Wake Technical Community College
On social media, a former student posted a picture of himself on his first day of fall
2020 classes. Instead of sharing an image of an excited student reuniting with
friends and trekking through campus, he posted a selfie of himself at his computer
staring groggily off into the distance. Due to COVID-19, many students find
themselves in the perhaps unfamiliar world of virtual learning, a world that bears
the stigma of being lonely and disengaging. Even if they can take seated courses,
their minds might be drifting to concerns about their health or financial stability.
With those situations in mind, faculty need to do everything possible to ensure that
our courses captivate student interest. One way to make classes more engaging is to
incorporate Open Education Resources (OER) into coursework.
According to the OER Commons (n.d), “Open Educational Resources (OER) are
teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse at no cost, and
without needing to ask permission.” These resources come in the form of articles,
textbooks, learning activities, and visual media. They often fall under a Creative
Commons license that specifies how the resources may be shared. Since the early
2000s, schools and governments alike have fostered initiatives promoting the
adoption of OER to lower textbook expenses for students (Bazeley et al., 2019). On a
broader level, faculty and administrators have advocated for OER to democratize
education. Although these are wonderful advantages of OER, these resources can
also make courses more engaging.
Ways to Use OER for Student Engagement
In my writing classes, it can be challenging to engage students with content they
deem “boring,” such as grammar and citation styles. To counter this disengagement,
I asked my students to assume the educator’s role. Their task was to peruse
different OER textbooks for composition classes, evaluate the textbooks, select
appropriate content on writing topics they felt were needed, and teach the content
to their fellow students by writing a how-to guide. To assist, I gave them a list of
recommended OER textbooks and suggested topics pertaining to writing mechanics.
To encourage students to find quality content, I tell them that I will compile their
resources into a help guide for future students.
Once I asked the class to become responsible for finding their readings, I noticed
students were decidedly more engaged in ostensibly “boring” content. To gauge the
project’s increase in student engagement, I considered interaction on three levels
described by Eudice et al. (2016):
• Interaction with the peers and instructor;
• Interaction with their “future selves”;
• Interaction with course content (p. 56).
Asking students to teach chapters on writing mechanics from OER achieved
all three levels of engagement. First, the project enabled student-to-student
interaction through shared lessons and helped me see which writing conventions
they found especially challenging based on their topic selection. Secondly, the task
helped students interact with their “future selves” (Eodice et al., 2016, p. 56),
encouraging them to become self-directed learners who can overcome future
writing roadblocks through educational resources they can locate themselves.
According to Lane (2016), this opportunity for “informal learning by learners” is one
of the great benefits of OER (p. 43). Finally, the project facilitated engagement with
course content. Students who did not seem to be doing the readings before were
now summarizing chapters on writing mechanics and reporting a better
understanding of course content.
Requiring students to review OER on composition decidedly led to better engagement with their peers, me, and course content.
The assignment also has additional benefits for instructors. For one thing, having students find their course content reduces planning time. The process requires some flexibility due to not knowing what students will uncover, but it can lead to less complaining if students
end up not liking the material they select. Additionally, asking students to review
OER offers faculty who hesitate to forgo physical textbooks an opportunity to dip
their toes into the open resource waters. With student reviews of material, faculty
can utilize OER with more confidence, knowing that the readings come “pre-
approved” by students.
Suggested OER Projects
• Ask students to create an extra help guide from OER to supplement course
content, review for an exam, or assist future students;
• Ask students to review an OER textbook for the course to reinforce lesson
• Ask students to select lesson material from OER;
• Ask students to use OER to write an additional chapter for the course’s
existing textbook, noting information and concepts the original textbook may have
• Ask students to find visuals marked as open resources to represent a course
Tips and Tricks
• Equip students with some guidelines and context for success. I spent time
explaining what OER are and how the licensing works when we discussed how to
avoid plagiarism in my classes. I allowed them to select their topics, but still offered
a list of possible topics for consideration if they were stuck. Finally, I gave students
sites that listed useful OER, such as this collection of OER for composition from San
Bernardino Valley College. Guiding students to these collections did not take a lot of
work since many libraries and universities already offer OER lists for specific fields.
• If you are not comfortable with OER, consider offering the assignment as
extra credit for a few semesters until you see how students react.
• Remember that some students might lack the technological resources to
access OER. As Lane (2016) reminds us, freedom from paid content is not truly free
if students do not have the means to access the material (p. 44). Consider creating
an alternative assignment if students cannot utilize online resources.
No doubt, the semester ahead will bring many new challenges, but with that
newness comes the chance to experiment with different assignments and resources
to prevent future iterations of that first-day-zombie-selfie my former student
posted. With massive amounts of OER already in existence, the labor cost for
utilizing these resources is quite small, but the potential for increased engagement
and student success is excellent.
1) Describe one hesitation you have with respect to using OERs? What do you
find exciting about the availability of OERs?
2) In addition to the examples given in this article, explain how an OER may be
used to increase student engagement.
3) What OERs are available in your field to help students become more self-
Bazeley, J., Haynes, C., Myers, C. S., & Resnis, E. (2019). Avoiding the “axe”: Advancing
affordable and open education resources at a midsize university. Journal of
Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 7, 1-19. https://doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.2259
Eodice, M., Geller, A., & Lerner, N. (2016). Engagement and the meaningful writing project. In The meaningful writing project: Learning, teaching and writing in higher
education (pp. 55 – 80). University Press of Colorado, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1kc6hjg.8
Lane, A. (2016). Emancipation through open education: Rhetoric or reality? In P.
Blessinger & T. Bliss (Eds.), Open education: International perspectives in higher
education (pp. 31 – 50). Open Book. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1sq5v9n.7
OER Commons. (n.d.) Open education resources support equity and flexibility. OER
San Bernardino Valley College. (n.d.). OER – English/composition.