Students and Faculty Perspective: The Benefits of OER at Montgomery College, MD

Students Value OER’s Role in Enhancing Pedagogy and Engaging Faculty

In May, an appreciation luncheon brought together faculty, staff, and students at Montgomery College (MC) in Germantown, Maryland, to showcase their successes in Achieving the Dream’s Open Education Resources (OER) Degree Initiative, a 3-year effort funding 38 community colleges to create pathways to degrees by developing courses that use free and openly licensed course materials instead of proprietary textbooks.

After lunch, a group of students and faculty sat down with ATD staff to discuss their experience with OER courses. The conversation ranged from the faculty’s passion for using OER to the enhanced accessibility and digital compatibility of the materials and the flexibility of curricula that used OER instead of proprietary textbooks. For the students at the MC luncheon, eliminating textbook costs wasn’t what made an OER course successful; rather students sang the praises of the quality and accessibility of the course materials and engagement of the faculty.

Flexible and Accessible Materials Evolving The College Experience

In lieu of pricey textbooks, MC students in the OER degree courses were provided free and openly licensed resources identified and curated by faculty, from collections of print and web-based resources to full textbooks such as those created by non-profit Open Stax. Most materials are available both digitally and in print, providing access to a diverse population of learners. Because OER can be easily adapted and modified, their use can help create a more equitable learning environment for students unable to use traditional textbooks. This is particularly true for students from different ethnic and racial backgrounds and students with disabilities who find traditional textbooks limiting. Courses offered online also provide flexibility to a diverse student body who strive to have a work, school, and home life balance.  

Cody Iorns, an MC student who enrolled in an English Critical Reading, Writing, and Research course, preferred OER because of the ease and accessibility of digital materials. He emphasized the importance of OER’s accessibility and the relevance of providing equitable access for all learners. “I’m allowed to have my iPad in class. So it’s really, really, easy. I can’t stress this enough, having everything in front of me and not having to go get paperwork,” said Iorns, a double amputee whose condition makes it difficult for him to write, pick up paper, and turn pages. “I have enough paperwork at home and through handouts and books for other classes. So just having the one class where all the research is online makes all the other classes a little easier.”

Flexible Curriculum and Faculty Engagement Tie It All Together

The short term goal of the OER Degree Initiative is to reduce costs for students and accelerate their progress through college, but its lasting impact is on institutional culture. Use of OER, particularly the creation of OER degrees,  enables pedagogical transformation because it provides new ways to connect curriculum with student learning outcomes and allows new approaches to teaching and learning. At MC, all of the students attributed their positive OER experience to collaborative relationships with engaged faculty.

“Professor Rosado said, 'Hello, everybody. As I'm sure you're all aware, this is an OER course.' I had no idea. I was like, was does this mean for me? What does this mean in general because I have never previously had any experience with an OER course,” said student Zdeslav Cunko. He went on to say, “Professor Rosado was always there with an open door and I know how much work went on behind the scenes to help us learn the material. So from that point of view, I think I achieved a much better connection and retention and understanding of the material with such a hands-on approach.”

For faculty, OER presents the opportunity to break away from the restraints of traditional pedagogy and explore new, more current topics and teaching channels. Professor Emily Rosado explained, “I really like the flexibility of OER. I have the ability to customize the course according to not just my interests, but also the interests of my students by trying to find readings that are contemporary and I think they would like based on class discussions.”

Although still new to OER, students and faculty are finding a unique and positive college experience with lower cost, easily-accessible materials and flexible and exciting curriculum opportunities. The MC luncheon underscored the positive responses to the college’s early OER experiences and suggests a bright future for OER at MC.

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