By Suzanne Mangrum (Acquisitions Librarian, Middle Tennessee State University)
and Susan J. Martin (Chair, Collection Development and Management, Associate Professor, Middle Tennessee State University)
Against the Grain v34#3
Open Educational Resources (OER) have gained popularity in the last decade due to the increased focus on the retention and graduation rates in universities in the U.S. Our university sought to explore Open Educational Resources to support student success by removing cost barriers to course materials as part of our Quest for Student Success 2025 Campus Plan. I joined a group of people from across campus in early 2019 to explore OER initiatives at other schools and pursue grant opportunities. After two unsuccessful applications, we were awarded a grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents in the amount of $100,000. This article briefly explores how we organized and supported this program with some thoughts on future actions.
Our grant team consists of The Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, two teaching faculty members, two Instructional Designers, and one librarian. We also recruited an advisory committee with members from each college, particularly college leaders. This group helps us develop a broad-based understanding of opportunities and threats and disseminate information across campus.
A full version of our grant is on our website, https://www.mtsu.edu/oer/. Our project outcomes are as follows:
• A deeper understanding of how OER can address the challenges that face underrepresented students
• Broader awareness of OER
• A recognition that equity in OER requires the engagement of underrepresented faculty
• The adoption, adaptation, and creation of OER for MTSU classes to provide a more equitable educational environment
• Engagement of underrepresented faculty to vet, adapt, and produce OER
• Spend less money on textbooks and required course materials
• Have first-day access to course materials
• Experience increased course completion, persistence, and course grades
• Perform better in gateway courses and those with high D-F-W rates
Although students are the primary beneficiaries of OER in the classroom, the effort to get there is laid on faculty. As this audience knows well, publishing is not free, and the amount of work placed on faculty and support structures is significant. Therefore, the majority of our grant was used to provide mini-grants to faculty to convert traditional curriculum to OER. Our grant funding structure is as follows:
• Small-Scale Alteration. Projects involve learning material revision projects for a single course. Typical projects result in replacing an existing costly textbook, lab manual, or electronic homework/test platform with an OER alternative of similar quality.
° Minimum Award: $500. Maximum Award: $2,000.
° $500 maximum per team member
• Medium-Scale Conversion. Projects result in OER adoption by multiple instructors and include replacing all or nearly all student learning material in a course with OER.
° Minimum Award: $1,000. Maximum Award: $5,000.
° $1,000 maximum per team member.
• Large-Scale Transformation. Projects result in the adoption, adaptation, or creation of OER materials for gateway courses that affect many students annually. These projects include creating faculty development materials and should also result in courses that can be easily adapted for online delivery.
° Minimum Award: $3,000. Maximum Award: $7,500
° $1,500 maximum per team member
We were awarded the grant on December 18, 2020, with a deadline to complete our program by December 31, 2021. It was known from the outset that it would be necessary to request a no-cost extension of one semester. This allowed us time to market, educate, and recruit faculty to apply for the grant in the spring of 2021, use the summer of 2021 to convert courses to OER, pilot new OER courses in the Fall of 2021, and finally work on assessment and reporting in the Spring of 2022.
Since we did not have time to host year-long faculty learning communities, we decided to do a series of workshops in the spring of 2021. We began to advertise our grant and workshop series through campus and local news outlets. The workshops began in February of 2021 and were designed to take faculty through the process of OER discovery to find reliable OER for their curriculum as well as the process of adapting and creating OER. We also wanted to market and educate the faculty on the specifics of the mini-grants. Our workshop series covered the following information. These workshops, as well as others, are posted on our website.
• OER basics — facts and fallacies
• Exploring the process of finding and then adopting, adapting, or creating OER
• A discussion on how OER leads to positive changes in the classroom by allowing the practice of open pedagogy and vetting OER for specific courses
• OER as inclusive practice, and since this was the final workshop, an overview of the grant process
We created a grant application via a Google form on our website. The first page requested (and explained) the award category (small, medium, and large) and the dollar amount requested. It also asked for the project impact. The project impact was determined as these three data:
• Estimated number of students impacted annually
• Projected total annual student cost savings
• Average projected cost savings per student
The project impact was based on data that were collected on the second page of the form. The table asked for the following information:
• Course number and name
• number of course sections
• estimated annual enrollment
• cost per student for all currently required learning materials
• cost per student for all proposed required learning materials
• savings per student after proposed OER
• total annual projected student savings (estimated annual enrollment multiplied by savings per student).
We kept the narrative portion of the application to one page and divided this into five areas (Overview, description of the learning materials, action plan, sustainability plan) with textboxes for each response. This approach gave us precisely the information we needed and hopefully made the process less painful for the applicants. The fourth and final page was a table for personnel budget and other project expenses. We also requested that they include a letter of support of the project from their chair.
The grant committee devised a rubric for evaluating responses, and the grants were reviewed by size (small, medium, and large) by different groups composed of members of the grant committee and the faculty advisory team. We awarded the grants just before the end of the semester. In all, we awarded 15 grants to 50 faculty members in the fall of 2021, and the amount awarded was approximately $60,000. At the beginning of the process, we met with awardees and had a check-in meeting with each team in July of 2021. Awardees could request meetings with the grant steering committee members as needed.
During the spring of 2020, we also embarked on a vigorous exploration of publishing platforms for OER. We knew that platforms would require some level of support, but it was difficult to ascertain how much. Furthermore, we needed to reduce the learning curve as much as possible because there were only 12 weeks to get courses ready to pilot. In the end, we opted for Pressbooks. Pressbooks has a hefty price tag, and we had to ask the library to cover the cost. However, Pressbooks also comes with an impressive support structure and a robust, easy-to-use suite of tools for authors. In addition to this, many of the established OER textbooks that were chosen for adaption were Pressbooks. Downloading and converting existing material within a useful editor offered substantial time savings. Four of the current 15 projects are using Pressbooks at this time. The textbooks included on Pressbooks include two multi-section general education courses, and we expect another high enrollment course to move their OER to the Pressbooks platform. This will affect at least nine course sections. If more instructors adopt the textbook, that number could grow to 50+ sections. That would make Pressbooks a good investment for the foreseeable future.
In the fall of 2021, seven of the 15 grants piloted completed OER curriculum for their courses. Five piloted partial OER material in addition to their traditional curriculum, and three grants created auxiliary material for their students. We are currently in the process of assessment. A great deal of storytelling needs to be done over the next year to share how OER can make a difference at MTSU, but the pilot courses look promising.
Our assessment plan called for comparing students in course sections using OER to sections not using OER. We were not able to get the overall assessment program in place for an all-encompassing survey. Fortunately, one grantee developed a pre-and-post survey for her section that we adopted. The grantees who had the correct IRB permissions could implement the post-survey if not both. The survey gathers some demographic information such as household income, but it mainly asks students to rank their perceived use and access to the textbook before and after the course. There are also opportunities for students to share their experiences and opinions on textbooks in general and the text assigned for the course in particular. The assessment team also completed some follow-up focus groups to get more responses to the use of OER in the classroom before our final grant report at the end of February.
The OER Steering Committee has elected to remain after the grant has ended. Like so many before us, the grant has taught us valuable lessons on training, support, and other pieces of infrastructure needed to support OER. We will build out this support system, and we will continue to seek funding. We are fortunate to have an excellent balance of administration, faculty, and support personnel on the committee, and there are future projects on our campus where OER would fit in very well. Two current examples are the current large-scale redesign of the general education program and a renewed focus on moving degree programs fully online. We hope to continue workshops, training, and our website to promote OER as a viable option when faculty are considering ways to refresh or redevelop their curriculum.
Our library is also firmly committed to supporting open access publishing. In addition to this campus OER project, the scholarly communications unit would like to create an open press for monographs. The support structures would serve a variety of open publishing needs, including the adaption and creation of OER. We have so far to go. Starting a program while simultaneously discovering and building the infrastructure along the way will always be a halting way to move forward. But we are moving OER forward, and students benefit from this work. Our success so far is gratifying, and the evolution process is clearer than it was a year ago.
Quest 2025: Middle Tennessee State University Quest for Student Success 2025. Page 10. Accessed on https://issuu.com/mtsumag/docs/quest2025.
Torsney, Cheryl, et. al. Embracing Equity through OER: A Grant Proposal to the Tennessee Board of Regents. November 2020.