“At the top of a university organizational chart, you’ll typically find the name of the president or the board of directors,” explains Goodwin University’s provost, Danielle Wilken. “At the top of Goodwin’s chart, you’ll find students. Everything we do is in service to them — that’s what drives our work.”
One of the ways that Goodwin puts thought into action is by advocating Open Educational Resources (OER), which support greater academic access for students through the use of materials that are in the public domain or that have been released under a license that allows them to be used freely.
Removing the financial challenge of paying for costly course materials allows students to focus more directly on their studies. With a mission centered on presenting career-focused educational options “in a dynamic environment that aligns education, commerce, and community,” Goodwin is well positioned as a proving ground for the benefits of OER.
In addition to the financial advantages, OER can help make the educational process easier for students in a number of ways. Traveling to a physical bookstore, ordering textbooks, and waiting for shipping are largely eliminated. Students with disabilities are spared the challenge of carrying heavy textbooks. OER materials can also increase accessibility through tools like ReadSpeaker, a text-to-speech tool that reads content to students.
The University has long been at the forefront of meeting the needs of students traditionally underserved in higher education. Significant to accomplishing this goal is Goodwin’s adoption of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a research-based framework for designing curricula in which all types of learners have equal access — a philosophy for which OER is an ideal complement.
Goodwin has committed to OER by creating a multi-disciplinary team that includes the provost and faculty representatives from its three schools (Business, Technology, and Advanced Manufacturing; Nursing and Health Professions; and Applied Liberal Arts and Social Sciences) and by identifying OER as a strategic University initiative. In June 2020, Goodwin received a $9,000 grant from the Connecticut Open Educational Resources (OER) Council that helps to support this initiative. Funds from the grant provide stipends for faculty members working to convert their existing courses to OER.
Although OER Open Educational Resources are designed to benefit students, the satisfaction of stretching their pedagogical muscles — and looking at their courses through fresh eyes — is valued by Goodwin professors as well. Below, three faculty members who are reimagining their curricula for OER implementation comment on their progress:
Program Director and Assistant Professor of Child Study and Early Childhood Education
Introduction to Early Childhood Education
Introduction to Early Childhood Education touches on all aspects of the field: its history; applying theory to practice; the importance of high-quality academic design and what that looks like across classrooms and programs; equity; and current trends along with a glimpse into the future.
When I first looked into incorporating Open Educational Resources into the course, I was a bit underwhelmed at the amount of resources available on the OER sites. Early childhood was not well represented, and I was concerned about finding high-quality content that would support student learning in all of the areas that needed to be covered. However, after working with my designated librarian, I was very excited by the array of resources she found related to the topics I wanted to address in the course.
Rebuilding the curriculum with a variety of articles, blogs, e-book chapters, and videos allowed me to pull together information from an assortment of experts in different sectors of the early childhood profession. I have been able to include different types of media, so all learners can access the content in ways that are most meaningful to them.
As of this writing, we are only in the sixth week of the semester, but so far the feedback from students is positive. They are happy not to have to pay for textbooks, and a few have said that they like the variety of resources compared to a textbook that shares all of the information “with one voice.” The only negative feedback I have received is that some students like to have a hard copy of the information so they can add notes and highlight sections. One student is downloading the readings to her iPad and annotating and highlighting them there. I am hopeful that our COVID-19 plans will allow the library to reopen soon so students who like hard copies can access the printers.
Curriculum Director of Chemistry and Professor of Science
Chemistry 101 is a survey study of chemistry, relevant to students in the health and nursing professions and other science programs. As faculty, we try our best to provide resources and engage students in meaningful ways, giving them multiple options to gain a better understanding of the subject matter that they can apply in future programs.
OER elevates student learning to a new level as instructors customize more appropriate content and provide tools for navigating the material at no cost. Students appreciate being given the autonomy to use multiple resources. My goal is for every student to truly understand the material, and by incorporating the latest research articles and real-life examples into course work, I strive to make classes more holistic and interesting.
Lectures within the OER framework involve meaningful discussions, participation, and problem solving, all of which enhance students’ critical thinking and overall understanding of the subject. Since this course is associated with a laboratory component, learning materials should help student to develop clear concepts about experiments. A more visual and hands-on approach definitely enhances their retention regarding the material.
I have been fortunate to work with an excellent team at Goodwin including Center for Teaching Excellence coordinator Karrie Morin and librarian Cynthia Hunt. This course would not have seen light of the day without their dedication and enormous support!
Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Professions
Introduction to Public Health
The bachelor’s degree program in Public Health is one of the largest at Goodwin, with Introduction to Public Health mandatory for all first- or second-semester students in the program. Not only does the content lay a sound foundation for public health practice, but it is also a springboard for students deciding on their focus in the field. Public health has many varied career paths, from epidemiology to policy development to education. Therefore, it is critical that faculty members find as many ways as possible to fully engage students in the content of this course, supporting their success and retention not only in the program but at the University overall.
My experience with OER for Introduction to Public Health has been very positive. OER offers much in the way of academic freedom. I am not tied to only one or two textbooks. Through weekly meetings with my dedicated team, I have been able to work closely with my instructional designer and a librarian to edit, revise, and modify content.
Student feedback has been very positive. In the first week of the semester, when a student asked why we were not using a textbook, I explained that Goodwin has embarked on the OER initiative to reduce student cost for courses. Before I could get any further, he expressed great appreciation that the University was sensitive to this issue and was taking steps to address it. Another student commented that since textbooks were usually written by one or two authors, she appreciated that the course now included readings, videos, and other materials that represent a variety of opinions and viewpoints. The more pedagogical strategies that are used in the classroom, the stronger teaching and learning can be through OER.
For information on OER at Goodwin University, please contact Karrie Morin, Center for Teaching Excellence, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about Introduction to Early Childhood Education.
Read more about Vinod Dhar, Curriculum Director of Chemistry.
Read more about Introduction to Public Health.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.