Scottsdale Community College (SCC) in Scottsdale, Arizona offers courses to more than 10,000 students from a wide range of communities, including immigrants and Native Americans. These students experience the normal challenges working adults, returning students, and new-to-college students do regarding financial issues such as paying for tuition. OER were introduced at SCC to reduce cost pressures on students.
This OER initiative was led by faculty in the Mathematics department, hoping to provide greater access to learning content at a significantly reduced price point, while maintaining quality in the materials. The interested faculty took several years to develop an implementation strategy for OER on which they could all agree. Individual faculty already introduced OER into their classes, when in 2012, the department implemented OER initiatives in five courses. This decision to adopt OER was made primarily as a reaction to the publishers’ continual increases in the price of using the assessment tool. This assessment tool was part of the student online homework system, an essential component of the College's mathematics courses. The faculty made the decision to search out an alternative. A new open source platform with assessment included was found and this enabled the faculty to drop the commercial application and begin using OER.
Besides the focus on price reduction for students, the faculty were interested in how the use of OER would affect student retention and success rates. They also wanted to understand how students and faculty perceived the OER quality in comparison to the commercial textbooks used previously.
More than 2,000 Mathematics students at SCC were provided with OER in the five courses taught by more than 40 instructors. In these courses, all content was available online free of charge to students with hardcopies available at low cost. The course materials consisted of OER textbooks, a faculty-written workbook and an open source Mathematics Assessment System for course delivery and assessment. Online video modules were included as part of the workbooks.
Students were provided with free and open access to IMathAS, an open source, web-based course management system with built-in assessment including practice tests and quizzes along with diagnostic tools. With this assessment application, students receive instant feedback.
After an unsuccessful search for appropriate mathematics textbooks, faculty decided to write their own as a cost-saving measure. The mathematics department divides the responsibilities, with some faculty focussing on textbooks, others on workbooks, and some on video creation. About half the faculty are creating the open content, but most faculty are using it.
Students are generally positive about using the OER, with more than 80% agreeing they adequately supported their studies, both in class and outside. Some commented on the excellent quality of the OER, while claiming that easy access made their studies more enjoyable and less stressful.
Faculty also viewed the OER favourably, with the majority judging them as good as or better than the commercial content. A minority (3 out of 15) judged the OER as worse than the commercial content. Most faculty also felt that the OER supported the classroom activities as well as the students' work outside of the classroom.
At least one faculty member benefited from the flexibility inherent in OER. He was concerned about the order in which the content was presented and so decided to rearrange the OER in the following semester, understanding that OER could be easily changed, while commercial texts encumbered with copyright restrictions inhibited any substantive changes.
As a result of the decision to use OER, the mathematics faculty were prolific, authoring numerous OER, including several course-specific workbooks, such as Basic Arithmetic, Introductory Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra, which they continue to update.
The OER initiative had a major positive impact on faculty engagement. When faculty produce content for use by colleagues, they produce a professional product. Also, seeing colleagues use their creations can be very rewarding. The OER implementation energized faculty and supported greater collaboration in the department.
In addition, the savings for students were considerable. Overall savings are estimated to be in the range of $200,000 to $250,000 over two years, although this was difficult to measure precisely. Students, in providing their feedback, tended to focus on these savings rather than on the quality of the content when asked to compare resources.
Student success rates did not improve when compared to pre-OER introductory courses. The results indicated no significant difference, which suggested the OER were as good as the commercial products. The majority of the students perceived the OER to be quality content, however, some students were not impressed with the quality and others turned to YouTube for help in their coursework.
Some faculty noted the online homework contained questions not written in the same style as the workbook questions. As a result, some students had difficulty in transferring their skills to the online questions. Faculty also expressed concern about the the lack of specific examples.
A major challenge identified by faculty was fear – fear of not finding OER or of not being able to judge the quality of an OER and of being overloaded with work. These concerns require a major effort by a team to overcome.
This experience led faculty to question if OER can improve student learning, although it is clear there can be substantial cost reductions using OER, improving accessibility to the course content, while not affecting the completion or success rates of the students. As a result of this experience, the College joined an OER steering committee founded by Maricopa Community College, with members from each of the 10 colleges in the district. The committee is looking at the 25 most highly-enrolled courses for OER implementation.
Mathematics Division Chair
Scottsdale Community College
Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Hilton III, J. L., Gaudet, D., Clark, P., Robinson, J., & Wiley, D. (2013). The Adoption of Open Educational Resources by One Community College Math Department. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), 14(4). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1523/2652
Gaudet, D., & Moore, D. (n. d.). Open Education at Scottsdale Community College (SCC), the United States. Retrieved from http://www.oeconsortium.org/projects/impact-of-openness-on-institutions/scottsdale-community-college/
The Internet Mathematics Assessment System: http://www.imathas.com/.