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November 20th marked the inaugural Open Education Resources (OER) Ambassador reunion in which Ambassadors from across UNH gathered to discuss the current and potential future state of their OER projects and the future of Open Education. Provost Wayne Jones provided closing remarks in which he congratulated Ambassadors on their efforts and discussed broader efforts underway at UNH to improve student retention including a role that OER might play in the student experience.
Open Education is a term that may not be familiar to everyone. Within UNH, it sparks a sense of freedom, and a feeling of unification between teachers and students. The University of New Hampshire began its Open Educational Resource (OER) Initiative in 2015. OER are defined as “teaching, learning, and research resources released under an open license that permits their free use and repurposing by others” (SPARC, 2007). These resources allow students to receive educational course materials without having to pay the high price of textbooks, and allow educators to customize their lessons to benefit specific learning goals. Since its start, over fifty faculty Ambassadors have undertaken Open Education projects, finding benefits for themselves and for their students. In connection to the reunion fast approaching on November 20th, it’s important to revisit the importance of initiatives like OER, and to see how they have benefitted people at UNH in the short three years it has been implemented.
It’s important to revisit the importance of initiatives like OER, and to see how they have benefitted people at UNH in the short three years it has been implemented. Scholarly Communication Librarian Eleta Exline is one of the many who either support the initiative, or have made the necessary steps to place these resources in their courses. Many Ambassadors use open resources to create more exciting and flexible ways for the students to learn. Exline, who represents the UNH Library as a member of the OER Working Group, is one of many to express excitement about what can be accomplished with the OER initiative. “Ambassadors are interested in a range of activities beyond using open textbooks – they are experimenting with using different types of media in classes, engaging their students in new ways, and involving students as content creators. Making education more affordable is an important part of the OER initiative, but teaching in new ways ends up being part of the process, too. It’s exciting to watch!”
Exline notes:. “Several of us had been thinking and learning about OER a couple years before we started the program. One catalyst was a visit to UNH by Cable Green from Creative Commons – he was able to articulate a compelling vision for how systematic collaboration around OER creation and adoption could reduce costs for students without compromising learning.”
Sarah Prescott is another OER Ambassador, and one of the brave teachers who have implemented these resources and texts into her courses. “I was one of the first OER ambassadors for UNH. During that experience I identified open chemistry and organic chemistry textbooks that I adapted to use in my General Chemistry (CHEM 403/4) and Organic Chemistry (CHEM 545) courses.” She found positive responses from her students by using these resources. Sarah also enjoyed the support she received from UNH. “Being a UNH OER Ambassador gave me the support and encouragement I needed to jumpstart my OER journey.”
Students also experience the difference between Open Educational Resources, and the typical commercial textbook. Olivia Jackman, a student who used OER within her English 401 course, has shared strong support for the OER Initiative. “It shows students that textbooks aren’t the only way to learn!” She states. It opened up her world to a new way to embrace education. The benefits when compared to the traditional way of learning become very clear. “They were more interactive, and overall more interesting. Textbooks can seem tedious and confusing, flipping pages and having to do a lot of straight reading before applying the concepts. With OER, I could learn in different ways and apply what we were learning while using more than just a single platform,” she says, emphasizing the ability to work with the information she had to learn. “We used multiple resources throughout class and even created our own, which was published online for the public to see.”
The results from classes taught by the Ambassadors for the initiative supported what both Ambassadors and students were observing. Students felt they had more agency over their learning, that the material was easier to understand, more interesting. “Learning outcomes (test scores) were generally the same or better in courses that used OER,” Exline explains. It was financially beneficial, since textbook cost is something both students and professors have to take into consideration. “Rather than paying hundreds of dollars for a single textbook, students are offered multiple helpful resources for free. It shows students that textbooks aren’t the only way to learn!” Jackman expresses her appreciation for a more cost effective way to learn the same materials.
Ambassadors of the initiative also tracked both the student perception and the faculty perception of OER, and its benefits. This led to very well rounded understanding of how open education resources acted in replacement of normal text books. The University of New Hampshire created a “Final Dissemination Assessment Report” in 2016 that offered clarity on how the resources were received. The reported stated that students, “[In addition to the many positive comments about the cost savings] they generally had positive impressions of the accessibility, quality, and helpfulness of the OER materials. They also reported that accessing them was not overwhelming and that OER materials helped broaden their perspectives of course concepts.” The implementation of Open Education Resources was not a shock to students, and did not disrupt the flow of natural education. Faculty often felt the same way. Within the report, it was noted that “..faculty reported that although the amount of associated work to develop and adapt their courses was considerable, they viewed it as an investment with generally positive returns regarding pedagogy and student feedback. Faculty also reflected on the ways that incorporating OER into courses energized and prompted self-reflection of their teaching.” In almost all cases, it enhanced the experience of both the students and the faculty members.