Using OER for equity and more


As a higher education instructor for 10 years, I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact open educational resources (OER) can have on students. OER are educational materials that are free for educators and students to use, customize and share. They are openly licensed, which means that educators can easily customize everything from a single lesson to an entire textbook and engage students with content that’s fresh and relevant. 

I recognized the benefits of OER early on and have used it since the beginning of my teaching career. However, the turning point in my OER use occurred when I participated in Open Oregon Educational Resources’ Equity and Open Education Faculty Cohort Model in the summer of 2020. The Equity and Open Education Faculty Cohort Model is a course that guides faculty in considering open educational practices with an equity lens, including universal design, cultural relevance and diverse perspectives. The four-week course is organized into small groups that allow faculty to collaborate with their peers and brainstorm ideas.

Broadening experience

When I participated in the program, I was a part-time faculty member at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, and I had been looking for ways to revamp my course. The cohort experience was the perfect opportunity for me because it provided the time and resources (including a stipend) I needed to revise my materials. While I was familiar with OER, the course filled gaps in my knowledge that I didn’t realize I had. For example, I learned about equitable design techniques that can improve the online learning experience for students with disabilities.

The educators in my cohort came from a range of disciplines but were like me in that they wanted to promote diversity and inclusion in their classrooms. Their feedback, along with the guidance from the course facilitators, was invaluable to my understanding of how to use OER to promote equity.

Change agent

Following my completion of the cohort, I was able to structure my course around the research theme of oppressive ideologies. One of the OER I sourced, Slavery to Liberation: The African American Experience by Joshua Farrington and Norman Powell, became the cornerstone of my course. When I was teaching in Oregon, campuses were still closed due to the pandemic, so instruction was remote. My students seemed to enjoy the OER I provided, but it was harder to gauge their enthusiasm through a screen.

Now I teach as a full-time faculty at Houston Community College where I’ve been able to see more of the impact of my courses on my students. They have expressed a high level of interest in the OER I have incorporated and have gotten emotionally involved in the topics.

Before I completed the cohort, my course was based on abstract theories of oppression and equity that my students had a hard time relating to the real world. Now, my readings address topics that impact my students’ everyday lives. For example, my students come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and I included a course section on colorism. My students were all really interested in the topic because many of them had observed this phenomenon in their own lives but didn’t have the verbiage to describe it. Using materials that speak to my students’ experiences made the coursework more relatable.

In addition, using OER in my literature class has also allowed me to make a usually pricey course free of textbook costs. Eliminating the need to purchase readings was important to me because I recognize that many of my students may face financial struggles. Overall, it has been incredibly rewarding to use what I learned in the cohort to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in my classes using OER.

A valuable tool

Participating in the cohort and learning more about open education has transformed who I am as an educator. The experience has enabled me to not only reduce potential financial barriers to education but also help my students feel seen — which empowers them as learners.

I recommend that all educators explore ways to incorporate OER into their instruction or even look into the Equity and Open Education Faculty Cohort Model. Additionally, states and school systems should consider adopting the model in their areas. I hope that my journey with OER can inspire others to give it a try because it is truly one the best choices I’ve ever made as an educator.

About the Author

Steve Owen
Steve Owen is professor of English (composition, creative writing, and world and American literature) at Houston Community College in Texas.