On Friday I visited Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) to run an OER focus group with instructional designers and teachers.  We’ll be using the data collected as part of the project’s ever-increasing dataset, but I thought it would be worth gathering some of my initial reflections here.

I was a guest of the Extended Learning Institute which offers community college courses to students on a virtual or blended basis.  NOVA appears to have had a progressive attitude towards technology since its inception in 1975.  After a trip on Baltimore’s light rail, a bit of a walk, a MARC service from Penn Station to Washington DC and a couple of Metro trains to take me to the other side of town I was picked from Vienna-Fairfax GMU for a short ride to the new virtual campus… and when I say ‘new’, I mean NEW.  The turf looks like it was just laid and there’s no sign above the door yet!


It seems like there’s really a lot of investment going into the online development of the college, so it was a good opportunity to get a perspective on online education and the role of OER.   In no particular order, here are some of the headlines I think came out of the group:

  • Blackboard is used as a virtual learning environment across the entire state, although there was a feeling that it is already pushed to its limits and may restrict innovation
  • However, Google tools are increasingly being used, partly because they are more open
  • There was a feeling that OER creation does improve teaching skills
  • Some faculty are generally resistant to change; it’s not always clear what they consider to be valuable
  • The importance of librarians was asserted; they have been instrumental in compiling resources
  • Students seem to really appreciate the online aspects of their courses
  • Business models where institutions collaborate with publishers to produce course content may impede innovation/experimentation
  • Co-ordinating the various staff involved in creation of OER, curriculum mapping, course delivery and evaluation remains a challenge, but one that might be ameliorated through greater institutional co-ordination
  • On average, students using OER course materials save $185 per course
  • There was a feeling that students really appreciate more adaptive, personalised learning materials
  • Customising curricula to student needs helps them feel more ‘heard’ and may contribute to information literacy through ownership of the materials
  • When students feel empowered in these ways they make more proactive choices about their own learning

Special thanks to Preston Davis for facilitating and to Una Daly of CCCOER for the original idea.