Introducing the OER Guide for WR 227 Instructors

By | June 4, 2020

This post was contributed by Dr. Sarah Read, Director of Technical and Professional Writing at Portland State University.

Portland State University (PSU) is part of a statewide initiative to develop and encourage the adoption of free or low-cost teaching materials in courses where applicable, including open educational resources (OER). As the Director of Technical and Professional Writing (TPW) at PSU, I have a particular interest in the statewide course WR 227: Introductory Technical Writing. Since so much of the introductory TPW curriculum is already available for free across the internet (for example, how to write letters, emails, proposals and reports; basic grammar and editing, basic technology training, etc), it is less and less justifiable to ask students to pay for textbooks that reiterate information that is otherwise available to them for free. Certainly, traditional published textbooks continue to have value for instructors and students, especially when these textbooks include content that is the unique intellectual property of the author. However, the abundance of freely available standardized curricular content in TPW makes it imperative that we critically evaluate how this content can be incorporated into the WR 227 course to save students money.

In the realm of introductory technical and professional writing courses, there is already a cornucopia of full-length OER textbooks developed in the US and Canada available as curriculum resources and student materials. I use the word cornucopia on purpose, in order to convey the abundance and variety of these resources. This abundance can be on the one hand exciting and invigorating and on the other hand overwhelming and confusing for instructors and students to navigate. Currently, there is no one single site where all of these TPW resources are consolidated and reviewed in order to assist instructors in selecting the best ones for their courses based on topics covered and quality.

In order to help instructors of WR 227 at PSU navigate their options (including OER and free material under all-rights-reserved copyright), during Fall 2019 a team at PSU authored the OER Guide for WR 227 Instructors: Using Open Educational Resources (OERs) in WR 227 Courses. Funded in part by a grant from Portland State University Library, the team included Sarah Read, Director of Technical and Professional Writing; Henry Covey, an experienced instructor of WR 227; and Jordana Bowen, a Graduate Teaching Assistant preparing to teach WR 227. The Guide aims to reduce the labor for instructors in finding quality, relevant OER for WR 227 and comparable introductory courses in technical communication. The Guide includes basic information about what OER are, reviews 8 of the commonly-used, full-length OER PTW textbooks, and offers a topic-based guide to help instructors identify specific resources for specialized content areas in TPW courses (e.g., design, usability, video how-to).

More to Know About the Guide:

  • Universal While the Guide was developed at PSU in the context of WR 227, the content of the Guide is unique neither to PSU nor to WR 227. The Guide has value for instructors of introductory technical and professional writing courses in general across Oregon.
  • Dynamic The Guide is intended to be a dynamic resource that can be updated and expanded with new resources and new topic areas. Users of the Guide can access a Google Form to submit new OER and free-to-students resources that are not already listed in the topic table index.
  • Long-Term The long-term vision for the Guide is that it will find a more sustainable and stable technological home in the form of a content management system or database where it can be curated and managed by a rotating team of stakeholders in TPW from across Oregon, and possibly the nation. How this work would be organized or funded is an open question at the moment.

Finally, the team that wrote the Guide is also conducting a research study to gather the experiences of faculty and students using OER in WR 227 in order to more comprehensively identify the challenges and the opportunities that OER present. During Spring 2020 we are collecting a limited number of surveys from PSU WR 227 faculty and students. We hope to broaden the scope of this survey over the summer and the 20-21 academic year to include more faculty and students across institutional types in Oregon. Stay tuned for more from us about OER and WR 227 in Oregon!