Addressing Student Learning Cost and Engagement with OER Courseware

March 08, 2017




The U.S. Public Interest Research Group found in a recent survey that 65 percent of college students had, at some point, decided against buying a college textbook, and of that group, 94 percent had concerns that the decision would impact their grades.


One solution that is gaining traction in addressing the issues of affordability and accessibility is open educational resources (OER). But there can be obstacles to realizing its full potential as Kanuj Malhotra, Chief Operating Officer, Digital Education for Barnes & Noble Education explains. “Open educational resources are a cost-effective solution for today’s educators, but according to our research, less than five percent of faculty adopt them — primarily due to the effort required to assemble the right materials for the first day of class,” he points out.


These obstacles are echoed in a recent Babson Research Survey Group study, which revealed that while nearly nine out of 10 faculty said cost to students is an important or very important factor when choosing course materials for their students, 48 percent said open materials are too hard to find, and 45 percent stated they don’t have access to a comprehensive catalog showing the open resources available to them. In answer to these kinds of challenges, Barnes & Noble Education (BNED) has rolled out its new Courseware solution, this semester, with the goal of reducing the cost of learning materials while improving student engagement and outcomes.


Courseware in the Classroom

BNED Courseware is designed to be a dynamic extension to the way educators teach, rather than just a traditional textbook alternative. Becky Meacham, an Assistant Professor of Psychology who teaches at West Liberty University, was one of the faculty members who participated in a Courseware pilot program last year, and in adopting the program for her first-year students’ Introduction to Psychology course, she had some initial concerns. “I think there was some apprehension that this might be a program that was going to use up a lot of my time,” she says. But she soon found that she could easily adapt BNED Courseware to her teaching style. Meacham was also impressed by the quality of the course material. “This particular course is usually book-based — and the volume we use is expensive, frankly, and frequently updated,” she says. “The information in the Courseware was not only based on open sources but, I thought, rigorous enough for the classroom. I found I could build ideas, such as interactive assignments, easily into the course.”


Donya Waugh, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), also participated in the Courseware pilot and had a similar experience. “I liked the flexibility of being able to move chapters around and re-ordering the content to the way I like to teach the course,” Waugh says. “It gave my students resources for every chapter of the course book, including quizzes and videos, along with content that I could add myself.”


Learning for Digital Natives

By enabling educators to add and edit a variety of custom content, Courseware complements the way classes are taught. It is also designed to better engage students by delivering content in a way that aligns to their preferences. “Students are reading differently than we did,” points out Assistant Professor at Cuyahoga Community College, Kellie Emrich, who also participated in the pilot. “They are reading in chunks — their attention span is different. We’ve been fighting this and I think we’ve come around to ‘this is just the way they read,’” she adds. By structuring text in smaller units, interspersed with videos and self-checks, students are able to gauge their comprehension at regular intervals. Emrich added that, “I think working through chunks is effective. That’s why I like the self-checks, because they apply to the ‘chunks.'”


Courseware’s approach to content delivery can represent a more effective way of teaching, producing better outcomes for both educator and student. Integrated learning analytics provide streamlined insites to help professors better engage those students who are having difficulty with any part of their learning — and identify at-risk students earlier in the course.


As Barnes & Noble College continues to widen the rollout of Courseware to all campus bookstores this semester, the combination of high quality, curated OER and original content, along with opportunities for faculty to easily develop and customize content to their lesson plans, is proving effective. It is also offering the chance for students to learn in the classroom in the same way they are increasingly living their lives, digitally. It’s a trend which Meacham, with a tech savvy sixteen-year-old of her own, is becoming increasingly familiar. “There’s just a lot of potential here,” she says. “I’m thinking that maybe this generation is the one that is really going to be familiar and comfortable with learning this way.”



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