Last week the Texas A&M College of Arts & Sciences published an article regarding their participation in a collaborative digital innovation initiative to improve student success in Texas and beyond.
Rachel Knight reported that over the summer, Texas A&M faculty in the Departments of English, History, and Physics and Astronomy worked with faculty at Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin to “develop, deploy, and scale high-quality introductory college course materials that incorporate innovative instructional design, current insights from the science of learning and development, open educational resources, and a commitment to ongoing research and development.”
The initiative is part of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Digital Design for Student Success (D2S2) Project. According to Texas A&M’s Executive Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, Debra Fowler, the THECB created the D2S2 initiative in response to the shift to digital platforms due to the pandemic. It’s not surprising to me that two flagship universities (UT Austin for the UT System and Texas A&M College Station for the Texas A&M System) would be involved in an initiative like this. Including a prestigious private university like Rice in this initiative was a surprise.
Specifically, this initiative aims for faculty from the three universities to develop and share open-education resources (OER) for the arts and sciences introductory courses. Texas A&M chose introductory English, history, and physics courses because most college students across the state take those courses. All the new resources will be housed in the THECB’s OERTX.
The D2S2 Project is supported by the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund. Housing the materials in the THECB infrastructure will allow access of these materials by instructors throughout the state.
I reviewed the OERTX website and specifically looked at the curated collections. There are currently nine collections. The nine collections include:
- OER Basics
- Teaching Online
- University of Texas at Austin
- University of Texas at Arlington
- Open Stax – I think it’s important to note that Rice University has supported the Open Stax curation for several years.
- Peer reviewed – It is noted that the content has been formally “evaluated” by a group of experts external to the author’s institution before being submitted.
- Other Review – It is noted that the content has undergone an evaluation by an expert or experts other than the author. I assume that the expert could be at the same institution which is why this curation is different than the “peer reviewed” content.
- THECB Grantee – It is noted that the content was developed as part of an Open Education Resources Grant Program of the THECB.
- Texas Student Success Program Initiative
There are more than 3,400 resources located in these nine collections. The size of the collections ranges from as few as seven resources to as many as 1,058 resources.
While clicking on each of the resources provides information adequate to determining whether you should review the resource, I think the THECB should consider finding a better way to curate the collections to make it easier to locate materials. For example, aggregating OER textbooks in a collection and course recorded lectures in another might save an instructor a lot of time searching the site for appropriate materials. Perhaps there should be a collection that groups the courses and OER materials for each of these introductory courses that were developed this summer. I also like the idea of including a notation of how many times the materials have been accessed and utilized. There is a rating for each item with no explanation about who assigned the rating to the materials.
Texas is our second largest state in terms of population. The THECB has been ambitious and transparent about its goals for the state’s citizens and its academic institutions. Given the time and money spent developing these materials, I would recommend spending a little more to logically organize and curate the materials to make them more easily locatable by faculty and students.
Many years ago, Texas Governor Rick Perry challenged the Texas higher education community to develop a $10,000 four year degree. While we continue to hear about how expensive college is, we haven’t heard about state universities creating the $10,000 degree. I believe it’s possible, particularly when you utilize dual credit courses in state high schools and build quality online courses and open educational resources. My last suggestion for the THECB would be to curate degree pathways utilizing free courses, textbooks, and other materials. It might be a way to build a lower cost, high quality degree with a higher return on investment for students. Isn’t that the best outcome?