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Open Educational Resources Helping Students During Pandemic

Access to affordable education was already challenging before COVID-19. Around the country, rising costs of education are leading to more debt among graduating students. Students in low-income areas are continuing to struggle returning to school, often balancing work and attending classes at the same time.

At Western Technical College, efforts have been underway to find better ways to achieve equitable outcomes for all students, removing barriers to help students of all incomes, races, and backgrounds achieve academic success.

Western unveiled its new strategic plan, Experience 2025, just two years ago. One of the pillars of the plan centers on equity, inclusion, and support. This includes improving access, making students feel essential and valued, removing all barriers, and providing individualized support. Some of this work, like Western’s Poverty Informed Practice, has been ongoing.

Other work includes bringing down the extra costs that come associated with education, like textbooks and supplies.

To achieve this goal, staff at Western are working to integrate more Open Educational Resources (OER) into the classroom. These are course materials that are freely available and accessible to all students immediately on the first day of class. The materials are sharable, flexible, and adaptable. They carry an open copyright license that allows instructors to customize and tailor existing material to meet the needs of their individual courses and their students.

“While students can still choose the format (print or digital) that they prefer, with these resources, they no longer have to wait for their financial aid award to purchase their books, struggle with frustrating access codes, return their books at the end of the term, or pay for an expensive textbook where only a few chapters are relevant to the course,” said Rebecca Hopkins, associate dean of the Learner Support and Transition division at Western.

Although Western is in the early stages of incorporating OER, the college’s library team is leading the effort, working with faculty and teams who are taking these early steps. Other faculty are quickly adopting resources from other instructors at Western. Some have even remixed or adapted materials to make them applicable to their own classes.

Officials at Western believe this work goes to the root of Western’s goals, especially as the majority of courses continue virtually through the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “These resources are absolutely aligned with our mission,” said Hopkins. “These materials help bring access to high quality education, provides great ability to incorporate culturally diverse perspectives into learning materials, removes the barriers of textbook expenses and increases fairness by providing the ability to tailor learning materials to student and course needs.”

Western is also working with other colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), collaborating with these institutions on finding best practices with sharing educational resources.