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Open Education Resources Progress at UMass Lowell

(Photo Courtesy of CUNY)
“Logo for the Open Educational Resources initiative.”

Qinglong Diep
Connector Staff

Last summer, 25 faculty members were awarded grants of $1000 to $4000 from the Office of the Provost to work on OER course materials for their courses to be used within the next three semesters. 

The Open Education Resources (OER) initiative at UMass Lowell began in 2016 according to Dr. Julie Nash, Vice Provost for Academics Affairs, when she came into the Provost Office. When the initiative began, a couple of faculty members from different departments were early leaders in using OER in their courses. “We worked with faculty on a case by case basis and worked with the library to find research materials or course materials for faculty. We’ve got some great allies in the library who are really committed to this and we were making progress kind of one class at a time and it was a little bit slow but steady” said Dr. Nash. “Faculty kind of saw that this is actually kind of interesting how you can put together your own materials and actually create a text that’s better than one that you would find that someone else writes for you”. 

Dr. Nash said that faculty members came up to her and said that they were interested in using OER course materials in their classes, but it was overwhelming to do it themselves. They would need to hire students to assist, or  specific access to the course materials. Last summer, 20 different projects were funded, some of which had faculty members working together from different departments. “Some of our faculty members created some videos that they incorporated into their class…There was just a number of different approaches, and I think the message is like, there is no one way to do this right. There’s a lot of ways that we can bring materials to our students that that it won’t cost anything” said Dr. Nash. 

Dr. Nash also works with Donna Mellen and Dr. Brent Shell closely to support faculty members on finding and adopting OER course materials. Donna Mellen, Director of Academic Technology said that she supports faculty members by having her team assist faculty members building resources within the Blackboard Learning Management System. “If they want to do something with open resources, then I direct them to the library,” said Mellen. Librarians such as Meg Shields help faculty members find materials that they consider using in their courses “They don’t create the materials for the faculty member, but they support them and identifying what materials might be helpful.” said Dr. Nash. In addition to these resources for faculty, Dr. Brent Shell, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences and OER Faculty Fellow said that it also involves connecting with other faculty members that have done something similar to what a faculty member would also like to do and use them as a reference and also helping them “to navigate the weird world of what is copyright and what is creative commons things that you could use and what the different creative commons licenses [are]” said Dr. Shell. Students are also engaged in assisting faculty members to create OER material for faculty members such as creating and editing videos, writing, editing and researching course materials. 

Donna Mellen is also working on a course marking system for Student Information System (SiS), in collaboration with the web development team that involved Gerry Nelson’s team, under the direction of Kareem Abu-Zahra and Mark Field.” The course marking system is where certain courses will be marked with no cost course material, materials that include OER or other no-cost materials or low-cost materials, defined as materials that cost $50 or less. In order for courses or sections of a course to be marked as no cost or low-cost course materials, faculty members would have to submit the form that was developed by the web development team each semester. Students would be able to filter out in SiS which courses had no-cost or low-cost course materials when they sign up for classes. This system is expected to launch for Spring 2024. Faculty members would be asked to submit this information a semester in advance in order for it to be marked in SiS.

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