Month: August 2012

Reflections of an OER first-year pilot in transitional studies

I’ve been an educator with public and government entities for the last 15 years honing my skills in research, technology, and high-impact learning. When I was first hired to serve the most at-risk students attending a four-year, open-enrollment institution, I spent two years developing, improving, and teaching what was once called developmental education and is now referenced as Transitional Studies. Through a serendipitous turn of events, I joined a small group of educators and administrators from eight institutions to participate in a Next Generation Learning Challenges Wave I funded grant titled the Kaleidoscope Project. A month before the Kaleidoscope kickoff meeting (and suffering the results of a futile adjunct search), I recommended to administration an aggressive move to purchase so-called “canned content” from a textbook publishing company promising student success in exchange for an expensive price tag.

Thankfully (and especially in hindsight!) administration offered me Kaleidoscope instead.

Quite simply, the impact of the Kaleidoscope Project:

  • reinvigorated the Transitional Studies program (now 85% dependent on OER with 100% slated for AY 2013-14 and beyond);
  • saved the institution and its at-risk students thousands of dollars; and
  • provided an opportunity to understand how best to meet the academic services needs for this unique population and faculty at-large.

Never have I had such a profound experience in my professional life as I have had with Kaleidoscope.

What the project helped me learn most was:

  1. higher ed developmental education had little OER and even less state-of-the-art instructional innovation; and
  2. at-risk students’ digital literacy skills are as deficient as their core subject area skills (placement tests, like ACT and SAT, fail to assess this keystone for college success; further, open-enrollment institutions need to integrate these skills more in general studies curricula).

When I first started mining developmental ed OER a year ago, I found there wasn’t much of anything, especially in reading and writing. Now, through the collaborative efforts of Kaleidoscope’s founders, there is significant growth in not only developmental ed OER, but also within the culture and community of the studies. My institution made a concerted effort to directly align the student learning outcomes of their transitional studies reading and writing courses with the general studies freshman composition, which enables the loop-closing accrediting bodies seek. For proof, visit rSmart’s Academic platform and type the words “reading” or “writing” into the search engine. Here you’ll find courses, (including my in-progress “true college literacy” mashup course of reading, writing, college success, and digital literacy), content and syllabi with a CCBY, as well as a network of passionate individuals diligently working to fill that previous void of developmental OER for higher education.

In Fall 2011, I realized my assumption (one also shared by many colleagues) was wrong that Millennial students, including those considered at-risk, were naturally gifted in technology and felt comfortable learning online. Although this population demonstrates mastery level skills with texting and Facebook-ing, my number-crunching from the beginning of this semester reveals less than 4% of my students know the differences between an operating system, web browser, and file extension; and none understand the not-so-subtle differences in how applications are supported in multiple browsers and systems. For example, some web-based programs, such as ACT’s eCompass placement assessments, use only Internet Explorer. I can only imagine how my entering freshmen students feel when, for example, the barrier to their LMS success is needing to install a browser update. Since most of my students are not part of the BYOD (bring your own device) club, they have never had the opportunity to update said browser because the administrative permissions set by their high schools and libraries have never offered this as a “teachable moment”-a great loss in developing a simple but important digital literacy skill.

Inasmuch as my students are underprepared academically for college success, I too was underprepared in understanding the importance of instructional design to student success in online environments. Daryl O’Hare, a Kaleidoscope colleague and now friend, authored a Kaleidoscope freshman composition course with Dr. Susan Hines, who served as instructional designer. The end result was a stunning 2012 Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award winner. More than not, my conversations with Daryl during the course’s development process last summer lead to how critical instructional design was to student and instructor success. My ignorance in instructional design is likely why the Fall 2011 midterm survey reported students’ number one complaint was the LMS (Sakai CLE). Each day students would enter the classroom complaining of “feeling confused” with the online part of the course, which I realized was their inability to successfully navigate Sakai. To develop my skills, I completed Quality Matters training last spring, designed all of my courses this fall using the Quality Matters Rubric Standards 2011-2013 edition, and began Indiana University-Bloomington’s Instructional Systems and Technology program last week, the latter thanks to an encounter with an instructional designer during a Kaleidoscope luncheon with Kentucky constituents.

The difference in student success between Kaleidoscope’s pilot and now is in progress, but here are a few statistics worth mentioning:

  • Of Fall 2011’s Sakai CLE blended courses with the face-to-face delivered in a lecture classroom, 50% of students reported they would likely register for an online class in the future. After Spring 2012’s rSmart Academic blended courses with the face-to-face delivered in a computer lab, 94% reported they would likely register for an online class in the future (this is likely influenced in part because of rSmart Academic’s brilliant social networking likeness, as well as increased engagement experiences when students have permission to edit pages and utilize widgets within the LMS…a blog topic on this coming soon!).
  • In Fall 2011 and Spring 2012, 100% of students felt the OER materials were as good or better than non-OER materials in other courses.
  • For both Fall 2011 and Spring 2012, nearly 90% reported they felt more comfortable with online learning.

Thank you, Kaleidoscope Project (and break-a-leg on the next round). This is and continues to be my Joy of OER.