Teaching with Technology Committee to develop a task force for OER

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Faculty survey on open educational resources is expected to be sent out before spring break.

By Bismarck D. Andino


In 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made public almost all of its courses on the Internet for free access. Four years later, UNESCO created a global OER Community wiki to share information on issues surrounding the use of open educational resources.

UNESCO, which is responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication, is currently developing new platforms to provide open educational content and material to developing countries where access to textbooks and classrooms are limited.

Last semester, Dr. Jothany Blackwood, vice president of student success from this college, asked the Teaching with Technology Committee to create a task force devoted to OER adoption in order to expand at this campus what some faculty members already incorporated in their curriculum, English Professor and chair of committee Laurie Lopez Coleman said Feb. 28 in an interview.

“If you are a SAC student, you pay a library fee that gives you access to the library databases,” Coleman said. “A non-SAC student wouldn’t have access to those databases, because they haven’t paid the fee.”

“Open resources has that element to them that they are freely accessible, and they’re not protected by any copyright,” she said.

According to Coleman, the job of the OER task force, now a subcommittee of Teaching with Technology, is to conduct an inventory of current courses that use some or all OER, discuss ways this college can scale up its use, determine the barriers to those who do not use it and come up with recommendations for incentives for faculty.

Coleman said this college’s OER task force would send a faculty survey sometime before spring break to find out who is using OER.

“Anytime a faculty member creates their own content and not take it from a publisher, they have the potential to be creating OER if they just share it with the rest of us,” Coleman said. “We want to grow OER on our campus by tapping into those faculty who are already … giving people access to information,” she said.

According to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, access to a high quality education is the right of all individuals. To ensure that more students are completing their college education, Achieving the Dream, a non-governmental reform movement for student success, provides grants to colleges that demonstrate the ability and capacity to implement OER degree programs. The Alamo Colleges are part of this reform through this grant.

Achieving the Dream grant is targeted to increase OER adoption among faculty from this college, Coleman said. This grant’s goal is to reduce costs for students and accelerate their progress through college.

“This means students save money on their structural materials. Potentially, if a course they want to take has a faculty member who has adopted something that is open, then the student doesn’t have to pay for textbooks or access codes for web materials,” she said.

The purpose of this grant at the Alamo Colleges is to create a path to a degree that utilizes OER and help students reduce the cost of college, Phillip Anaya, digital and OER coordinator for the Alamos Colleges, said March 2 in a phone interview.

“Typically, a course runs around a few hundred dollars for a three-hours course and the textbook usually around the same amount, so by utilizing OER we are cutting the true cost of attending that class in half,” Anaya said.

“We want to create at least a start, a path where students can take all 21 courses utilizing OER,” he said.

History Professor Sean Duffy is one of the few professors at this college who is using OER as a resource for teaching and learning.

“I’m a former graduate from community college so I’m well aware of the cost of textbooks for students,” Duffy said.

“If you want a better textbook, you can purchase one, but from my perspective, I’m the content expert and it’s my job to fill in the gaps to correct mistakes that are in textbooks,” he said.

Duffy used OpenStax, an open space online where people can share and adapt educational materials, to download a history book in a PDF format to teach his students. He also said not to discredit this type of educational material just because they are free.

“It’s free, but also it’s put together by history professionals. It’s not Wikipedia,” he said.

However, an issue Duffy has encountered with this is that students don’t like to read what is free, and that publishers’ traditional textbooks offer computer resources and data banks in case of questions or concerns about the textbook’s chapters, something that he doesn’t get using the OER method.

Also, Coleman said although she has incorporated OER in her literature course, she hasn’t been able to fully make the transition due to a copyright law that prevents her from using contemporary work. This law, Duration of Copyright, says she would have to wait 70 years after the death of the author to use their work. She also said technology can get in the way sometimes. Either the work’s format is not compatible with students’ devices or students don’t have the devices to access the content.

For more information about the OER task force, call Laurie Lopez Coleman at 210-486-0663 or email lcoleman@alamo.edu.


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