Grant Project Update: ENVS 171 at Oregon Coast Community College

By | August 3, 2018

This post was contributed by Matthew R. Fisher, Instructor of Biology at Oregon Coast Community College (OCCC) and OCCC affiliate representative to the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium.


As part of the first Open Oregon Educational Resources grant cohort, Alexandra Geddes, Adjunct Instructor, Lane Community College, created a Google folder of openly licensed resources that are relevant to the Environmental Science and Geology course sequences. Lane students have saved approximately $70,000 since 2015 as a result of this project.

During the 2016-17 academic year, Matthew R. Fisher at Oregon Coast Community College adapted and remixed several OER, including Alex’s, to create the open textbook Environmental Biology. Matt received 2018-19 grant funding to update the content in the book and add review questions to each chapter.

Matt received a research stipend through Open Oregon Educational Resources to assess student perceptions of his open textbook and calculate the savings that resulted from its implementation. His research is now published and freely available in the American Biology Teacher. Using a novel approach to calculating savings that takes student behavior into account, Matt estimates that his 19 students saved $1539 during the research study. Matt finds that his open textbook reduces the cost of attendance and is perceived favorably by his students. Just as importantly, Matt writes that:

From my perspective as the instructor, using an open textbook for the first time was a transformative experience. I enjoyed having the freedom to control the material within the textbook. I reorganized content, added new material, and changed formatting, such as bolding terms that I wanted to use in vocabulary quizzes. Also, in keeping with the recommendation to move away from the “mile wide and inch deep” approach to teaching content (AAAS, 2011), I streamlined the text by removing material. This was appreciated by several students who recognized there was “[v]ery little wasted space or irrelevant information.”

Project Update

The fact that it was free, of very high quality . . . and dealt with only the information that we would be discussing in class made it an extremely good textbook.

That sentiment, spoken by a student anonymously surveyed at the end of the term, was indicative of the majority opinion in my environmental science class. And the textbook they spoke of was not ordinary; it was an open textbook that I helped create and it was available to students online for free.

In early 2017, I was fortunate to get a research grant from Open Oregon Educational Resources to study the impact of adopting an open textbook. My plan was to study how students used and perceived the open textbook, in addition to evaluating the cost savings. My research plan was solid, my grant was accepted, but there was one critical flaw…I couldn’t find an open textbook for environmental science!

Scrambling, I sought help from Open Oregon Educational Resources and learned of the work of Alexandra Geddes, an instructor at Lane Community College. Alexandra had developed a version of an open environmental science textbook. I modified the textbook to my satisfaction with some additional content from OpenStax and some original content (yay, open licensing!), while Open Oregon Educational Resources kindly agreed to host the book on their Pressbooks page. Since then, I have continued to modify the textbook thanks to additional grant funding from Open Oregon Educational Resources. Amazingly, the textbook has been discovered and used by a cadre of instructors across the country and even in Canada! The book is available at Environmental Biology.

And what became of my research? I’m happy to report that my results were just published in the August 2018 issue of the American Biology Teacher, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Association of Biology Teachers. The article is free to download via Evaluation of Cost Savings and Perceptions of an Open Textbook in a Community College Science Course (thanks editors!).

What conclusions did I reach from my research? Well, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but students liked the open textbook, found it directly relevant to the class, and it saved them money. And that’s why I used the open textbook in the first place!