As part of my fellowship for the OER Research Hub at the Open University I am sharing these excerpts from conversations about OER use/creation recorded in April 2014 with faculty at the Maricopa Community Colleges.

James Sousa, a mathematics faculty at Phoenix College, has quietly produced an impressive collection of openly shared tutorial videos and is mixing those with open licensed textbooks and practice exercises to create entire courses based on OERs. Not everything math is from the Academy.

Meet James:

As but one example of over 3500 such videos, mostly screencasts explaining how to solved math problems, Solving Problems with Venn Diagrams has over 90,000 YouTube views

with typical feedback such as:

Explained in 6 minutes what my Stats teacher didn’t explain properly in two whole lessons

He started this in 2009 as an augmentation for the textbook he taught with and has evolved this into an approach for creating his courses

Two of these are currently offered at Phoenix College as MOOCs in developmental Math– Arithmetic/Prealgebra (MAT082) and Introductory Algebra (MAT09x).

Both courses offer an ebook, video lessons and examples, online homework with instant feedback, collaboration among students and with a full-time math faculty, and more. A print copy of the text is also available for less than $20.

These courses are offered non-credit and meant to help students prepare for following math classes. For his Trigonometry class, James’s students are saving $180 per course on the fee of the textbook:

And all of his courses developed in the last few years all have been based on OERs

See a complete list of his developed courses where you can see he makes use of open content form several sources including College of the Redwoods, ck12, Stitz-Zeager, and David Lippman.

James said it is becoming easier to find and remix math materials. For his recently developed College Algebra course, he pulled relevant sections from the pre-calculus open math textbooks by Carl Stitz and Jeff Zeager. He an other math faculty worked together to create a series of practices exercises that are offered via iMathAS (“essentially and LMS for mathematics”)

He is able to use the instance of iMathAS provided at Scottsdale Community College (another college in the Maricopa system) – an notable level of collaboration between colleges.

An interesting outcome of what becomes a regular cycle of improvement, each semester the courses are refined rather than on the typical change driven by a normal textbook adoption timeline

On asking about ways of knowing this is working, for James a telling sign is how many students seek out his OER classes among the others offered- they are “following” him

He has learned in his video development how to make materials be a bit more generalizable so other teachers can use them “I don’t think any more about how can I make this course just for me”

But his focus remains on what is best for the student, not what might make teaching “easier” for other faculty

“It’s rewarding to reach people beyond the classroom”

You can find all of James’ resources in his Mathispower4u site and associated blog. The videos are now incorporated as a resource for the Phoenix College math department web site.

For more information about his approach, see his Mathispower4u introductory video

Some notes for me from the conversation:

  • The effort of one highly motivated faculty member has a rippling effect; James’s colleagues in the Phoenix College Math department are collaborating more on OER based courses.
  • The informal collaboration with faculty at other colleges in the system is mutually beneficial (to be continued in further conversation summaries)
  • Mathematics seems to have a relatively rich based of open licenses materials, especially open textbooks.
  • What James has been able to create as courses solely based on OERs is a reasonable remix approach of content and resources, yet in a form that can be customized as needed by an individual teacher.

For relevance to OER Research Hub, the work of James aligns with hypotheses of

  • providing “more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education”
  • creating developmental level courses as “an effective method for improving retention for at-risk students”
  • leading teachers to practice “critical reflection by educators, with evidence of improvement in their practice”
  • the remix approach leveraging existing content is one of “different usage and adoption patterns than other online resources”
  • What was an individual effort is now spreading to a department level and clearly saves students money they can use elsewhere in their educational process — “OER adoption at an institutional level leads to financial benefits for students and/or institutions”

Orginally posted at