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Instructors receive grants to incorporate Open Educational Resources

ISSUED: 18 November 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Three Shepherd University instructors received Open Educational Resources (OER) grants from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission to develop or adopt OER in their classes. Shannon Holliday, director of first-year experience and coordinator for students in transition, Dr. Arnetta Fletcher, assistant professor of nutrition, and Dr. Amy DeWitt, professor of sociology, each received a $1,000 grant.

Open educational resources are materials that are either in the public domain or have been released under a license that allows them to be used, changed, or shared with others. Assistant librarians Rhonda Donaldson and Rachel Hally have spearheaded efforts on campus to encourage the adoption of OER.

“I was looking for ways to connect students with free or cheaper alternatives to their textbooks,” Donaldson said. “I just wanted to make it easier because textbooks are so expensive and some of these kids can’t afford to go through life owing so much money in student loans because.”

“My main interest in OER is also about saving students money,” Hally said. “When students can’t afford their textbooks, they often don’t buy them and they don’t have as good an educational outcome in that class. There’s been a lot of research that shows that students who can afford their textbooks sometimes do better in their classes than classmates who can’t afford the books. It makes perfect sense. If you don’t have the book, how can you possibly have as good an outcome.”

Donaldson and Hally are excited that three instructors received grants to incorporate OER into their classes. Holliday plans to use the grant to adopt OER for her First-Year Experience (FYEX) 101 course during spring 2021.

“FYEX 101 courses currently require a textbook published by a major publishing house that costs $50 new,” Holliday said. “Textbook costs can be a real shock for students and an impediment to academic success. Adopting an OER for my courses that doesn’t create an added expense is just one way that I can help ease the transition to college for incoming students and make their first year a little less stressful, both academically and financially. If students benefit from the switch, I plan to work with other instructors to adopt OERs across the First-Year Experience program by the end of next year.”

Fletcher will use her grant for initial adoption and course planning that utilized OER in her courses, particularly the Food for Wellness class.

“Nutrition is an evolving and emerging field that encompasses sundry subjects related to other disciplines including genetics, immunology, psychology, ethics, sociology, and agriculture,” Fletcher said. “OER resources can be quickly adapted to meet the changing dynamics of the field and the emerging nutrition program here at Shepherd.”

Fletcher estimates using OER materials in just the Food for Wellness class would save students approximately $40,000 per year collectively. The grants are intended to cover the development of one class that utilizes OER, but DeWitt plans to design three—two for the spring semester, General Sociology-Honors and Writing in the Social Sciences, and an additional one for the fall, Sociology of the Family.

“I have found textbooks and resources that are available in the public domain that students are able to access at no cost,” DeWitt said. “Not every course can be readily adapted using OER, but if students can save money in my course, perhaps they could more easily afford required resources in other courses. If our campus embraces core values that include learning, engagement, and accessibility, then removing barriers and promoting inclusive learning are essential.”

DeWitt, Fletcher, Holliday, Hally, and Donaldson attended a West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission-sponsored workshop in September titled “Student-Centered Innovation: Using Open Educational Resources to Increase Value for Students.”

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