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‘The power of pedagogy’ : FSU hosts legislative breakfast highlighting OER efforts on campus

Alexis Schlesinger / THE GATEPOST

By Raena Doty

Arts & Features Editor

On April 12, the Henry Whittemore Library wrapped up its celebration of National Library Week by hosting a legislative breakfast.

Faculty and administrator speakers celebrated Framingham State’s contribution to the open educational resource (OER) movement in Massachusetts during the event.

President Nancy Niemi started the event with a welcome.

She said the event was not primarily about the OERs, but rather about “the power of pedagogy.”

Niemi added, “With the resources we’d like to share with you this morning, we are showing you how together with our students we’re making our own worlds. That’s a lot for 8 o’clock in the morning.”

Robert Awkward, the assistant commissioner for academic effectiveness in the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and statewide coordinator of the Massachusetts OER Advisory Council, introduced what OERs are and why the movement is significant.

[ Editor’s Note: See “Henry Whittemore Library teaches about open educational resources” in the March 8 issue of The Gatepost. ]

Awkward said the rate of inflation on textbook prices has far outweighed the rate of inflation in general, and a few companies hold a monopoly over the production of textbooks, which presents challenges to equity and accessibility of textbooks.

“OER is a disrupter to that, and more importantly, it is pro student,” he said.

He said a federally funded grant has allowed faculty at six state institutions, FSU included, to develop OERs, and as a result, several “proof of concept” resources were already made - three of which had been printed and bound then passed around the room for everyone at the breakfast to see.

“We’ve learned a lot from this grant,” he said, including “our faculty authors can produce wonderful books, and they love it.”

Awkward said the program supporting OERs acts in many ways as a publishing company because it supplies training, editing, and designing to authors, among other services.

He said the grant has saved students $15 million in FY23, and for every dollar of grant money spent, it saves students $52.

“This is a low-hanging fruit that has a high impact on our students and it really increases the value of those dollars that we spend,” Awkward said.

Millie Gonzalez, dean of the Henry Whittemore Library, presented on the Remixing Open Textbooks through an Equity Lens (ROTEL) Project.

She said the project is funded through a grant from the federal Department of Education, and ROTEL has allowed professors at six Massachusetts state universities and community colleges to write OERs by providing them stipends in return for the work.

Gonzalez said the project is aimed at developing “accessible, intentionally inclusive, open textbooks - and more importantly, the textbooks will reflect the students’ lived experiences.

“It’s making an impact, particularly for the students from underserved communities,” she added.

She added ROTEL provides OER authors with access to webinars, consultants for accessibility and diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a publishing team.

Patricia Lynne, professor of English and chair of General Education at FSU, wrote “Reading and Writing Successfully in College,” an OER textbook published with the ROTEL Project.

She said she wrote her textbook because she wanted to save students money, but also because she wanted a textbook that suits her needs as an educator. Lynne said teaching textbooks out of order and asking students to disregard certain parts of the books became confusing.

Lynne pulled up statistics about the costs of textbooks. She said the textbook she used to assign students was no longer available for purchase, only to rent, and the inclusive access version is even more expensive.

She said per class, using a free OER instead of that paid textbook saves about $790-$990, depending on whether students choose to get the most or least expensive version.

She added because her OER is licensed under a creative commons license, she was able to invite students to edit the book as part of an assignment about copyright and licensing, and students embraced the invitation to help edit the book when they realized she really wanted their input.

Demetrios Brellas, a professor of anthropology, spoke about “Shared Voices: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,” which he co-wrote with Vanessa Martinez from Holyoke Community College.

He said he used to spend a lot of his time breaking up readings among many different texts so he didn’t have to require students to buy any of them, and he added none of them were quite what he was looking for out of a textbook.

Brellas said, “I teach early college students. A lot of them are first-generation students of color throughout the community here, and we felt that [the textbooks] focused on very traditional types of ethnographies.”

He added there were “a lot of - forgive me for saying this - old white men anthropologists from a hundred years ago and their stories in the books.”

Brellas said he and Martinez incorporated the opinions of their students into the books and incorporated some student work like photos into the final product.

He added this book will be put into use in the classroom next semester when he teaches at FSU and several high schools.

Brellas said one of his and Martinez’s main priorities is incorporating more activities, particularly journals, into the OER so students will be able to interact with it more personally.

“This has been the first opportunity for both of us to do this, and we realized that we should have been doing this a long time ago, and it would have saved our students thousands,” he said.

Yvonne Anthony, a faculty member of the College Planning Collaborative, wrote “Statistics Through an Equity Lens.”

She started off her presentation by asking people in the room who had taken a statistics course - most raised their hands - and who had loved it - of those with their hands up, most put them down.

Anthony said, “I think I was destined to write this book,” and added she was only informed about the grant opportunity to write it the Friday before the Monday deadline, but she went home, prayed about it, and “what happened was quite clear.”

She said she wrote the textbook “out of compassion for students.”

Anthony said she chose the cover of her book - a boy playing basketball with a home-made hoop made out of a milk crate - intentionally “because I am one of those people who was low income, first generation.

“I’ve always been interested in issues of social justice, and what I wanted to do was have statistics relatable for students,” she said.

She said her textbook helps students understand practical applications of statistics in analyzing the real world. One example she gave is that the textbook talks about the correlation between area codes and residents’ income and health.

Kristen Porter-Utley, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, gave the closing remarks.

She said, “I just want to say, I’m excited. It’s exciting to be in this room and to be learning.

“I think the reason why these textbooks work is because they are written by our faculty who teach our students, so they are resonating with our students. Our students, instead of being treated like bystanders of their education, are an active part of it.”



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