Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning resources (e.g., textbooks, powerpoint slides, activities, assessments, case studies, etc.) that are openly licensed and free to use. These resources can be adopted and used in the classroom as is or modified as needed to best fit the learning outcomes of a course.
Studies of student success have found that on average students in OER courses perform as well as or better than students in commercial textbook courses. In addition, course drop, fail and withdrawal (DFW) rates are significantly lower for open courses compared with commercial textbook courses.2, Research also suggests that the adoption of open resources can help close student equity gaps. Improvements in DFW rates and course grades in open courses are most pronounced for Pell recipients, students of color and part-time students.3 These positive effects likely stem from the cost and availability of these resources; students in open courses all have access to their textbook materials on the first day of class for free (except for the cost of printing if the student needs a printed copy).
These positive effects on student success could also be due to the powerful ways in which instructors can modify open course materials to best fit the needs of their students and align the material with course competencies. Open resources can be remixed and adapted as long as their Creative Commons licensing allows for this modification (i.e., licenses without the ‘no derivatives’ or ‘ND’ attribute). These OER can then be modified to better contextualize the course content and provide more inclusive and diverse examples and perspectives, see below.
The power of open:
Contextualize course content to real-world challenges on the job, in the community, etc.
Students are more motivated in their courses when the content is contextualized and relevant to the career they are pursuing and their community. Often, traditional textbooks and course resources provide standard examples and problems, and/or outdated examples that do not resonate with students. Open textbooks can be continuously changed to better contextualize the content and keep the information up to date and relevant.
To learn about a faculty perspective on adopting and adapting OER, see the WTCS Voices interview with Ellen Mathein, a business instructor from Nicolet College.
Update the resource with inclusive and diverse examples
Representation is vital. If students cannot see themselves in the course materials, then that sends the signal that they may not belong in that course and program. Providing diverse and inclusive examples and viewpoints within course materials helps students succeed in their career pathway.
Some OER projects are already trying to diversify open content. For instance, OpenStax from Rice University has created general education open textbooks, and they allow users to provide requests for changes to help diversify these texts (see Palmiotto and Swift 2019). There is also a focused project on diversifying the OpenStax Psychology textbook. Instructors could implement a similar type of OER project in their course by providing a way for students to give their input on how to improve the text and make the resource more inclusive.
For more information, see:
- The Mindset Toolkit course on Belonging which highlights strategies to increase a student’s sense of belonging, how this impacts their success, etc.
- Leveraging Open Educational Resources for Queer Students by Sabia Prescott
- Hurry Up and Slow Down: Indigenization and OER by Rose Roberts and Heather Ross
- Looking for Images that Reflect Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Ask the Community by Heather Blicher, provides a curated list of diverse imagery that could be used to create a more inclusive open textbook
Open pedagogy invites students to take part in the creation process of open content to enhance their learning and develop employability skills. Examples of open pedagogy include collaborative projects in which students create or remix an open resource or its ancillary materials (e.g., question banks, PowerPoint slides, website). This approach is powerful in that it can motivate students and incorporates student voice and perspective into the course content.
OER in WTCS:
- Both the WTCS Perkins Strengthening Career and Technical Education Programs grant and the Core Industry grant can be leveraged for OER creation and development.
- Our Wisconsin Student Government (WSG) has included funding for OER in their 2019 and 2020 Legislative Seminar Position Papers. They are asking the Wisconsin legislature to invest $200,000 per year for the creation of open textbooks across the WTCS.
OER projects and resources:
- OpenRN is a Department of Education funded project that involves all 16 technical colleges and led by Chippewa Valley Technical College in the creation of five open textbooks for nursing with 25 associated virtual reality scenarios.
- Nicolet College offers the first Zero-Textbook Costs Degree (or Z-Degree) in our system. The Z-Degree is a Criminal Justice Studies Associates of Applied Science and saves students $1,300 in textbook costs.
- WISC-Online is a non-profit organization based at Fox Valley Technical College that provides open educational programs, objects, videos, tutorials, and games.
- Open resources for technical fields are provided on Skills Commons
Professional development opportunities:
- OER Faculty Quality Assurance System Course taught by Vince Mussehl (CVTC). Information about the course is provided on the OpenRN website
WTCS OER Network:
The WTCS OER Network has over 90 OER champions from all 16 colleges and the system office. Within the Network, we strive to share strategies and resources to advance the adoption of open resources across the WTCS. To join our network, please contact Hilary Barker.
 Clinton & Khan. 2019. Efficacy of open textbook adoption on learning performance and course withdrawal rates: A meta-analysis. Aera Open 5(3): 1-20.
 Colvard, Watson & Park. 2018. The impact of Open Educational Resources on various student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 30(2): 262-276.