I have the pleasure of being the first OER Research Hub (OERRH) fellow – in other words the guinea pig — as someone kindly pointed out.  In spite of being first, the team couldn’t be more welcoming or organized.  Simone and Claire have taken care of every imaginable need from hot drinks to scheduling my appointments. Project leader Patrick McAndrew came in from holiday to meet me on my first day.   All the researchers have made themselves available for consulting, lunch, and bike sharing.  In short, I’ll never be able to work anywhere else again without grumbling.

Claire and Una

Claire and Una

So you may be wondering what my fellowship is about besides tea at the hub and bike rides on the redway.  Attempting to keep an open mind – I started with a “literature review” on fellowship and found multiple definitions.  The “feeling of connection” and “shared interest” from Wiktionary captures the OERRH collaborative model best:

fellowship (plural fellowships)

  1. A company of people that shares the same interest or aim.
  2. A feeling of friendship, relatedness or connection between people.
  3. A merit-based scholarship.
  4. A temporary position at an academic institution with limited teaching duties and ample time for research; this may also be called a postdoc

Wiktionary, June 26, 2013, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License;

Together, OERRH and its fellows make up a team that is gathering evidence for eleven research hypotheses on the impact of OER usage in four educational sectors: kindergarten through secondary school, community college, university, and informal learning.    All the collaborations are looking at how OER can improve learner performance and satisfaction and also how open licensing creates different usage and adoption patterns for learning materials

My fellowship is linked with the community college collaboration and is particularly focused on four additional research hypotheses:

  • Use of OER leads to critical reflection by educators, with evidence of improvement in their practice
  • OER adoption at an institutional level leads to financial benefits for students and/or institutions
  • Participation in OER pilots and programs leads to policy change at institutional level
  • Open education models lead to more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education

The CCCOER research committee provided feedback on early versions of the survey instrument to identify how OER is perceived and used at community colleges and to determine if improvements in teaching practice have resulted.  Earlier research with CCCOER and the Institute for Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) suggested that new teaching practices and conversations were evident with OER usage.  In particular more peer-to-peer learning practices for students and between faculty were observed due to the interactive, collaborative nature of using openly licensed textbooks.  Dr. Rob Farrow, community college lead OERRH researcher, and I will use survey data to guide interviews and focus group later this year.

CCCOER members have reported significant cost savings to their students as openly licensed textbooks have replaced expensive commercial textbooks.  De Anza Community College in California has saved students over $1,000,000 in five years from a single open textbook in a highly enrolled statistics class. Institutional impact is not as clearly understood as faculty time to find and adapt openly licensed materials to align with course objectives must be considered in the total cost.

Our third hypothesis deals with institutional policy change and requires more observation and interviews with policy makers at colleges and departments of education to understand the links between open educational policies, institutional values, and interests of the community at large including business and local governing boards.   Dr. Farrow has already started this process visiting the U.S. Department of Education and several community colleges in Baltimore and Virginia.  We will continue that work together in the fall visiting community colleges along the west coast and meeting college OER leaders at conferences.

Community colleges were founded on the premise of making high-quality education affordable for everyone and thus equitable access is at the heart of our mission.   CCCOER expands this definition to explicitly include diverse learners who may require accommodations to fully participate in learning experiences.  To my delight, there is an accessibility expert, Dr. Chetz Coldwell, and an entire usability lab within the same building as the OERRH project and she and her lab administrator, Anna Page, have already graciously shared their expertise.

Stay tuned for Fellowship Part 2 coming next week …

Posted by Una Daly,
Community College Outreach Director, OpenCourseWare Consortium,