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OER at Work: Open textbook is ‘a much more interactive resource’

A photo of Oregon State University professor John Selker standing next to a lightboard with writing on it. Selker uses OER in his courses.

Oregon State University distinguished professor John Selker uses an open textbook in his biological and ecological engineering course. This open educational resource is supported by 80 brief, embedded videos.

April 21, 2021

Faculty at Oregon State University are leading the efforts to put affordable learning first.

To make this a reality, an increasing number of faculty members are adopting, adapting and authoring freely available online course materials with the support of the OSU Open Educational Resources Unit.

Take John Selker, for example. A distinguished professor in Oregon State’s Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering, Selker and an international colleague are tapping into the wealth of open educational resources through OSU Libraries.

Selker recently answered questions about the process, benefits and challenges of implementing OER in his course.

Tell us a little about your course that uses OER.

“It is a long-standing (29 years) graduate class, BEE 542 – Vadose Zone Transport. It is a math-heavy, advanced course on water and solute transport through soils.”

What kind of OER are you using?

“We use the OSU Libraries-based e-book that I am developing with Dani Or (of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, a public research university), and we use 80 brief, embedded videos that support the book.”

Why did you choose to use this resource?

“This saves the students about $80 per person in buying the book previously used in the class. It also provides for a much more interactive resource, where we can share screens in real time and compare thoughts on the material.”

Headshot image of John Selker, a professor at Oregon State University who uses OER in his courses

John Selker’s work and research centers on hydrology.

What was your process for adopting an OER for your course?

“Declare a pandemic, scramble to buy an iPad, and try to present students with the most compelling possible lectures in a synchronous format. The hard work put in to get the videos and text prepared over the past few years was essential.”

What do students think about the resources?

“The students loved the combination of live online lectures, which were recorded to allow repeat viewing, and the PDF notes from these lectures, all of which complemented the contents of the book.”

What surprised you about working with OER?

“Students learned more effectively in the online lecture format with the support of the OER materials than they had in the in-person class.”

What challenges did you face in bringing OER into your course?

“The book has experienced many difficulties due to the changing Pressbooks platform. We are currently moving it to Overleaf with the hope that it will eventually return to Pressbooks. But until there is solid, total-text indexing; numbering of figures, equations and tables; and proper table layout control, Pressbooks appears to be an unworkable solution for our product.”

What is the greatest strength of OER?

“The ability to provide diverse learning opportunities that meet each student at their needs.”

What advice would you give faculty about using OER in their courses?

“Shoot for a student experience that exceeds your normal impact specifically by leveraging the key advantages of online learning. Don’t let go of the immediacy of the real-time student lecture experience, but take advantage of the fact that you can see everyone (require cameras on), that you can record lectures and notes, and that students can be engaged in assisting in the advancement of the materials.”

Learn more about the OSU Open Educational Resources Unit and the support resources available to faculty.

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