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Open Educational Resources

Arizona State Working with Community Colleges in Interactive OER Pilot

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Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is working with three of the largest community college systems in the country to adopt the use of interactive open educational resources. The Consortium for Open Active Pathways, as it's called, will use technology to increase the availability of college-level educational materials, particularly in healthcare studies, a big component of community college education. The work is being funded by a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The other institutions involved are Maricopa Community Colleges in Phoenix, Florida's Miami Dade College and Indiana's Ivy Tech Community College.

The work is being led by Ariel Anbar, who, among his many roles at Arizona State, also serves as the director for the Center for Education Through eXploration (ETX). ETX is a partnership between the university and Smart Sparrow, a company that develops digital learning products and which will also be involved in the new consortium.

"I want to use digital technology to improve the quality of how we teach across the board, taking the principles we call active learning — constructivism, learning by doing, those kinds of things — and bringing them into the online world through open educational resources," said Anbar, in an article about the new project.

What Anbar has in mind is something he calls "active OER." That's taking the standard digital textbook and expanding it with the addition of digital resources, including simulations that are both interactive and adaptive. "The learner doesn't just move something around in the simulation but actually gets prompting feedback that guides them to success," he explained. That's where Smart Sparrow comes in: The company produces aero, a learning platform that allows the instructor to pull together lessons from a set of templates that can include text, tests, assessments, virtual labs and field trips, and other digital components. For the purposes of the consortium, those elements would be pulled from OER materials.

The three community colleges are all members of Inspark, a network of some 50 colleges and universities around the globe committed to innovation in science teaching and learning. That network was set up by ETX and Smart Sparrow. Through Inspark, faculty members at the participating colleges will be provided an open course builder that draws from Active Mesh, a catalog of existing OER under development and a set of new active OER developed for the project. Initially, Arizona State said, Active Mesh will focus on creating materials for courses leading to associate degrees in the health sciences.

The project includes a research component focused on seeing how the use of active OER could improve degree attainment. "We will do a pathways analysis, taking a look at these degree programs to figure out where are those critical points where the active OER we create could have the most bang for the buck," Anbar noted.

The DoE grant will also include funding to support the work of "champion-faculty" on the campuses, who will work with their colleagues to implement the OER modules.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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