A New Kind of OER Course

Open Education has made great strides over the past few years.  Despite being conflated with MOOCs in the media, the good folks at OpenStax College, Lumen Learning, and organizations like them, have saved students millions in the cost of textbooks.  Not only that, they’ve improved student outcomes, as finally, every student in the class has access to the necessary course materials.  The open education movement has even gotten the attention of legislators in the form of the Affordable College Textbook Act, which would provide for the creation and review of a host of new open resources and textbook.  These efforts have done, and will continue to do, much to lower the cost of attending college for students.


I, however, have a different idea.


When students get to one of these classes where the professor or the administrator has decided to swap in OER for commercial resources, they are delighted to find that they don’t have to pay for a textbook.  However, the discussion of what open means, of what they can do with open, or how they could find open resources on their own, never happens.  They never have an opportunity to develop a personal connection with the idea of open education, or to think about how it can apply to their life outside of the context of their current course.  To them, it’s just a new textbook, and *bonus* it’s free.


What if we gave students an opportunity to form that connection?


When I came to Thomas Edison State College, one of the discussions we had early on was “how do we encourage students to use OER? How can they use it to make a degree more affordable?”  Well we could map it to our curriculum and swap out our current crop of commercial texts.  Or we could find specific sets of OER (like the Saylor courses) and design challenge exams around them.  But why would we want to restrict students to certain open textbooks, or certain collections of open courseware?  Learning is valid no matter where it comes from, right?  That’s at least the basis of our prior learning assessment programs.

It’s from that vantage point that we started exploring competency-based education.  With this model, we could set up modular assessments and let students bring their learning in from anywhere.  Students would be free to leverage all of the exceptional OER content on the web, either as a supplement to what they already know, or simply self-study of a new topic.  All of the education would be on their terms.  We would merely exist to measure and to guide.

And while competency-based education is a direction we are pursuing as a college, this conversation continued in another direction.  Is there a way we can give students the ability to forge their own pathway under our current model, grounded in the Carnegie Credit Hour?  Can we teach students to develop these educational pathways without a professor, or an advisor?  Can we encourage them to work together outside of the classroom and build a learning community? Presumably if given the right tools, the answer to all of these questions is yes.


So how can we equip our students with those tools?  Well, we’ll build a course, naturally.


So this is my idea for a new kind of course.  We teach open education and its application at the student level.  We show them how to evaluate open resources for bias, and for quality.  We explain learning outcomes, and where they come from, and how open resources can be used to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to master them in any course context.  We show students how they can collaborate with each other; learn from each other, without having to rely on a faculty member to have all the answers.  To think critically about ideas, have those ideas challenged, and challenge the ideas of their peers.  Finally, we teach them how everything they’ve learned can be applied within the current higher education system, and outside of it.  This last component opens the door for not only lifelong learning, but to fundamentally reduce the price of a college education for anyone with the interest and drive to pursue truly self-directed learning.


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