Mini-grant program helps faculty build Open Educational Resources

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Photo by Katherine Kealey/ Iowa State Daily

Iowa State’s Campanile located on Central Campus.

Faculty around campus are finding a new way to be innovative within their own courses by using a new grant program that promotes the usage of open educational resources.

The Miller Open Education Mini-Grant provides faculty with a new way to utilize Open Educational Resources (OER). OER has been proven to increase student learning while making it affordable and interactive. Many on campus have been pushing to use the program more because of its accessibility and affordability for students worldwide.

Abbey Elder, Iowa State’s open access and scholarly communication librarian, said it had been a big year for the Iowa State University Library and the Center of Excellence in Learning & Teaching, who co-sponsor the mini-grant program.

“We have a strategic plan now, we’ve got funding and support, and people are talking about it,” Elder said. “I think part of that is because we’re trying to find more ways to support new students that are coming in, who don’t have as much money as they used to, and tuition costs more.”

This program encourages faculty to be creative and innovative while customizing their own course materials, which heavily benefits students by reducing the need to buy their own textbooks on top of paying for the course itself.

“We think about how we can support them in any way we can and textbooks are one of those easy wins because a faculty member, an individual faculty member can’t change the cost of tuition, or how much it costs to get rent,” Elder said. “But we can make a change in one simple class textbook choice.”

With more support from others, they have been able to expand their program and promote the use of OER, Elder said.

Instructors can apply for a mini-grant as long as they intend to integrate open educational resources into their proposal and attend an orientation workshop to ensure that they meet deadlines and create a timeline for when their project will be finished.

When instructors use the grants, they can use any existing open educational resources within the course or start from scratch and create their own.

Since the program was first created, Iowa State has made an effort to promote and support the program, leading more faculty to apply for the grants.

“In 2017, there were six courses we knew of that were using OER,” Elder said. “Last Academic Year (2021 to 2022), there were 43 courses, so yeah, a decent jump over the last few years since people have been learning about it.”

One of this year’s grant recipients included Thea Gessler, a graduate assistant and doctoral student in genetics and genomics. Gessler is working with Tracy Heath, an associate professor in the ecology department, to develop their own course to give support and insight into conducting biodiversity research.

Gessler describes the Miller mini-grant process as easy and accessible, claiming that she hasn’t had any real problems.

“It hasn’t been that challenging; I am still in the process of preparing everything,” Gessler said. “We’re not using any reading material in the course, so I didn’t have the challenge of finding a textbook. It was more a matter of developing the course material and then knowing that I’m going to make those available online for anyone that wants to use them in the future.”