A boost for supporting student success

Wheaton College sign near Peacock PondWheaton selected to participate in projects to aid equitable access to materials, experiences

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has selected Wheaton College to participate in two new open educational resources projects aimed at improving educational quality and equity and supporting student success.

The latest development builds upon Wheaton’s ongoing efforts in implementing open educational resources (OER) initiatives for the benefit of student learning.

Wheaton is one of 66 institutions selected for the 2021–22 Association of American Colleges and Universities Institute on Open Educational Resources, which had a virtual kick-off in July. As an institute participant, Wheaton also has been chosen to participate in a multi-institutional cohort in the OER as the Means to Enhance Integrative Learning project.

OER materials are free for faculty and students to use, customize and share. Having a broad implementation plan helps colleges increase affordability and reduce gaps in student performance, considering that the high cost of some traditional course materials can be prohibitively expensive for some students.

The institute and the integrative learning project are funded by grants to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) from the Davis Educational Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

This new yearlong institute is designed to support educators in launching, expanding or hastening campus adoption of free and affordable instructional materials.

The OER as the Means to Enhance Integrative Learning project will guide interdisciplinary faculty-led campus teams in identifying, creating and deploying free or low-cost educational materials for both students and faculty, according to an AAC&U announcement.

At Wheaton, Karen McCormack, associate provost and professor of sociology, and Megan Brooks, dean of library services, lead the team participating in the projects. The team includes Barbara Darling, assistant professor of religion; Kelly Faulkner, director of research and instruction; Susan Friedman, student success advisor; Cary Gouldin, humanities liaison; Christopher Kotyk, assistant professor of chemistry; Kimberly Puhala, director of institutional research; Julie Searles, instructor of music; and Gretchen Young, dean of the Center for Global Education.

“I’m excited about the link that AAC&U is making between OER and integrative learning for equity reasons.With experiential learning at the heart of the Compass curriculum, we want to ensure that all of the co-curricular activities and internships are available to all students at Wheaton—all of the things that can have cost limitations, for example, study abroad,” said McCormack, who is involved in centering integrative learning within Wheaton’s new Compass curriculum.

Brooks pointed out that for the past six years Wheaton has been involved in OER initiatives that have been successful.

“We know it has made an impact because we continue to have new faculty interested in adopting OER for their courses and we have returning faculty who want to do additional adoptions,” Brooks said. “I’m excited to be working on projects that involve a broader range of people across campus in thinking about OER. It’s not just staff or faculty, but people from different offices, bringing them all together and thinking about OER and open learning and how that can be an institutional value at Wheaton.”

The team will engage in activities to facilitate the development of OER implementation plans, with consultative opportunities to interact with the OER institute faculty throughout the fall and spring semesters as plans are implemented and evolve. Team members also will attend monthly webinars and planning meetings.

A growing number of Wheaton courses have been leaving traditional textbooks behind for more customized materials that also happen to be less expensive for students. The college’s Library, Technology and Learning Committee, made up of a small group of faculty and staff, has helped with transforming a variety of courses to use open educational resources rather than relying on commercial textbooks.

Each year, there are consistently 10 to 12 faculty members who apply for OER grants through the Library Technology and Learning Committee, Brooks said.

Kotyk, for example, has been involved in different types of OER projects in his courses to identify which ones work best for his students’ learning experience, Brooks noted.

Recently, the Library Technology and Learning Committee announced a round of new awards to faculty members who will receive stipends to adopt or remix Open Educational Resources in their courses:

  • Associate Professor in Biology Jennifer Lanni, to remix OER in “Principles of Biochemistry,” fall 2021.
  • Professor of English Lisa Lebduska, to adopt OER in “Introduction to College Writing,” fall 2022.
  • Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History of Art Kim Miller, to remix OER in “Learn to Negotiate,” spring 2022.
  • Professor of Mathematics Tommy Ratliff, to adopt OER in “Introductory Statistics,” spring 2022.
  • Associate Professor of Political Science Aubrey Westfall and Associate Professor of Political Science Bradford Bishop, to adopt OER in “Political Science Research Methods,” spring 2022.

The commitment to supporting and expanding OER access helped Wheaton get selected for the AAC&U projects.

“Your submission stood out amongst the field of applications for its robust commitment to both integrative learning and open educational resources, and we are excited to work with you and the other teams over the next two years,” Kate Drezek McConnell, AAC&U vice president for curricular and pedagogical innovation, wrote in an email congratulating the college.

After attending institute kick-off sessions this summer, McCormack said she now also is intrigued by the OER creation angle. “There is a tremendous opportunity for students to partner with staff and faculty to create materials that can have a life beyond their own individual class or requirement,” she said.

As a participant in the OER as the Means to Enhance Integrative Learning project, Wheaton is part of a collaborative cohort of four institutions—College Unbound, Eastern Connecticut State University and Salem State University. The association is interested in receiving input from the cohort to help define integrative learning outcomes and the rubrics that will measure those outcomes for integrative learning. Part of the goal is to share that feedback with other institutions of higher education, McCormack said.

“We are in a great position to use what we are learning from our own OER initiatives and through our new curriculum to intentionally highlight how the pieces fit together and have an impact on higher education beyond our own campus,” she said.