The Open Education Network (OEN) congratulates the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE) on a recent grant award from the U.S. Department of Education. “Remixing Open Textbooks through an Equity Lens (ROTEL)” is the grant-winning, collaborative proposal of Framingham State University, Fitchburg State University, Holyoke Community College, Northern Essex Community College, Salem State University, Springfield Technical Community College, and the Massachusetts DHE.

The $441,000 Open Textbook Pilot Program grant will fund important research being conducted by these OEN community members through 2024. The goal: to develop and assess the impact of remixing and creating culturally relevant open educational resources (OER) to improve student learning.

Inclusive OER

“It’s not only OER, but inclusive, culturally relevant, intentional, accessible OER,” notes Millie González, Project Lead and Interim Dean of Whittemore Library at Framingham State University. “It’s the type of OER that prioritizes, for example, faculty-of-color authorship and key things to make the textbook culturally relevant. What we’re trying to figure out and prove is, will it make an impact on student learning to have this new type of OER, particularly within underserved communities?”

“Getting equity into the curriculum”

Co-Project Lead, Instructor, and Instructional Designer Jessica Egan already takes a proactive, intentional approach to choosing learning materials for her composition students at Holyoke Community College. 

Using research data and equity rubrics, Egan diversifies her courses’ featured authors, topics and selections based on student demographics. Enabling her students to “see themselves” within the content has yielded positive learning outcomes – results that she and the team believe correlate directly with inclusive, culturally relevant OER. 

“All of these cultures in one conversation [bring] a much deeper learning experience,” says Egan, “where students can learn from one another, not only connecting their own culture and their own lived experiences, but also being a speaker to their own culture. To me, getting equity into the curriculum is the most important part right now.”

Filling the gap

The team itself is a bit of a remix, composed of people from diverse institutions with a variety of skills, many of whom will be working in new roles. Still, Co-Project Lead Robert Awkward of the Massachusetts DHE is quick to observe a strong, shared characteristic.

“Probably, what drew all of us together was the clear recognition that we have [OER] gaps,” Awkward says.  “There are places, literatures, and disciplines where we simply have a lack of OER material, and the only way you’re going to get it is to somehow provide incentives for faculty members to create that material in those spaces.”

He adds that to date, most Massachusetts DHE efforts have focused on promoting faculty adoption of existing OER. This grant allows the state – for the first time – to offer stipends to faculty for adapting existing OER and/or creating new open textbooks that are culturally relevant to students being served.

Long-term sustainability

Participating faculty who are adapting or creating new OER may choose from two training options: a comprehensive, year-long mentoring program led by the Rebus Community, or access to an á la carte OER informational toolkit developed by the consortium. González said the team anticipates mentoring faculty to create or remix at least 24 textbooks per year for an impressive total of roughly 72 or more inclusive OER by the end of the grant term.

To track the impact of this inclusive OER, the team will measure drop, fail, and withdraw rates; grade performance; student satisfaction; and additional key performance indicators. The final assessment phase kicks in once faculty have taught using the remixed OER for at least two semesters and shared resulting data with the research team. 

The project has been structured for scalability, longevity, and expansion. “This is seed money for us,” said Awkward of the 2021 grant. “Part of what I want to do from the state side with this assessment data, is to use it to really help us try to significantly increase state funding for OER so we can sustain this work.” 

Say yes, and other advice

Based on the team’s grant proposal and project planning thus far, González, Awkward, and Egan offer the following road-tested, practical advice for open education advocates interested in pursuing grant opportunities:

  1. Put together a stellar team.
  2. Work tenaciously.
  3. Pay close attention to grant writing guidelines.
  4. Build in enough time to complete the application properly.
  5. Diversify your stakeholders.
  6. Take the risk!

“A lot of times I hear, ‘I just don’t have the expertise,’ ‘I don’t have the time,’ ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I checked all three of those boxes!” González recalls in good humor. “But we’re so passionate about the impact of accessible, culturally relevant OER, we took that risk. I think it’s the very first step – you have to say ‘yes,’ and then things will happen.”