OER adoption has the power to give students agency, report argues

Dive Brief: 

  • Community college instructors who adopted open education resources are increasing student choice in assignments, using relevant content to make their courses more inclusive and creating opportunities for critical thinking, according to a new qualitative study released by Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit devoted to student success.
  • Open education resources, or OER, are in the public domain or are able to be freely used, altered and shared. Achieving the Dream sought to understand whether adopting OER transforms community college instruction and enables more equitable and culturally responsive teaching practices. 
  • Despite the benefits found by the report, instructors reported several barriers to implementing OER. These include a lack of administrative support and funding, a lack of flexibility in learning goals, and a lack of alignment with tenure requirements. 

Dive Insight: 

Awareness of OER has grown in recent years, with some institutions throwing their full support behind such materials for their ability to drive down college costs for students. In the new report, Achieving the Dream argued that using OER can also lead to the development of innovative teaching strategies centered on equity and inclusion. 

The report calls these methods open educational practices, or OEP. Researchers identified five common characteristics associated with this type of education: 

  • Student agency or ownership over courses.
  • Inclusive content tailored to students’ backgrounds. 
  • Student collaboration on new theories or content that can be used in future assignments. 
  • Assignments meant to boost critical consciousness, which involves developing students’ ability to identify and address power imbalances. 
  • Classroom culture that fosters respect between students and instructors. 

Yet research hasn’t probed whether OER adoption actually leads to changes in how courses are taught. To study the question, Achieving the Dream partnered with SRI Education, a nonprofit research group, to conduct interviews with 64 instructors, administrators, staff members and students at colleges with strong OER adoption. The researchers also observed 21 courses during site visits. 

“The study provides a useful snapshot of what open and culturally relevant instruction looks like in classrooms,” Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, told reporters Tuesday. “And the picture is encouraging. We’re seeing the kinds of teaching that is student-centered, that creates voice and choice for students, and is inclusive, even involving students in the design of courses.”

About half of interviewed instructors said that using OER enabled them to tailor content to their students’ needs or interests and boost students’ involvement in creating course content. Some instructors also used OER to create content relevant to students and to involve them in creating materials that could be used again. Less common was using OER to promote critical consciousness. 

However, researchers found that instructors reported greater use of these practices than they witnessed during course observations. Although this may be due to the difficulties instructors faced while teaching classes during the pandemic, it could also suggest that these practices are in the early days of being adopted. 

“Not every teacher is hitting all the dimensions of effective open and culturally responsive teaching,” Stout said. “This reveals, for the most part, faculty are going at it on their own, really without systematic supports from their institutions.” 

The report recommends that centers of teaching and learning provide resources on how to use OER, as well as explaining how these materials can be used to center student voices. Colleges may also create instructor networks to share classroom materials and activities. And administrators could consider using OER and OEP in tenure decisions.

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