May 7, 2024
Emerging Technologies, Teach-Tech-Talks (TTT), Teaching and Learning
Image of Dr Melina Masterson

As education evolves, so do the tools we use to facilitate learning. One area where significant innovation is seen is the development of open educational resources (OER). Dr Melina Masterson, Italian Studies Undergraduate Program Director, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, presented her successful strategies in developing OER at the IDEAS Teach-Tech-Talks (TTT) series on April 25, 2024. With her team, Dr Masterson has developed OER for her Italian courses that include not only the traditional textbook styles, which typically include a mix of visual vocabulary presentations, grammatical sections, and various exercises, but also interactive multimedia components to enhance the learning experience.

The High Cost of Traditional Resources

The cost of traditional textbooks used in language courses adds to the already-high cost of higher education. Additionally, Dr. Masterson was concerned about the relevance of these outdated textbooks and accompanying materials. These books often lack in representing and reflecting the diversity of the student body and modern Italian culture itself. These issues motivated Dr. Masterson to develop OER for her Italian classes.

What Exactly Are Open Educational Resources?

OER are freely accessible, openly licensed teaching, learning, and research materials. They range from textbooks to course modules to videos, offering no-cost resources to instructors and students. These free resources can be customizable, allowing students to collaborate in learning and creating a community that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Why Adopt OER?

The benefits of OER are manifold:

  • Cost-effectiveness: OER eliminates the cost barrier for students.
  • Customizability: Resources can be tailored to fit the course objectives and student needs.
  • Accessibility: Students can access materials on the first day of class without delays.
  • Community and Collaboration: OER fosters a sense of community and encourages collaboration among students.

Implementing OER at UMass

At UMass, OER is supported by institutional resources and funding avenues such as the UMass Libraries OER grant, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), IDEAS team, and other grants. These resources are fundamental in overcoming the challenges posed by traditional educational structures, especially in the wake of the recent global pandemic. The development of OER can involve a significant time commitment, team collaboration, and a range of skills from graphic design to managing Learning Management Systems (LMS).

UMass also provides tools and support for instructors who are interested in developing their own OER. Instructors can use UMass Openbooks or use LMS Canvas to store materials or visit the UMass Library for consultations on everything from developing OER to licensing. 

Outcomes and Takeaways

Dr Masterson believes the transition to OER has mainly been positive, with students and colleagues reacting favorably to the freely accessible, relevant and culturally responsive course materials. However, challenges remain, such as enhancing interactivity, managing multimedia copyright issues, and the extensive time required to develop high-quality resources.

Tips for Success

For instructors at UMass considering developing OER, Dr. Masterson outlined several tips, as follows:

  • Secure funding and support: Apply for the UMass Libraries OER grant and seek other administrative support.
  • Collaborate: Find partners and collaborators to share the workload.
  • Plan thoroughly: Establish clear goals, structures, and content visions for your project.
  • Leverage technology: Utilize platforms like Pressbooks to understand the possibilities and troubleshoot potential issues with the Libraries, Center for Teaching and Learning, and IDEAS resources.

The shift to OER represents a fundamental change in how educational materials are created and consumed. Dr Masterson showed that OER is not just about cutting costs but about enhancing the educational experience and making learning more accessible and equitable for all students.

Read more articles on TTT and stay tuned for our next session!