Teaching and Learning

Removing Barriers, Retaining Students

Photo credit: Brett L.
Used under a Creative Commons license.

Friday night is a tough night to be in class. I get it. When I accepted a once-a-week, three-hour Speech 100 course at this time, I knew there could be challenges with student retention. Still, I had recently participated in a seminar/workshop on designing zero textbook cost (ZTC) classes, and I was excited to try out a no-cost textbook with this class.

In the past, I’ve had students in my classes who informed me that they couldn’t afford to purchase our required textbook, but that they would use the copy of our text on reserve at the library. In theory, this is a workable solution, but in practice, there are many pitfalls. Using an open educational resource instead of a traditional textbook makes access to class materials more equitable.

As with most textbooks, there are parts that are useful to our course and parts that are not. However, since the students didn’t have to purchase the materials, I didn’t feel the need to plough through  the book to give the students their money’s worth. And because our textbook is available online, I could send out a weekly course update email with a link to the reading right in the body of the message. Students just had to click on the link, and up popped the reading! I find that more students came to class prepared, having at least looked over our materials.

I knew it would take some work to redesign my course with a new textbook, but there were parts of this process that I really enjoyed. Changing all the references to our textbook on assignment guides and course materials was kind of a pain, but it drew my attention to some things that needed updating and/or editing to make them more relevant and interesting to the students. As I rebuilt my course materials, I focused on finding current examples and supporting media. I do a bit of a revamp every semester, but this time I really dug in and examined the videos I show and the examples I use. The students seemed more engaged with the material, and I felt like they were making more connections between what they were learning in our class and their daily experiences.

Our students have so much going on in their lives, and college can feel very overwhelming. By choosing to use open educational resources in my classes, I am trying to simplify the learning experience for them. They still have to read and think and process, but they no longer have to buy expensive books and lug them around. With one click, they have access to everything they need. So far, it seems to be helping in my classroom. Attendance and punctuality have been really strong, especially for a 3-hour, Friday night course, and most of the students have kept up with the assignments. But don’t take my word for it. The only way you’ll really know what it’s like to switch over to open educational materials is if you give it a try yourself!

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One Response to Removing Barriers, Retaining Students

  1. Eliza February 4, 2019 at 4:06 pm #

    Rebecca, those are awesome results. I have also found that OERs allow the instructor to create an interactive and exciting course. Thanks for sharing!

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