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.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Sian Proctor teaches Geology at South Mountain Community College, one of the ten the Maricopa Community Colleges. As a disclaimer, as also someone who studied Geology at Arizona State University, I have known her for a while. She has an adventurous spirit, including experiences as a 2009 NASA Astronaut Candidate, a participant in a reality show, participated in a NASA Mars Simulation experiement… just to name a few.

Meet Sian:

See more about the Geology program at South Mountain Community College.

In explaining OERs to students and others, she draws the parallels with textbooks “the things that you need to be successful in class, without having to pay a lot for them”, and is interested, like others in the Maricopa Millions project with saving costs for her community college students

She notes an average geology textbook costs $150. She has been developing, and using for the first time this semester, her own textbook, created from public domain NASA, NOAA, US Geological resources and videos. Her platform is SoftChalk, which integrates into her college’s LMS (Canvas).

She is still testing her materials, but plans to release them under creative commons licensing after this first iteration. You find one sample activity at

When asked, she reported that her students have no problem accepting the quality of her developed resources as replacement for a published textbook, but notes that a question if quality is typical response from her faculty colleagues

In her digital textbook, students can retake the unit quizzes as many times as they want; and she uses the reporting data to track time on task

Beyond the assessment of student performance, looking at how much time students are spending on the activities, gives her feedback on where to adjust the materials. It also helps her gauge the content to match what is expected of students time spent in a hybrid course

She describes the biggest challenge in creating OERs is the time spent finding and reviewing materials

She has used resources from a colleague’s open geography textbook –see Open Geography Education and their online open licensed textbooks
. One resource she also highly recommends is the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College.

She does note that in many ways the task is “thankless” because her administration and students do not really see the effort that goes into the creation of the materials

but in the end, the reward is having materials that she is more excited to teach with and that make an education less of a financial burden on her students

Some notes for me from the conversation:

  • Geology is nearly always a small department, so Sian’s OER efforts first in among the cases of other single innovators.
  • Like most of the other conversations in this series, the most typical way of explaining OERs is “like a textbook” but… where “textbook” might be a generic name for course materials.
  • Without knowing details of how SoftChalk provides student data, the potential for collection here of student performance, and also, time spent in modules, could be a potentially useful feature for the kind of studies the OER Research Hub is collecting.
  • The resources Sian finds most useful, whether one wants to define them as OERs, are videos from mainly YouTube. Is this the pervasiveness of content, the ease of embedding in other web content?
  • Geology is an extremely visual topic, yet there seems to be not too many collections of Earth Science OERs.. and if they are, it is at a course / module level (e.g. Penn State University Earth and Mineral Science or ones listed at OpenLearn) or at dispersed collections – e.g. Digital Library for Earth Science Education. Yet there is a good collection at OER Commons. It’s not for lack of OERs, it is a discovery and sorting problem, and there is a mixed scale of materials that integrating them becomes a more complex task.

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

  • 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”

Originally posted at