Maskwacis Cultural College (MCC) is an Indigenous two-year college offering courses from basic literacy to university transfer programs. The College, located in central Alberta, is a member of the First Nation & Adult Higher Education Consortium, a non-profit organization in Western Canada. It is a Centre of Excellence in Academics and Cree Indigenous Knowledge.
In 2015, the Campus Alberta Open Educational Resource (OER) Initiative made $30,000 available in funding for the development and adaptation of OER as part of its support of Indigenous colleges. This funding for the development of Indigenous content was aimed at driving “stronger Indigenous perspectives in Alberta post-secondary learning.” Maskwacis, in response to the needs of its Indigenous students and the unique environment of its faculty, used this funding to support Indigenous students to learn in new technological environments and become digital citizens while maintaining their Indigenous perspectives.
The funding was used for the development of two courses, Sociology and Earth Sciences, integrating Indigenous approaches and localizing the content. The OER were chosen, mixed and remixed to experiment with, and assess new approaches to learning in an Indigenous environment.
The project goals included improving course quality and the content's appropriateness for Indigenous students in a technological learning environment to support their participation in a digital economy. It was also expected to improve access to courses and retention of students.
The Earth Sciences textbook was used as a supplementary text on a trial basis in 2016 in a course for 22 students. The trial use of OER was considered a success by both teachers and students and it was incorporated as the main text in Fall 2017. In the 2016 trial, students had online access to the text, as well as copies on a USB memory stick. The College library computers also housed the content.
The teachers adapted OER content and integrated it into the introductory Earth Science. An existing OER text was used as the primary learning resource. The current lecture notes were blended into the course using a digital format to reflect the substance of the OER text, while maintaining the integrity of the existing course material. Appropriate PowerPoint slides were created to reflect both the integrated OER content and the original course materials.
A major innovation was in the approach taken in developing, assembling and adapting courses using OER. Using open and agile methodologies, OER were developed and adapted just like the layers of an onion. The core subject knowledge was “ringed” with modules on ethics, legislation and standards in a field, and an Indigenous worldview layer. This approach facilitated quick learning of technical tools and applications, which facilitates open collaborative learning. The College adopted this agile methodology for course construction, which combined with OER adoption, was instrumental in significantly cutting down the time demands on the instructors and instructional designers. The Indigenous instructors also translated the Creative Commons licences into Cree.
The principal benefit of using OER was the high student engagement, positioning students to be successful in the skills and knowledge required for course completion, as well as in their mastery of new technologies for learning. In addition, in an informal survey, the majority of the students showed a marked preference for the OER textbooks. The students enjoyed studying on computers using the digital content and videos. The overall achievement level of students as measured by the final exam showed real improvement.
For the instructors, a major benefit was the ability of the teachers to modify and remix the content to support their Indigenous students by integrating the OER using an Indigenous perspective. OER were also adapted to suit each instructor’s approach to teaching and student learning styles. Modified OER were also redistributed to colleagues in the College, to spread the benefits. Instructors also noted there was a substantial decrease in course preparation time when they took full advantage of existing OER.
The OER contained multi-media activities augmented by documentation, which supplemented and enhanced the effectiveness of the original content. An added benefit was the excitement generated by teachers as 'early adopters' in the OER programme extending to other staff members and the desire to continue integrating OER into other courses at the College. Most of the instructors who used OER want to use OER for other courses.
As a result, OER are facilitating the development of stackable portable credentials that can be achieved in a timely fashion and built up to the diploma level. OER are important in standardizing education as they can be easily accessed used effectively, mixed and remixed by different instructors. The MCC OER are externally peer reviewed, which added credibility to the grades of Indigenous students.
As a direct result of the implementation of open and agile course development, there were several jobs available for students to aid in the process. Students worked as research assistants supporting the course developers and each other searching, finding, accessing, downloading and even writing course-relevant OER. There were volunteer positions for students as web navigators and assistants at workshops and conferences. This was excellent for job training, which was good for the economic development of the community. Open education gatherings also helped MCC to connect with the open education community in Alberta and internationally, including OER innovators and experts.
In addition to the above, the savings to students not paying for commercial textbooks, in the first year was more than $7,000. Over three years, it is expected the Earth Sciences and Sociology OER courses alone will offer more than $48,000 in savings to students.
The main challenge for the College was the lack of Internet access by students off campus. This was addressed by making the OER available on the library computers after hours and by providing the students with the content on a USB memory stick. However, many students did not have access to any computers off campus.
While the preparation and teaching tasks were reduced with the introduction of OER, the assessments were rewritten to reflect the new content ensuring the questions properly accounted for the actual content being taught. Another challenge was the predisposition of some students for printed texts. At least one student still liked the idea of having a hard copy text, along with the digital content available as OER.
A third course in Cree Studies is under development as a direct consequence of the initial projects, supporting the continuation of innovative learning approaches using OER. Instructors are developing OER for adult literacy and for a general Plains Cree supplement, which is an OER that can be added as a module to any course. Another OER under development is for an Indigenous leadership course.
Teachers at the college involved in the initial OER projects expressed a desire to extend their OER work to include other courses, some expressing the desire to continue integrating OER into all their courses. Developments include a College-specific OER website that is being used to expand access to course specific, useful OER and a workshop to train instructors on how to enrich their classrooms using OER videos, applications, quizzes, and other tools.
Manisha Khetarpal, MLIS, MA
Open Education Project Lead
Maskwacis Cultural College
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