Professor Jasmine Roberts Dispels OER Myths

Check out Professor Roberts’ OER titled “Writing for Strategic Communication Industries.”

Sara Benson:   Copyright chat is a podcast dedicated to discussing important copyright matters. Host Sara Benson, the copyright librarian from the university of Illinois converses with experts from across the globe to engage the public with rights issues relevant to their daily lives. Hello and welcome to another episode of copyright chat. Today I have with me live in studio, Dr. Jasmine Roberts. She’s from the Ohio state university. She is a lecturer in communications and an OER champion. She actually did her master’s degree here at the University of Illinois. So, welcome Jasmine.

 

Jasmine:  Thank you so much Sara. I’m really excited to be here.

 

Sara:  So for those listening, I just usee the term OER. A lot of folks don’t exactly know what that is. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Jasmine:  Yeah, absolutely. So OER stands for open educational resources and essentially that means that these resources are free and available for the most part to the general public. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re free to create. I definitely want to say that because there are foundations and institutions that definitely provide the financial backing behind this. But they are free to the user and also they are openly licensed, due to creative comments. So creative commons is a nonprofit organization that helps to openly license one’s work. And that’s the really cool part about OER. They’re not just free digital resources. A lot of times when I tell people about OER, and you know, they oftentimes think if they do know about OER, they oftentimes think, Oh, those are the free digital resources that I can just find online. But it’s not just that, it’s the permissions piece, right?

So you can customize the content, you can take out content and put it, you know, remix it with another OER if you wanted to, to make that content a little more relevant to your students or to the learner. Um, you can keep it for as long as you want. So unlike, um, some of the inclusive access, um, things that we’re seeing from some of the major publishers. Um, I can have access to an OER for a very long time forever. Ideally, there is no paywall that prevents me from having access, you know, longterm. And it’s really cool not only for the students, but also for educators again, because of the faculty autonomy. Again, one can make sure that the course materials are more in line in terms of what the instructor truly wants to get out of that classroom experience. So that’s basically OER in a nutshell.

Sara:  That’s awesome. That was a really thorough explanation. So one of the reasons that I’m interested in OER as a copyright person and copyright librarian is, is the licensing, right? What exactly does that allow people to do? And like, can you talk about the difference between something that is free versus licensed openly, a little bit more?

Jasmine:  Yeah. So, a really good example would be, for example, library resources, right? So to students that is free and I put that in quotes, because they don’t have to pay to use a textbook that’s on course reserves for instance. But that’s not free to the library. That’s not free to the university and what have you. And in terms of access and permissions piece, the students still can’t, for example, customize the content if they want it to, to make it more relevant to them.  They can’t remix it with another OER. I mean, it’s still a copyright textbook. They’re just able to access it. You know, more than you would if you would have to go out and buy it. Uh, but even then the access is limited if it is on, for example, in course reserves, usually it’s, you know, you could have access to it for about, you know, minimum two hours to, you know, full day, depending upon, you know, the timeframe that the instructor puts on that. And so there’s a still a little bit of restriction, right when it, when it comes to access. Whereas with OER, again, you can essentially, you know, engage with that content longer term. And a great example of that in terms of how students can really make that content more relevant because of the permissions pieces. So I wrote my, my own OER and we’ll probably talk about this a little bit later on.

And in one of my classes we were having a really cool new discussion and one of my students had given an example that I thought was really, really relevant yet. Something that I had not thought of and I, you know, came up to her after class and I said, Hey, you know, I really liked that example that you gave in class about this concept that we were talking about. Is there any way for extra credit you would be willing to maybe write like a paragraph or two explaining that concept and how it is an example of what we talked about in class. And she, she was just delighted to do that because, you know, number one, she was so used to like many students being passive learners being these what you call knowledge buckets. And, um, she was really excited because it was the opportunity for her to contribute, right?

Her own knowledge, her own lived experience and to the OER. And you can’t do that with a traditional textbook. It’s, it’s, yeah, you just can’t, you can’t do it. And so I think that’s another, I guess you could take advantage of OER using OER, you really inviting students into this content creation process and validating that their knowledge is also reliable.

Sara:  So how did you first learn about OER and you know, what was your experience with it when you first learned about it?

Jasmine:  Yeah, so I first learned about back in 2015 I believe that was, um, and at that point in time I was teaching a class that I really, really liked, but I just felt that the textbook, it wasn’t a good use of my students’ time or money and I just felt like it was kind of like a push and plug type of situation.  I really wasn’t invested in the, in the course in the sense of I didn’t feel like the course was my own, if that makes any sense. And, uh, the textbook that we were using was an outrageous amount of money. And so, you know, personally as well, the reason why I was interested in OERs because you know, I’m not that far removed from the college experience. I’m still only in my thirties. And I vividly remember, um, you know, struggling with textbook cost and knowing and realizing the academic impact, right? That had on me, you know, the fact that I didn’t have access to a textbook, you know, the first three, four weeks of the semester, it affected my ability to study for the upcoming exam, the first exam, the first quiz and what have you. So I went into OER, I was introduced to OER for both very personal and professional reasons and um, heard about a grant program at Ohio state called the affordable learning exchange that basically seeks to incentivize faculty to either create or adopt OER.

And they explained OER to me as I did, you know, just now that it’s not just free, it’s also the permissions pleat piece that’s granted by creative commons license that’s like, Oh, this is, this is really cool. Um, but the way that it was framed was a textbook issue. Right. Um, and I had no idea after the fact that I created this textbook that it’s so much more to that when we’re talking about OER, it’s not just replacing an OER with or a traditional textbook, excuse me, with an OER. It’s, you know, how can we as well make sure that our OER content is inclusive, that it’s ADA compliant. There’s so many different variables that goes into this. And so I applied for the grant and received it and then went through this really renovation process, I guess you can say of my course. So the ALX program teams up with the, um, university Institute of teaching and learning at Ohio State.

I did a whole course redesign because once you start changing your course materials in the classroom, it kind of has this, this ripple effect. And, um, it was a really great opportunity because I was not in that position, which I had, you know, traditionally had been where I was designing my course based upon the textbook. I made that textbook adapt to what I wanted my students to get out of that classroom experience. And so it was a very laborious process. I’m not a lie, uh, but luckily at the university there was a lot of infrastructure in place. So I just mentioned that we had, uh, partnered up with UITs, the teaching and learning center there. Uh, we teamed up with the office of distance education at e-learning that’s called odd ode, excuse me, there at the university and a couple of other partners, libraries.

Of course, I had my own copyright librarian and my own, I put that in quotes as well. And so we all kind of had, you know, all hands on deck, so to speak. And, um, they took me through this process of revamping my course, you know, writing the materials. So I officially started to write the textbook, um, in may of 2016 and finished just before the semester started, fall of 2016. So we’re talking about August. And I literally committed pretty much every single weekday of the summer writing chapters of the textbook, hiring an editor with, you know, the grants that I, the grant money I received, making sure that it was, you know, reviewed by colleagues. And what have you, because quality matters.

Sara:  And that is a huge, I guess you can say barrier that we’re seeing in terms of when we talk about OER, the biggest concern with faculty members is quality, right?

Jasmine:  Because when you mentioned anything is free, you automatically think, Oh that’s, that’s bad, that’s bad. Well, I’ve, I’ve bought a lot of name brand shoes for instance, that have only lasted me so many, so many years. But getting back to OER, I mean, it was a wonderful experience. It made me more intentional about my pedagogy. I couldn’t just rely on the ancillary materials that were given to me from the instructor prior who taught this class. You know, I was really invested in that classroom experience and it completely changed my outlook in terms of my role in the classroom and also my students’ role in the classroom.

Sara:  So you mentioned your student’s role and I wonder why, it sounds like you’ve been using this book for a while now. Um, what has the feedback been from your students in terms of not using a traditional quote unquote traditional, you know, you pay for the textbook but an OER, how do they feel about it?

Jasmine:  They love it. I think it was the first semester that I introduced the textbook and I told them that it was free. They literally, I heard, a sigh of relief. And I even feel like one semester might’ve been the next one after fall 2016. Uh, there was an applause when I said, you guys don’t have to pay for the textbook because it’s such a burden. It’s such a, a stress and a form of anxiety or a source of anxiety for a lot of students. Um, so yeah, obviously students are gonna latch onto the fact that it’s free, but when they actually engaged in the material, they thought, Oh wow. The examples that are provided here are really relevant to our experience to, you know, what’s going on in pop culture, for instance. And they liked the fact that there is an extra credit opportunity if they want to, to write, you know, um, a description of their own example that helps illustrate a class concept and put that into the textbook.

They really, really like that. Um, and, and they like how straight forward it is. Now, not all OERs are like that, but since I’m in communication, um, specifically PR and journalism, we’re all about getting to the point. And so they, they like that it’s engaging, but yet, you know, it’s, it’s to the point and they love a couple of students. Let me tell you, gen Z, they’re, they’re on it in the sense of they will known as whether or not materials are inclusive and diverse in terms of the examples that they include in the textbook or that you show in your classroom. I know I’ve talked about examples a lot, you know, during this time, but that, that matters a lot to students. And they notice in the textbook that I created, that I was using using culturally relevant examples, culturally diverse examples.  And I think that definitely enhanced their learning experience as well.

Sara:  And so we’ve talked about the student impact. What about other faculty from other institutions? Um, I know you talked about peer review. Have you heard back from other people who maybe have adopted or adapted or even added on or remixed your, your work?

Jasmine:  Yeah, so there are, there are a few folks who are using the textbook, um, one in Canada, uh, believe it or not, and she’s taken out some of the more American examples that I’ve used in the textbook. Um, and put in more Canadian examples. I’m not sure how exactly she’s doing that to be honest with you, but she said she has, um, there was a professor at Clemson university who used the OER that I created and combined it with another OER. But again, I’m not sure tangibly what that, that looked like.

So it seems like there are a lot of remix projects that are coming out of the OER that I, um, created. But, uh, kind of the same feedback in terms of, uh, they like that they’re culturally relevant and diverse examples of the textbook. They also like that it’s, it’s a good foundation or basic, I guess you can say introduction to that topic that I was, um, referring to her writing about in the textbook. And they also really liked the platform that I created it in, which is called Pressbooks. And Pressbooks is pretty easy to use. It’s, it’s powered by WordPress and most people for the most part, um, have no trouble with, with WordPress. But, and then of course they said that the students love or their students love the fact that it’s, it’s free, you know, so, but it’s, it’s not just that component.

It’s also like a relief because they, everyone’s starting on the same playing field. Students notice that and, and again, this might be too much of a tangent, but I do wonder what we’re telling our students or what kind of message we’re sending to our students psychologically when we’re assigning a $200 textbook. What kind of invisible boundaries and barriers are recreating in our classroom from day one and with OER from some of the other instructors who’ve used my OER, they like the fact that those barriers, or at least the ones that I just refer to are not there, you know?

Sara:  And what about ancillary materials? One of the big barriers I hear about for OER is, okay, it’s one thing to like adapt or borrow someone else’s OER if you’re not going to create one yourself. But then what about all those things like quizzes and PowerPoints and all that jazz that comes with, you know, the textbook from a traditional publisher who will kind of throw at you all the bells and whistles.  What kinds of materials do you use when you teach? And, do you share those with other people who are using your textbook?

Jasmine:  Yeah. Yeah. So I, I have not shared those. So I do create my own materials that’s very, very, um, tailored to the specific class that I teach. But I, I’m more than willing to, and in fact, that’s something that I’m thinking about this upcoming summer, creating an open course where I kind of upload all of my PowerPoints and quizzes so that people can use it so that they can, um, use the materials in conjunction with the textbook. That’s what I’m trying to say. And then, um, there was another thing you had asked about, Oh shoot, I forgot. Um, quizzes. Oh, yes, yes, yes. Um, so it also really depends upon the, the field unfortunately. And the reason why I say that is because a lot of folks who were in the STEM departments, you know, math and science, they’re really relying a lot of the homework packets.

Now I know, for example, OpenStax they do have a great deal of ancillary materials, but that’s just one type of OER. Um, and I think that’s where the traditional publishers are kind of still, uh, they still have their, their hold on faculty. Um, but really interesting story that kind of illustrates the point that I’m going to make just now. So I think this is last semester. The semester before, I had a colleague whose office is right next to mine and I was overhearing her lunch meeting with a major publisher. I’m not going to mention who they are, but um, I just noticed the way that they were wining and dining her, they gave her like two lunches or something ridiculous like that. And during their conversation I noticed that they were marketing convenience to her. They weren’t trying to make her a better educator.

So for those who are really concerned about the ancillary materials and what have you, I, I get it. I teach four writing classes. That’s a lot. But at the same time, I guess if you’re in the, in the market to, um, make your job more convenient. I mean, I can’t really argue against that to be honest with you. But if you’re in the market or in the, um, the field to be a better educator, OER truly is the way they’re traditional publishers are not in the, in the business of trying to enhance our pedagogy. You know, they just want to make our lives easier because we’re already, you know, we’re already committed to do so many things. And so we are definitely working on that in the OER landscape in terms of providing more ancillary materials. Um, there are some institutions that are providing funding for faculty members to create homework packets and, and quizzes and what have you.

That can go in conjunction with the OERs that we’re seeing a pop up and an increasing amount, I must say. So it’s, it’s still something that we’re seeing increase a lot now. Is that at the level as traditional publishers? Unfortunately, no, but they have vastly different resources than what you know, some of these institutions have. But we’re definitely, um, taking a look at that and creating those resources.

Sara:  And I want to go back to a point you made earlier about inclusive access because I know there’s a lot of buzz around inclusive access. And I know from the student perspective, they think, Oh, well it’s great because I pay one fee and I get access to all my textbooks and they’re cheaper. Um, can you, can you give a few counterpoints to that?

Jasmine:  Yeah. I again, I wish people could see me. Inclusive access is in quotes.

Well, number one that really limits faculty choice. Um, again, it kind of renders the faculty member as a babysitter in the classroom as opposed to this, you know, uh, to the, to the, uh, faculty member. And then in terms from the student perspective, I mean, again, you just, you can’t access that material beyond that semester. And I’ve had students who have asked me, you know, or who are told me, excuse me, using my OER, they’re able to refer back to it. And it helped a lot, you know, with some of their other classes. And there’s actually a recent, um, report from US PIRG, public interest research group,  who studied a lot of what we’re seeing in inclusive access and they found some pretty troubling results. I think they, uh, looked at, I believe it was, 51 different contracts at 31 institutions that impacted over 700,000 students and actually found that students aren’t saving as much money as, as, as you would think.

And in fact in some of these contracts, uh, they can decrease the discounts that they market at any point in time. Um, and that, and I think 42% of those contracts, there cannot be any publicity about a contract that’s taking place at the university. Yeah. So that is interesting in a sense of now if I’m in student government, I can’t sound the alarm to my student body that, Hey, did you know that the universe, Illinois has this huge contract with Cengage and it’s actually not putting us at a financial advantage. It could be long term putting it at a financial disadvantage. So, you know, there’s a lot of issues going on there and not to mention student data privacy as well, which is a whole other episode in and of itself. So I, I would say it’s, it’s not inclusive, right? Because we have these pay walls and not only that, it goes back to what kind of stories are being centered in these textbooks.

And it really kind of, um, illustrates that there’s almost this weird monopoly that some of these publishers are trying to have on universities. So yeah, it’s interesting because I, when I talk to students that are always concerned about the faculty members selling quote unquote selling their own book and profit, but really they should be concerned about the publishers kind of just wining and dining faculty and trying to market really expensive products to the faculty because that’s actually the problem. The other problem that I recognize is that the chain of supply and demand does not work. No. Because the person deciding how much a textbook should cost is not the person who bears the costs. Absolutely. And so unfortunately a lot of faculty don’t actually understand how expensive their textbook is and don’t, and maybe aren’t even aware of the struggles of their students. The personal struggle.

Yeah. I mean I’m, I’m still kind of in the minority in the sense of I’m the upcoming faculty population. The millennial professors, if you will. Um, but a lot of the main faculty population went to college back in the, in in, no offense in the nineties and even eighties were textbooks yet, you know, some of them might’ve been expensive, but it’s not as much of an issue as we’re seeing right now. I mean, in the past decade alone, a textbook prices have increased over 90% in the last decade. And if you go back to 1977, it’s increased 1000%. You know, so it’s, it’s definitely a different game that we’re talking about here.

Sara:  Yeah, I think so as well. And so I appreciate the fact that you wrote an OER and that you’re so passionate about it and you spread the word and thanks so much for taking the time to talk about it with me.

And hopefully my listeners are going to check out your book. I’ll put a link to it.

 

Jasmine:   Yeah. And the episode and um, hopefully we’ll have some, some more folks who are willing to engage with OER and maybe adapt or adopt or even create OER. I always tell people just, just take a look, you know, and I’m not the expert in your field. I can’t tell you whether or not all OERs are quality or high quality. I can only speak to my specific local situation, but it doesn’t, you know, hurt anyone just to take a look and then see from there whether or not this is truly in line with your pedagogy and what you want to accomplish in the classroom.

Sara:  I think that’s fair. And that’s right. I feel the same way as the copyright librarian—I don’t know your field, but I can definitely send you to the right databases to look at these different things.  And I have a great network of people where I can send a query and, and say, Hey, is there an OER on this subject? And so definitely check it out.

Jasmine:  Yeah. And I don’t know if I should say this or if this is helpful to say in terms of where to find OER. Cause I think that’s another issue that we’re seeing with faculty members. So you can look and look at a variety of places. So one, um, that I like to recommend is the open textbook library. And this library is, um, fueled by the university, not fueled, but, um, backed by the university of Minnesota and they basically have a plethora, I mean a very diverse group of, of OER there. Um, also check out Oasis, which pulls not only open textbooks but, um, open courseware, um, open module. So that’s a really cool place to start as well. Uh, the Mason OER, Meta finder, that’s another place. And of course OpenStax, which is, um, uh, by rice university is also a good place to start.

Sara:  Those are all my top resources that and other librarians can check those all out and you still can’t find something. There may still be a resource then sometimes it’s just because they haven’t been cataloged yet and they’re so brand new because there’s more and more OER coming out every day.

Jasmine:   Absolutely.

Sara:  Well, thanks a lot for joining me today. It’s been a really fun conversation.

Jasmine:  All right. Take care.