As textbook prices rise, more schools are looking for effective digital solutions. These include anything from inclusive access programs to free open educational resources to alternative content, which often combines OER with materials like digital courseware. Alternative content streamlines the adoption and implementation process for faculty.
We sat down with alternative content expert, BNED LoudCloud’s marketing manager Sean O’Connor, to discuss digital trends, faculty interest in cost-effective materials and how digital courseware and analytics can boost student outcomes.
What do you see as the future for alternative course content?
Faculty are moving to digital solutions for two reasons. First, digital delivery lets you standardize content and drive efficacy. Second, digital assessments help you to find gaps in students’ understanding more easily.
Are these initiatives coming from a desire to improve student outcomes?
There are two competing concerns. In my experience, faculty’s primary concern is helping students master the learning material and the objectives for their course. They want the best content for that. But there is also a cost concern. Faculty realize many students aren’t purchasing their text materials. In the 2016 Florida Textbooks Survey, some 67% of students reported that they forgo purchasing materials in at least one class due to cost. There’s a trade-off between having the best content versus having content that students purchase and use.
I’ve read that some faculty hold back from OER because they fear the content might not be as good as traditional publisher material — or they fear nothing will be available in their discipline.
Those are all really valid concerns. I hear them often. I point people to the Open Education Group, which did a meta study on the efficacy of OER. They looked at 13 peer-reviewed studies and found that OER provided 95% same or better outcomes. OER has been around long enough to be understood as a credible offering. Still, it really is up to the individual faculty to decide if the available OER makes sense for their courses.
Do you consider BNED LoudCloud a partner or a product?
A little bit of both. It is a product that’s ready to be used, but LoudCloud also has a deep history of partnering with institutions. It’s a living, breathing product that we are constantly updating to meet the needs of our clients.
Do you help faculty curate the materials or is that something they do on their own?
A little bit of both. We’ve developed fully scoped and sequenced courses that are ready to use out of the box. You can deploy and teach these immediately, or you can personalize them. We also have faculty experts who can help find new content as clients prepare for a course. Finally, we can work with a committee to create a course shell or a master for their department, which faculty can then adopt.
That sounds like a good solution for schools that rely heavily on adjuncts.
Yes. We’ve started to see more departments adopt courseware for their adjuncts. Some institutions give adjuncts freedom of choice with their course materials. Some do not. In cases where they do not, we’ve seen that courseware is being used as a way to ensure that faculty have a fully scoped and sequenced curriculum for the start of their class. One of the main issues with adjuncts is that many times they don’t get placed into a class until two or three days before the start of the term. They don’t have a lot of prep time.
What’s your process for assembling an OER general education course?
Our first step is to find the textbook. Then we author learning objectives, working with subject matter experts — academics in the field. Those learning objectives go through a peer review cycle to ensure they meet the needs of multiple institution types. Once we have those learning objectives, we begin to curate content — finding videos, authoring assessment items. We author about 1,000 assessment items per course and we pull those into formative and summative assessments. Every single section in our courseware begins with a reading. That’s followed up with a video and it ends with a self-check — a five-question, short, auto-graded assessment. All those are tied to learning objectives. At every point throughout the course, students are reading, watching and checking.
All of this allows us to deliver analytic insights on how students are performing on those assessments back to faculty so they can have a more agile teaching approach. They’re able to refine their lectures every week based upon the real needs of their students.
How are faculty responding to the product?
Very well. One faculty member at Wright State University is using our courseware for the first time. He has seen his attendance rates almost double from what they historically were, and he’s attributing that to the way he approaches lectures and to the ongoing assessments, which allow him to be more responsive his students’ needs.
Where does BNED LoudCloud fit into the OER movement?
We think of our product as a bridge. At one extreme, there is a group of faculty members who are highly committed to the OER movement. They’re authoring, editing and curating OER. At the other extreme, are faculty who have been using a traditional textbook for decades and will never teach anything else. However, there are a lot of faculty in the middle. They want good content — that’s the primary objective — but they’re also very sensitive to the financial burden placed on students. They want to switch to OER, but they don’t have the time. If you’re teaching three courses during a term while doing research and trying to build a tenure portfolio, you probably don’t have time to pull together a whole course in OER. That’s where we come in.