Mercy College (MC), with four campuses in New York State, is a private, not-for-profit higher education institution that offers more than 90 undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs. In 2011, primarily concerned with the attrition and high failure rates in the Critical Inquiry freshman seminar and College Mathematics courses, the University started a program to address these issues.
With a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant through Educause, the University decided to engage in the Project Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative (KOCI), a nation-wide collaboration with educators from other colleges with similar student populations (Pawlyshyn, Braddlee, Casper & Miller, 2013). The KOCI focused on using OER to reduce the cost of education and improve student outcomes (Mercy College, 2012).
Participants from the original seven partner institutions of KOCI soon realized that developing courses from scratch would be too time-consuming, as this requires months of negotiation with curriculum committees at each institution. Therefore, new approaches to instructional design were implemented that consisted of teams creating common formative and summative assessments.
At Mercy College, faculty introduced two KOCI-created modules (rather than full courses) in collaboration with other institutions and colleagues in their learning community. One module was focused on critical reading and the other one on math competencies. The modules followed a different trajectory for their implementation. The different approaches to integration of OER by faculty were the subject of regular meetings, so they could share their strategies. These meetings were identified as key to the success of the project.
The critical reading module was designed to improve student study habits in Mathematics, Science, and History. Relevant OER readings were selected in these three subject areas, supplemented with introductory content and assessments. The module was integrated into courses where faculty thought it would have the most benefit.
A different approach was taken for the mathematics module. The application My Open Math (MOM), based on the open source ImathAS platform was chosen, changing the instructional model to a “flipped classroom” (video lectures for homework; activities in the classroom).
The courses integrating the OER modules included assessment of students after each semester to determine student achievement levels.
Overall, the achievement levels of students increased significantly, and retention rates improved in the courses including the OER. Faculty reported students who took the OER critical reading modules made learning and persistence gains. The mathematics course with the open resources experienced a 10 percent reduction in course failures and a higher student retention rate (an increase from 48 percent to 69 percent). As a result, all mathematics students at MC are now using My Open Math.
Mercy College faculty members participating in this project were given an opportunity to collaborate with and meet new colleagues at different institutions. This motivated them to find solutions to common problems beyond those of their own classrooms. Their professional reputations were also developed as they were invited to attend and present at OER-related conferences, where they presented their work and results. This incentive proved to be more powerful for faculty than the small stipend they received from the grant funds.
The overall KOCI program focused on reducing the cost of textbooks and supporting collaborative course design among educators. The participants implemented several OER as first-year general education courses, which provided considerable cost savings for students. These OER were housed online to enable data collection across institutions allowing for learning analytics. Students could then be carefully monitored. The embedded assessments showed significant improvements in student achievement levels.
Faculty reported on a major logistic challenge related to the use of different Learning Management Systems (LMS). The KOCI Collaborative Initiative used a LMS that was different from the one at Mercy College. There was no common technical interface and no standardization. The collaborating faculty embedded OER into a common LMS for data collection and analysis, but this was considered a short-term solution. This transition from one LMS to another was problematic for all who participated and especially for faculty and students, who reported this experience was uncomfortable and disruptive. This problem was addressed, as participating institutions can now work using their own LMS.
The resistance and distrust of some faculty members in regard to corporatism in education was also identified as a major challenge. OER funders, such as The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are major supporters of OER initiatives and some faculty expressed reservations concerning their role in public education.
Faculty also reported on the difficulties involved in searching and finding appropriate OER. This was identified as a major challenge.
Mercy College continues to support OER courses and build a diverse library of OER resources in collaboration with KOCI. In 2013, short videos for instruction were launched on the Mercy Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning YouTube site.
MC is scaling up participation and impact by goals of improving student success by more than 5 percent in each course and creating 30 open course frameworks serving up to 75,000 cumulative students (Pawlyshyn et al., 2013).
José Herrera, PhD
Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs
Interim Associate Provost
Mercy College (2012, July 26). College News. [Broken Link]
Pawlyshyn, N., Braddlee, D., Casper, L., & Miller, H. (2013). Adopting OER: A case study of cross-institutional collaboration and innovation.Educause Review. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2013/11/adopting-oer-a-case-study-of-crossinstitutional-collaboration-and-innovation
- An Internet Mathematics Assessment System. http://www.imathas.com