OER and the Spring 2020 remote learning pivot: Faculty stories

By | July 16, 2020

As colleges and universities pivoted to remote learning in Spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, stories began to emerge about faculty who were better positioned because they had already adopted open educational resources (OER) instead of all-rights-reserved commercial textbooks. Dr. Leanne Merrill, a math faculty member at Western Oregon University, contributed a blog post about how the shift made her existing grant project newly relevant and urgent (Writing During the Pandemic).

I asked around for more stories from Oregon faculty, which are shared below. Do you have a reflection on teaching with OER during this time? Please reply in the comments below!

Leigh Hancock, Chair, Writing, Reading, Literature and Foreign Language Department, Columbia Gorge Community College:

I have been using OER for several years now, with great results (Leigh’s OER course list). My students appreciate the lower costs for materials; I have more flexibility in resources; and I completely circumvent students not having purchased or received their textbooks by the first (or second) week of class. All good!

During the fully online spring term (thank you, covid 19), the ease of using all OER materials in my three courses was HUGE, especially during a time when the college bookstore, local bookstores, and all libraries were closed. Depending only on OER resources meant that students didn’t miss a single reading or assignment.

It could have been so different. Kudos to Oregon for leading the way in OER materials!

Ernest “Tory” Blackwell, Biology Instructor, Clackamas Community College:

I taught two courses over Spring term: a 100-level biology course and a 200-level biology course. One had already been designed for delivery fully online and was not heavily impacted by the change in instruction for the college. My second course had never been taught online before. Because I had familiarity with a course taught fully online, I could use the fully online course and experience teaching that course as a model for how to teach my second course. Our 100-level course has an embedded OER based on the OpenStax Concepts of Biology textbook. Having seen that textbook, I was aware that they also have additional biology textbooks available. I decided to supplement my 200-level course with the OpenStax Biology 2e textbook, giving students an additional resource since we could not meet in our normal fashion. This essentially gave them a second reliable resource for no additional cost.

Hal Wershow, Assistant Professor 1 of Geology, Central Oregon Community College:

I began using the geology textbook that my predecessor used, a common story I’m sure. The textbook was a wonderful read…for me. The students (whom I surveyed) felt ambivalent; some loved it, some hated it, some even read it! Along the way, however, I realized that I was constantly searching for supplemental materials: locally relevant content, timely science news articles, videos and animations that explained ideas in novel ways. My course content grew and grew, and I spent less and less time using the textbook.

So, I began to feel guilty that I was asking students to pay for a product that was becoming less and less integral to their education. Furthermore, when I looked at the available OER geology textbook (An Introduction to Geology), I realized that while it was by no means perfect, it was certainly equivalent to the expensive textbook I was using. So I switched, and again surveyed the students. Interestingly, some loved it and some hated it, and overall the satisfaction was similar. Except, of course, that this time there was no financial burden.

Today, all of my classes are in the process of becoming OER-based. I cannot justify forcing my students to pay for products that only make up a fraction of my course, and are not significantly better than the OER versions. Best of all, I am free to mix and match readings, videos and other freely available resources to custom-build a course that is more relevant to my students than a single textbook could ever be.

Athanasios Michaels, Adjunct History Faculty, Portland Community College:

My experience with using an OER is based on my own writing. Over the past few years I have written a book on Oregon’s History. Oregon’s History: People of the Northwest in the Land of Eden is a brief comprehensive summary of the state’s social and cultural history representing the dominant Euro-American culture, and the marginalized and the oppressed. There are a few books that cover the state’s history, and more recent publications have provided a multicultural lens to Oregon’s history, but there is not an OER publication on Oregon’s history, and OERs on other state histories are lacking.

My hope is that the book will be accessible to students and others who are curious to learn more about the people who have shaped the development of the region. Perhaps others in the greater OER community will be inspired to publish state histories of their own. What would an OER covering the History of Texas look like, or California? This could be the beginning of a greater enterprise in which students, scholars, and faculty can develop dialogues centered on a comparative analysis of the states of the American West. Through this process we can comb out similarities, differences and larger historical trends that have impacted the American West and its peoples.

Using an OER this Spring was critical and beneficial during the early phase of the COVID pandemic. I am happy that textbook accessibility and cost was the last thing students had to concern themselves with when they took my class. Several students digested the book, and they seemed to enjoy it. It was very rewarding to see students using the book for their assignments and truly integrating that information into their historical knowledge. The number one feature of an OER that made it very convenient this spring was its accessibility and the ease by which it can be synthesized into an online remote learning format.