OERs in Applied Math: Mike’s Thoughts

Using open educational resources (OERs) in a math course was definitely a new adventure.  The norm has been to use publisher content for math courses because the textbooks are often accompanied by robust resources such as test banks, homework problem generators, platforms for students to complete homework and tests, and so on.  The publisher resources make things pretty easy in terms of providing content that is organized, algorithmically generated (to help avoid possible cheating or plagiarism), and robust.  However, this does come with a pretty hefty price tag for students.  Access to the textbooks and homework platforms usually costs well over $100.

(By the way, we have 62 students currently enrolled in the class, so we have helped students save well over $6000!)

The initial decision to rework the Applied Math course as one that utilizes OERs was somewhat spur-of-the-moment, but it has turned out be a good one.  The spur-of-the-moment decision quickly turned into routine meetings, lots of planning, and rewarding collaboration.  As the course rolls out, students seem to be responding positively to the materials, the layout of the course, the requirements for homework and assessments, and so on.

Creating an OER math course definitely turned out to be a lot of work.  Much of the work centered around generating problems for homework, quizzes, and tests. We had to create 100’s of problems.  Getting the opportunity to be creative in generating meaningful and relevant problems was definitely fun and gave me a chance to stretch my math brain, but it did consume a lot of time.  The trade-off was worth it.  The problems that we developed were aligned to the competencies for the course and were relevant in terms of both practice and application.  As we continue to evolve the course, it will be fun to continue creating problems in order to beef up the bank of questions that are available for use.

One of the cool parts about using OERs was that it allowed for the opportunity to really apply backward design in developing the course.  Rather than starting with a textbook, we started by clearly articulating the competencies/outcomes for the course.  We were able to identify the skills that we wanted students to develop.  We then figured out how we were going to assess those skills.  As a last step, we found the content resources that matched competencies/outcomes for the course.  The course now feels like it reflects the knowledge, skills, and abilities that students should acquire rather than reflecting the outcomes dictated in a textbook.

I think that using OERs in a course is about more than just using openly available resources or reducing costs for students.  Implementing OERs really requires you to think deeply about your course and to apply the best design practices when developing the course.  I would definitely encourage folks to think about investing the time and energy into using OERs.  The end product, I think, is worth it!

OERs in Applied Math: Mona’s Thoughts

Mona and Mike

So here we are, 4 months later…of serious planning to create this Applied Math course using OER resources. Last spring, Mike and I were talking about Applied Math, and wondered if we could offer a robust course which feeds into many Allied Health programs.  We decided to team up and tackle this project. We learned very quickly there are three things to design a great course: Content, Delivery Method, and Dynamics.

In matters of content, Mike and I liked OpenStax and found most of our material from their free resources. It helped that we divided the work and stuck to a schedule. We kept each other accountable with many meetings this past summer and continue to meet during the fall term to troubleshoot our courses and answer students’ concerns. We learned how to write math problems that were relevant to competencies which allowed us to generate relevant Application Assignments, which is BRAND new to this course.

Since Mike has an amazing working knowledge of TALON, we were able to utilize many facets of this learning management system to deliver this robust course. TALON allowed us to create Homework, Quizzes, Tests, and Surveys to assess our students.  Mike even created an end of the semester survey which will allow us to gather data about students’ thoughts about this course.

Dynamics for us meant anything that moved and had a force. For example, competencies are dynamic, and they are present in EVERY unit students open to complete their work. To make the units become more engaging, we created many different kinds of dynamic videos. Since students would see either of us in particular videos, we decided to collaborate further and create a joint Welcome Video. We also carefully crafted introduction videos, a kind of trailer of what students can expect to learn.  We also created homework videos to help students learn the material and/or identify their errors.

Presently, we are excited to share that students have been able to adapt and are happy with this design. A lot of discussions, meetings, emails have allowed us to create this course, and we are happy for it. The above picture is a screenshot of Mike and me, welcoming and introducing students to their Applied Math course using OER materials.