'This is Unusual'

At one Midwest community college, it’s a group effort to get 70 percent of instructors using open educational resources by 2020.

 

July 26, 2017
 

It’s not uncommon for faculty and staff members to be at odds with a college president over a proposed policy, or for the board of trustees to unsettle administrators with a new directive. At a community college in central Michigan, though, the board, administration, instructors and a librarian have come together to greatly expand the use of open education resources, especially in general education courses.

“I think this is unusual,” said Mark Kelland, professor of psychology and the new president of the academic senate at Lansing Community College. “Unusual is always good because it’s something that people want to talk about.”

“There is interest from the president and board that we do more,” said Richard Prystowsky, Lansing’s provost. “They see the great work we are doing … and want to ramp it up exponentially.”

Lansing has 15,000 students and offers about 1,150 courses per academic year. The college’s goal is to have 70 of its 700 instructors (125 full time and the rest adjuncts) using OER materials exclusively by 2018, and 70 percent of all instructors using OER by 2020. 

Librarian Regina Gong, who is heading the effort, said the goal is ambitious, but attainable. “Faculty really want to help their students,” she said. “They want to save their students money.”

Gong also said she wants all of Lansing’s highest enrolled classes using OER. “There is mature OER for gen-ed courses,” said Gong, who is an open education research fellow with the Open Education Research Group, which is funded by the Hewlett Foundation.

Besides expanding OER in gen-ed courses, the college is close to offering its first zero-textbook-cost associate degree, in psychology, said Kelland, who has been providing a textbook he wrote to his students free for five years.

Awareness Effort

Lansing’s OER initiative started with an awareness campaign by a few faculty members and Gong in 2015. “We did a lot of faculty workshops, and a lot of faculty got inspired,” Gong said.

That year, five faculty members replaced traditional textbooks with OER materials in five courses. In 2016, 48 instructors began using openly licensed textbooks and materials from OpenStax, the nonprofit based at Rice University.

This fall, 58 instructors will use OER materials in 21 courses for a total of 118 sections. Students know when they register for a class if it has OER, which Gong said is creating some competition among instructors.

Lansing hasn’t provided OER grants or stipends to instructors, although 12 faculty members have received grants from Michigan Colleges Online, a group that represents the state’s 28 community colleges.

Gong said that 40 percent of Lansing students’ educational costs could be textbooks, and that the college’s OER effort has saved learners about $1.6 million since 2015. (That figure is based on if all students in courses using open resources had bought a $100 textbook. It does not take into consideration students who would have bought used books, rented books or not purchased books.)

“Students tell us that they are grateful that they don’t have to spend as much money on textbooks,” she said, adding that typical comments from learners include “ ‘now I don’t have to choose between books, rent or childcare.’ ”

Librarian in Charge

Prystowsky and Kelland say Lansing’s initiative is moving forward quickly because of Gong’s tenacity.

“The barrier is that faculty say they don’t have time to look for OER,” Gong said. “Since I am managing it … I can help them. I can find five [open] books for them to review.”

“I can’t mandate, but I can say that this is a good candidate for a replacement,” she added. “That’s the most effective approach.”

“I can’t over emphasis her authenticity and integrity,” Prystowsky said. “In this project, you are dealing with so many constituents. She is great to work with. She gets things done.”

“The thing that makes her so effective is her marvelous personality,” Kelland added. “She loves what she is doing – and she doesn’t let up.”

Besides cost savings, instructors see other benefits for using OER. “What doesn’t get talked about a lot is that it provides faculty with far more opportunities to engage with pedagogical practices,” Prystowsky said. “They pushed for OER for that reason as well. They see the possibilities.”

“It is a very freeing feeling for the faculty,” he said. “They can do all kinds of things that you just can’t do with a textbook.”

“This has invigorated my career,” said Kelland, who was invited to speak at another college about Lansing’s OER efforts.

Obstacles to Implementation

Gong doesn’t gloss over the obstacles to expansive OER implementation. “It’s not all roses,” she said. “There are people who are believers, people who are skeptics. Some people who are curmudgeons -- you will never sway them.”

“A lot of faculty are afraid of the board stepping in,” Kelland added.

One thing that is lacking from Lansing’s OER initiative is data, said Kelland, who wants to compare student success rates in courses that use OpenStax with ones that offer traditional textbooks. He said quantitative evidence will win over skeptics, not a directive “coming from the [academic] senate saying thou shall use OER.”

“There are still a lot of things to be done,” Gong said. “We still only have 58 faculty using OER, but the movement is gaining steam.”

Kelland said “the best thing is to incentivize it” with grants for instructors. He said in a recent meeting he had with Brent Knight, Lansing’s president, Knight said “ ‘we are going to supercharge it.’ I’m hoping for grants.”

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