OERs are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain and have been released under an open license that permits access, use, repurposing, reuse and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.
Ryne VanKrevelen’s Introduction to Statistical Reasoning class has seen improved grades and higher interest among the nearly 1,200 students that take the course every year.
It’s safe to attribute these improvements to a $50,000 grant from the Elon University Student Government Association to increase the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) in courses throughout campus.
With the goal of creating a test bank, VanKrevelen and his colleagues can pair the test bank with available free resources and help students save money. “That’s been one of the really important things for us. The more sections we can get using these free resources the better,” VanKrevelen said.
VanKrevelen estimates that students in the Intro to Stats course have saved students over $15,000 in textbook costs. These qualitative and quantitative improvements are more than enough reasons to justify the use of OERs campus-wide. OERs are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain and have been released under an open license that permits access, use, repurposing, reuse and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.
“Open means no monetary costs to the user, and at least some of the rights that we reserved through traditional publishing, traditional copyright, we forego. So, those usually relate to what we call our big four — the right to reproduce, redistribute, remix or reuse something,” said Jesse Akman, health and life sciences librarian with Belk Library.
The Academic Technology Committee has been instrumental in the implementation of the OERs. Assistant Professor of English Travis Maynard is the current chair of the committee and acts as the point of contact for faculty and the liaison between applicants and the committee.
The initial push to include OERs at Elon began before Maynard was committee chair. Akman and Assistant Librarian Betty Garrison were involved heavily as they adapted OER grant guidelines from the University of Kansas for use at Elon. Once the SGA passed the legislation funding the grant, the Academic Technology Committee was selected as the “best entity on campus to provide some infrastructure for the grants,” Maynard said.
As part of that process, the committee wrote the grant’s documentation and application forms, designated three “tiers” of grants for faculty adopting, adapting or creating OERs, worked on developing assessment criteria for applications, and publicized the grant via the Academic Technology Committee website.
Maynard said the grants the committee has approved live up to SGA’s vision for the program and the materials will save Elon students thousands of dollars in the long run. More than that, they allow faculty to have more flexible curriculums while the committee continues to adapt the materials as course outcomes or disciplinary knowledge evolves.
“Thinking beyond Elon, the broader trend of OERs and open access publishing is not only an avenue for reducing costs for students but can also help democratize access to academic research that has traditionally been kept behind very expensive paywalls,” Maynard said. “I am excited to see what the future holds for more OERs here on campus.”
The SGA officially approved the $50,000 grant in February 2020, with the funding to be distributed over four years. This grant will be awarded to projects proposing adopting, adapting, or creating OER for courses open to undergraduate students. Some of the grant funding is still available and interested faculty can visit the SGA-OER grant webpage for more information on how to apply.
Departments on campus, such as Belk Library and Teaching and Learning Technologies, are continuing discussions on how to further this initiative through other university sources.
‘”This is something that merits more funding and should be a more permanent fixture,” Akman said.
Kate Moss, an instructional technologist within Teaching and Learning Technologies, echoed these sentiments saying that the work is not finished with implementing OERs on a wider scale at Elon. While the benefits of OERs are almost self-explanatory for students, the advantages are just as fruitful for faculty who implement them in their courses.
“When we are able to provide that funding to the faculty members, it does incentivize them to use it. They think, ‘I can rationalize it in my day because there are funds to make it happen,” Moss said. “We can often see more creative work when there’s grant funding.”
Heather Barker, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, worked alongside VanKrevelen, Assistant Professor of Statistics Mark Weaver and three other adjunct instructors in the Mathematics & Statistics department to create the OER open test bank for the Intro to Stats course. The faculty created the test bank as a way to create their own homework assignments pivoting from the homework software linked to the previous textbook they used. The advantages of the OER test bank and the previous textbook were night and day.
“I had zero students complain about the homework, whereas I always got complaints about the traditional homework grading system that we had used before,” Barker said.
The $50,000 grant has funded 11 projects with about 20 faculty members included in those. OERs have been implemented in 1000, 2000 and 3000-level courses. Although it proves challenging to include OERs in some upper-level curriculums, those involved understand that this process will take time.
Time those involved are more than willing to take.
“We are certainly nowhere near done,” Moss said.
More information about OERs, the SGA and Academic Technology Committee grant process and resources available will be discussed in a joint workshop on Monday, March 6 and Tuesday, March 7 at 12:30 p.m. in 205 Belk Library.