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