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OER at Work: A volume of original research on judicial politics

A photo of the facade of the U.S. Supreme Court building. Open educational resources

Nov. 18, 2020

Faculty at Oregon State University are leading the efforts to improve access to higher education and make college more affordable by reducing the costs of textbooks and required course materials.

Guided by the expertise and support of the OSU Open Educational Resources Unit, an increasing number of faculty members are adopting, adapting and authoring OERs.

Rorie Solberg, Ph.D., an associate professor in Oregon State’s School of Public Policy, worked with colleagues Jennifer Segal Diascro and Eric Waltenburg to develop a freely available resource that introduces students to the political science research process.

Solberg recently discussed the development process, how students are using it and more.

Tell us a little about the course you teach that uses OER.

“The OER that I’ve been using is one that I put together with a couple of colleagues. It was designed specifically to be a companion set for our judicial process courses. I use it in PS 326 — Judicial Process and Politics.

“It’s a course that really focuses on the courts of the United States and the judiciary, with a heavy focus on the federal judiciary. We also do some units on state courts. The students learn about the judiciaries’ political behavior and what political science has learned about how the judiciary operates.”

What kind of OER are you using?

“It’s an edited volume of original research work, titled ‘Open Judicial Politics.’ It features different research articles produced by scholars in the field across the country specifically for this OER. It’s geared toward undergraduate students to introduce them not only to the substance of their research, but also the methodology of research: What is the research question? How did you go about answering it? What kind of data did you use?

Photo of Oregon State University associate professor Rorie Solberg, who teaches online political science

Associate professor Rorie Solberg worked with colleagues in OSU’s School of Public Policy to author an open textbook on judicial politics.

“We’re trying to be really clear about these things so students can walk through the research process, as well as learn what the research found and how it relates to the other topics we talk about in the course.”

Why did you choose to develop this edited volume?

“We wanted to have more integration of actual political science work and the research training students receive in the major applied to the substantive courses they get further along in the major.

“In political science, they take a methodology course where they learn about research methods, but if they don’t apply that learning or don’t see that anywhere else, it really doesn’t hit home that this is the work of political scientists. This is what we do on a day-in day-out basis when we’re not in the classroom; we’re conducting our research, and this is how we answer these questions and come to conclusions.”

What was your process for editing this OER for your course?

“We created our own process. We put out a call to papers in a couple of places, namely our listserv for our section of our national association (the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association). We posted on a couple of Facebook pages and said, ‘Look, we’re putting this volume together with OSU Open Educational Resources. It’s an OER volume, and if you’re interested, send us an abstract by this date of what your chapter would be.’

“We then got a whole bunch of abstracts, determined which ones fit the topics we were hoping to cover in the OER and which ones looked like they would be pitched at the right level for undergraduates. And then we invited those folks to contribute and have them complete an MOU with the OER Unit. We gave them a due date for their original draft, and then the editors of the volume — myself, Eric Waltenburg and Jennifer Segal Diascro — read through them and provided feedback, and went from there.

“It prepares (students) for the idea that they can do this kind of research. It helps them discover what kinds of research questions to ask. That’s definitely something I’m interested in providing our students.”

“We tried to make sure we had a diverse range of articles but also a diverse range of authors, from young scholars to older, established scholars, scholars of color and women. They’re all represented, which is something we were very excited about. It was somewhat serendipitous that it happened that way, but we were very pleased with the outcome.”

What do students think about the open textbook?

“You’d really have to ask them. I think it’s fabulous (laughs). One of the things we did in this particular OER is we asked every author to not only contribute their study but also a student activity that goes along with it. There are many simulations and other things you can integrate. I know the students really enjoy diving into those activities and applying what the article says and interacting with materials that way.

“They appreciated articles that were pitched at a level where they can understand and follow the methods, whereas if I took an article from the top journal, those methods might be way beyond something an undergraduate with one methodology course could follow. It prepares them for the idea that they can do this kind of research. It helps them discover what kinds of research questions to ask.

“That’s definitely something I’m interested in providing our students. When they come out of the major, whatever job they have, they know how to ask themselves what would be a good way to assess a certain question. What kinds of data are available and how might I gather those? They’ve learned it and seen it applied it in many different ways because many of these articles use very different methodologies.”


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