 books for the first year and 54 individual projects in the three years). Framingham State University estimates total savings to students on its campus of about $820,000. More savings are possible if there are multiple sections of a course in the spring and summer semesters within an institution and across all six institutions involved in the grant.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are drivers of Oregon’s course development

New openly-licensed course materials in criminal justice will be created with an equity lens, thanks to funding awarded to the Open Oregon Educational Resources working in partnership with Chemeketa Press, RMC Research, and Pressbooks.

Open Oregon Educational Resources, which supports 17 community colleges and seven universities, will work with faculty authors and peer reviewers from a handful of institutions on the project. The team used a data-driven approach to determine which courses were high enrollment and geared toward high demand occupations, and also did not already have open options.

It is targeting four pathway courses: Introduction to the American Criminal Justice System, Introduction to Criminology, Race & Crime, and Mental Illness & Disability in the Criminal Justice System. The project is focused on bringing a diversity, equity and inclusion lens to the course development process.  “We are hoping that down the road, this might make for a more diverse workforce,” says Amy Hofer, statewide open education program coordinator

By creating and disseminating these open materials, the Oregon team will address a gap in the marketplace and offer a model that can be replicated. It is expected that approximately 750 students will save $100 each per course, for a total estimated savings of $75,000 in sections taught by the first faculty cohort during two academic years. In the second cohort, 200 more students are expected to save an additional $20,000 during the grant period.

“It’s exciting to get this external funding,” says Hofer. “It’s also really good to be in the company of the current cohort and past grantees doing amazing work.”

Washington state identifies need for textbook affordability in professional technical education fields

The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) will be teaming up with college faculty and workforce education professionals to develop a set of open textbooks for three of the most in-demand professional technical (ProfTech) programs: Criminal Justice, Health Care, and Welding.

ProfTech programs focus on preparing students for employment in a specific industry. Students can earn professional-technical certificates, associate degrees or baccalaureate-level technical degrees. While the courses in ProfTech programs emphasize developing the technical and employment skills needed for a specific industry, most programs are built on theory-based introductory courses that teach the fundamental principles and standards in the field. For these courses, faculty typically rely on commercial textbooks from publishers which cost from $150 to $200. The Washington community and technology college system is home to at least 40,000 economically disadvantaged ProfTech students (nearly 30 percent of all ProfTech students) and textbooks costing up to $200 are a significant barrier.

Boyong Chae, policy associate for educational technology & open education at SBCTC, interviewed instructors from the ProfTech programs and discovered there was a great interest in open textbooks, but no availability. While there were some open materials, they were largely stand-alone, disconnected resources, such as  a syllabus, a quiz item, a flyer, and a presentation, without instructional context. 

“Most OER available for ProfTech programs exist as discrete lessons that are difficult for instructors to organize into coherent sequences supporting a quarter- or semester-based course.” says Chae. “This lack of available open textbooks in ProfTech fields significantly limits our capacity to support economically disadvantaged students seeking pathways into the workforce.”

By the end of the grant period, at least 1,000 students will enroll in course sections that will use the textbook developed under the grant. Total projected cost savings is at least about $200,000. Building on the development of these three textbooks, Chae says the vision is to expand into a comprehensive open textbook repository for all ProfTech programs.

Chae will serve as principal investigator/project director of the grant, with Monique Belair of the SBCTC’s educational technology & open education team as project manager.

Additional Open Textbook Pilot grantees from this round:

The University of Illinois System and Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI) have been selected to create open textbooks and personalized learning tools for entry-level courses in career paths for health care and human development. The $1.08 million grant will fund the statewide Illinois SCOERs (Support for Creation of Open Educational Resources) enterprise. 

OpenStax and the Consortium of Open Resource Educators (CORE) have been awarded $1.13 million to develop three new open textbooks for computer science courses, along with educational support and instructor training. Cost savings are expected to be $110 million over five years. Additional collaborators on the grant include Google, HP, Intel, zyBooks, the California State University System, the California Community College System’s California Virtual Campus and the University System of Georgia. 

Funding given to Southwestern Minnesota State (SMSU) will help make college more affordable for aspiring teachers. It’s $978,332 award will be used to create open textbooks in six education courses. The new “Opening Opportunities for Teacher Education” program will benefit students at five institutions: Minnesota State University Mankato, St. Cloud State, St. Cloud Technical and Community College, Normandale Community College and Century College. 

A regional collaborative of seven community colleges in rural Arizona, led by Yavapai County Community College District has received $801,218 to expand OER on its campuses. The materials will include learning modules, software, streaming videos, text materials, assignments and textbooks in the public domain. Partners include Arizona Western College, Arizona Eastern College, Central Arizona College, Coconino Community College, Mohave Community College, Northland Pioneer College, and Yavapai College. 

A final Open Textbook Pilot grant was awarded to West Chester University of Pennsylvania for $410,635.

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