Getting started with OER: Faculty stories

By | March 31, 2015

When Christie Fierro, Communications instructor at Tacoma Community College, spoke at the PCC OER conference she described her conversion to OER as the result of an “educational emergency.”

That got me thinking (me, Amy Hofer, the OER coordinator for Oregon’s community colleges). I have never taught with a textbook because when I interned with Lori Townsend at Cal State East Bay, Lori didn’t want her students to have to buy one. I’ve followed her example ever since. If I estimate that I’ve had about 100 students per year for 8 years, and that I probably would have taught from Badke’s Research Strategies: Finding your Way through the Information Fog, which retails for $19.95 in paperback, the impact of my being mentored by someone who thought about student costs has saved… drumroll… nearly $16,000 for my students. Wow!

I asked around for more stories from Oregon community college faculty. Do you have a story to share about how you got started teaching without a traditional textbook? Please reply in the comments below!

Mary Schutten, Management faculty at Portland Community College, writes:

Over fall I ran a class that was very experiential and improved the SE Campus PCC Print Room. Christine Egan published an article about the class in Portland Community College News: Students sharpen their skills and improve the PCC work environment.

I taught this without a text and it went very well.  I also had students write Class Reflections – very rewarding to hear they valued the work they did in the class and are taking their enhanced problem-solving skills out to the world!

I am in the process of getting a free text after searching (with library expert’s help) on the content I teach!

Dave Mount, English instructor at Clackamas Community College (known by the email signature “Textbook Curmudgeon”) writes:

For me, it was a few things coming together at once. I started getting interested in teaching developmental writing classes, because I liked the diverse people I met in them and the quick progress they showed. But teaching that population really forced me to confront the financial barriers that all students have: those barriers were right on the surface. At the same time, I began to realize I was having trouble reading the assignments I gave my students—the textbook writing in my field (which is Writing, ironically) is just so bad. And there was way too much of it—as if the publishers had given the authors a minimum number of pages they had to fill. Most textbooks I see are bloated and overwritten, as well cheaply made, and insultingly presented (all of the color charts and chaotic formatting, which seem to say, “you’re not an adult”). And I started seeing the cynicism behind the textbook companies—the unnecessary new editions, the pressure from sales people to “bundle” unnecessary extras designed only to make it impossible for students to buy used books, and of course the ridiculous prices. I snapped. And so here I am.

Tess Fegel, Psychology instructor at Columbia Gorge Community College, writes:

About five years ago many of my students were verbally expressing they could not afford to take my classes because of the expensive  textbooks.  I approached the dean and asked for permission to teach classes without the typical textbook.  This was approved and then I had to deal with the bookstore-overcame this obstacle and moved on.  At the time I thought I was a new radical.  Teaching students who were really excited about the change.  They became pro-active researchers, and started to express that they felt like participating more in class-and they actually liked doing the research assignments.

Then we decided to add more field trips and guest speakers.  Students approached community members and set up a speakers bureau.  Then we decided to offer group presentations to community members. Our topics included:  Domestic Violence/Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Bullying.  One of our speakers included a young student who experienced bullying.  He and his grandparents joined the conversation and shared their problem solving skills in dealing with the schools.  One of our library staff recorded all of the presentations and he created CD’s for future viewing.  The students also compiled group notebooks with their group presentations/speakers/and research data.  All of these resources are available in our library.  We have visited a lecture by Jane Goodall for my Neuroscience class and the Chimp Institute in Ellensberg WA many times and my students became active supporters for passing legislation to prevent chimps who are used for lab experiments.

Last year OER came to our campus.  Now we have a group of teachers and library staff dedicated to this issue.  Currently several hundred students have had the opportunity to participate in OER classes.  My vision is to open up the classroom doors even more.  I can forsee more interactions in the community with more speakers and community members participating with us in this endeavor to teach one another in a much less expensive manner.  After 25 years of teaching I am still excited to be a part of expanding the boundaries of what a classroom is supposed to be with the added gift of giving low cost alternatives to our students.

Jaime Wood, part-time English faculty at Clackamas Community College, writes:

I started my teaching career at an Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound middle school that didn’t use grades or textbooks. That experience taught me a lot about thinking outside the box when it comes to teaching materials. When I moved into teaching college students, I always felt uncomfortable assigning a textbook for a variety of reasons, one being that I knew they weren’t necessary. I saw so many students struggling with money and with my classes when they couldn’t buy the book that I decided that I’d go without a book as often as I was allowed. Even with a book, I supplemented so much using online materials that even students noticed that they could learn most of what they needed without the book. I’ve also found that, when I don’t use a textbook, students are more willing and excited to take a leadership role in the class, bringing in materials they’ve found useful and sharing websites and other tools with their peers. Out of all the classes I teach, I’m comfortable going without a textbook in at least four of them. I do use books in my lit classes, but not textbooks, books that students generally love and want to keep forever.

John Blackwood, CIS professor at Umpqua Community College, writes:

I got started out of curiosity. When OHSU told me about their nationwide, federally-funded (ARRA), open source health informatics project, I really wanted to join it so that I could be trained in how to create OER and work with others performing the same work. It was a great experience.

With that skillset in hand, I was approached about another federal grant available to create Cisco Networking OER about 2 years ago and accepted it. This allowed me to create OER material that I even use in my Cisco Networking Academy courses (4 of them) and students do not need to purchase anything to fulfill the requirements of the course.

For Cisco, I added an optional text and optional videos from CBT Nuggets (a technology company in Eugene that creates IT and other teaching video for a somewhat reasonable price).

Amanda Coffey, English instructor at Clackamas Community College, writes:

Some years back one of my literature courses was canceled due to low enrollment, so I picked up a WR-121 night class — once night a week, winter term, for nearly 4 hours. The textbook for the course was on the department’s “approved list,” but it was the one organized by modes, my least favorite way to teach WR-121 or writing in general. I admit that I was upset about a few things: my canceled class, the text and time of the class I had to pick up, and the fact that I was bumping a part-time instructor from the night class. I was in a blue mood with about 4 days to pull the class together, and I felt like I needed GREAT material to keep the students engaged and writing well during the 10 cold, wet, dark weeks of winter term.  I ditched the textbook and decided to build the class around the theme of water. I’d just read an amazing essay called “Where Water Comes From” by Kathryn Kefauver published in The Sun (November, 2008) — and I decided in a flash to use it as a jumping off place for the class. I had this essay and a few more in mind (the old chestnut, “Once More to the Lake” and “Dreaming of Celilo” — written by a Susan Pesznecker, a good friend of mine, former student and current PT instructor at CCC). I went online and then to Powell’s to see what else I could find. I found great, great stuff. We read everything from personal and travel essays that focused on experiences around and because of water, and we read analyses and arguments centered on the world’s water crises, here and abroad. We learned about water privatization, the financial and ecological overreach of the bottled water industry, the great pacific gyre, water desalination, and more. We learned and learned, and we wrote and wrote. On the last night, we had a blind water tasting: tap and three kinds of bottled water. It was an inspired 10 weeks. That was winter 2009 — and I still teach WR-121 this way, textless and with a water theme.

Many thanks to the faculty who contributed to this post!


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