Using OER Materials in Research Course at University College

University College’s (UCOL) Michelle Kruse-Crocker applied for a One New Thing mini-grant to improve materials and substitute the textbook in their Research Practices and Applications course by using Open Educational Resources (OER) instead. Staff and instructors worked together to find, adapt, modify, and repurpose OER materials.

1. What were you trying to change or solve?

University College’s research course – 4910 Research Practices and Applications – contains a variety of articles in addition to a textbook used to deliver information related to research methods and application in professional contexts. The Research Practices and Applications course was taught using one text that contained some publisher and copyright constraints. Additionally, prior student evaluation feedback indicated that text did not support any classroom engagement online or on-campus, cost too much for the value, and did not link to any external instructional interactive materials. Nicolas Pares, University College Instructional Support Specialist, and Jeral Kirwan, Adjunct Faculty, in conjunction with Michelle Kruse-Crocker, Associate Teaching Professor and Academic Director, collected course evaluations from 8 sections of the research course to help inform our discussions about new instructional material choices based on the Creative Commons licensing structure. Therefore, we had an opportunity to select new course materials that were free or very low cost as well as interactive in an online teaching environment through the use of emerging materials in the public domain or licensed with little to no copyright restrictions. We are also aware that the rising cost of textbooks is a major challenge for our adult students seeking to finish their degrees with less financial debt.

The goal: Determine the feasibility of using only OER teaching materials from the public domain or openly licensed materials found through the aid of the Creative Commons copyright licensing  and evaluated by faculty and the academic director for use in University College’s Research Practices and Applications course. We used the working definition of commons from economist David Bollier “a commons arises whenever a given community decides it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability.” We sought materials that were licensed as “The Attribution license” or “CC BY” which allows people to use the work for any purpose (even commercially and even in modified form) as long as they give attribution to the creator” (Creative Commons 2019). We originally thought this license allowed us the most freedom for adaption.

2. What did you do?

We began the process of reviewing and assessing the research course learning outcomes, assignments, and discussions to determine what knowledge would be acquired and what OER materials needed to support. Using the bulk of our time, we created a chart to align potential OER materials to our identified student learning needs. The goal was to find as many sources as possible to determine the best fit for our teaching needs. Our criteria for selecting OER materials hinged on them falling into the Creative Commons and Open Educational Resource licensed as shareable, and remixable. (CC – BY – NC – SA), which was more open than our original intent. The OER materials were reviewed by the group to determine a consensus about the final material choices. The “fitness” of the materials had to meet three objectives – 1. Covered the topic in depth while supporting the course outcomes, assignments, and discussions, 2. If a knowledge gap was found in the material, other OER materials could fill the knowledge gap, and 3. Materials were created by reputable sources such as professors from other colleges and universities.

We were faced with several decisions about course content delivery once we had gathered our OER materials. Consolidating the materials we felt aligned the best for our courses and adult-student population, we decided to create our own OER text using CC licensing and hosting the textbook with the support of the University of Denver library’s Digital commons. For this process, we relied heavily on the Open Textbook Library for content, layout ideas, and OER textbook creation.

3. How did it go, and what did you learn?

In the end, OER materials were found and selected to add to the research course to help foster a variety of interactive materials and selections for a custom OER research textbook. Largely, the reliance on the Creative Commons licensed materials was sufficient to find and replace materials. Solely looking for materials that were directly related to research methods instruction was the most time consuming and subjective process. The reason for the greater time consumption was that many discipline-specific open resources are available, and we needed to find and modify content to reflect an inclusive, professional focused set of materials. The manipulation of materials takes a significant amount of time to make the content directly applicable to the desired learning outcomes in the Research Practices and Applications course.

When we started this evaluation process, we thought our approach would take one quarter. That was unrealistic. It took almost two. We did find that when embarking on updating and changing instructional materials for this class or others in University College the issue of textbook costs and need for OER interactive materials is now more present in all conversations related to course development and review. Our process is a worthy exercise to complete for any course, not only for moving away from a textbook but for finding free supplemental materials that provide interactivity that fosters student engagement with the materials. These findings were significant enough that we were accepted to present at the Teaching Professor Conference in June.


A great resource for this endeavor was the Colorado OER Council.