OER BLOG SERIES, PART 1: Bay de Noc College and the OER Experience

Bay College, a small, rural college in Michigan, has been participating in Achieving the Dream’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative. Before the college was selected for the initiative, it offered a career exploration course and several history courses using OER. At the time the initiative began in 2016, a team had just started to make English 101 an OER course. Now Bay College offers all sections of 27 courses, 83 credits, and a complete Associate of Arts degree using OER. The college also has created digital and physical copies of books created with OER which are available to students at no charge online or for $20 per hard copy.

The following members of the Bay College OER team recently attended Achieving the Dream’s Open Educational Resources Summit and sat down with an interviewer to discuss the college’s experience. The story below is based on their conversation.

Edie Erickson, Instructional Designer     

Ann Sebeck, Online Business Instructor 

Jennifer McCann, English Faculty

Todd McCann, English Instructor

Joseph Mold, Director of Online Learning and Instructional Design

Open Educational Resources Help Students Academically and Financially 
A shared concern for helping students get the most out of their classes without having to make painful financial choices motivated faculty and staff at Bay de Noc College to begin looking for ways to expand the college’s use of OER. In an interview at Achieving the Dream’s Open Educational Resources Summit this spring, the team recounted why they began their OER journey and what they learned during the two years the college participated in ATD’s OER Degree Initiative.

Team members said they knew that many students were barely getting by, even without having to contend with the cost of textbooks. Joseph Mold, director of online learning and instructural design, noted that more than 70 percent of the students are entitled to “some kind of support” based on their incomes and said, “students are struggling to buy food and buy gas. We recently established a food pantry on our campus…students have to decide if they're going to buy the book or going to buy food.”

Faculty and staff also knew that some students were taking classes despite not being able to afford the textbook. Without books, the students weren’t learning as much in the courses as they should. Ann Sebeck, online business instructor, said those students “would struggle through that class… and get what they could out of it.” But that wasn’t what the college wanted for its students. Calling some textbooks “ridiculously expensive,” Mr. Mold cited area high schools’ make-do arrangements to help provide textbooks to high school students dual-enrolled at Bay College who couldn’t afford them. The school districts were buying a small number of textbooks for the most common courses and rotating them among students.

Bay College students themselves sometimes came forward to share how much savings generated from OER courses helped them academically. A student emailed Mr. Mold to report that her savings from an OER microeconomics class allowed her to take another class toward her degree. In a promotional video, another student said, “I paid zero dollars for textbooks this semester, and I bought a really nice graphing calculator for math courses.”

Growing Familiarity with OER Creates Faculty Support

Faculty awareness of the cost of textbooks began to grow, too, as well as their discomfort. Edie Erickson, an instructional designer, recalled that “instructors have come up to me saying, ‘You know, I never really looked at this before, but this book is now up to $300. Is there something else I can use?’” Mr. Mold discovered that “faculty felt guilty to use a book that cost $400-$500. Some faculty didn't want to use all that material.” At the same time, faculty began to appreciate the value of giving students access to course materials the first day of class.

As familiarity with the value of OER courses spread across Bay College, faculty also discovered that OER gave them new opportunities to shape their course content. Todd McCann, an English instructor, said faculty “find out that they have more flexibility” and can “put the content together the way they want to put it together, and offer it to their students in a way they know will be successful.” Mr. Mold offered several examples including work by English 101 instructors who “picked up an OER for the base and then remixed it in an order they thought was more appropriate. They found another chapter from another source, and then they wrote a chapter, and then we put all of that together in a book.” Another English faculty member “created an outline of what she teaches, and then she probably used 12 different OERs, section by section. We copied the content she wanted, changed what she wanted, wrote a little bit too. But it wasn't predominantly one resource, it was a mish-mash.”

The team found that faculty became interested in their subject areas even more, boosting their excitement about teaching. OERs gave faculty “the freedom to pick and choose what they want to teach and how they want to teach it,” according to Mr. Mold.  Ms. Sebeck, the online business instructor, reported she enjoyed having “power in creating what you'll be presenting, instead of following the book…It was kind of neat.”

OER Builds a Community Spirit on Campus

The team reported that spreading OER across the college built a good community. Working to reduce costs for students and refresh and diversify course content brought faculty and students closer together. Ms. Erickson, the instructional designer, found instructors were empathizing with their students’ struggles to afford classroom materials. Mr. Mold cited a student in a video who said he “really appreciated faculty putting an effort in the resources he was using in his course, that it really made me feel good to be in a class where the faculty produced that material for their students.”

There were additional ways that Bay College generated interest around OER, according to Mr. Mold. “We held OER rallies, made a big banner, used thousands of dollars to buy pizza, soda, salad, t-shirts. We recognized faculty, gave them trophies, t-shirts saying "Open Textbook Rockstar…” The [rallies] have been well-attended.” He observed, “… once everyone is there, they see the handouts, the shirts, the links, it gets them talking. I still see students wearing those t-shirts.”

The Bay College team’s advice to other colleges considering how to build support for starting or increasing the use of OER is to highlight student savings – and faculty freedom and student success. Mr. Mold summed it up, noting, “Student savings is huge…giving students access to materials for free, that's a pretty big deal to students. It also gives your faculty freedom...Students love to save money, and we love to see them succeed!”










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