Open Educational Resources: Pioneering Low-Cost Course Materials and Peer-Reviewed Scholarship

melissa layne open educational resourcesGuest Post by Melissa Layne, Ed.D.
Associate Vice President, Research & Innovation

This past November, a new kid on the block joined the ranks of peer-reviewed scholarly journals with its inaugural issue, APUS’s The International Journal of Open Educational Resources (IJOER). This publication, however, is not the common journal that academic scholars have all come to know and love.

In March 2018, APUS Provost Dr. Vernon Smith approached me to see if I would be interested in developing and overseeing a journal focusing on open educational resources (OER). After consulting with several OER leaders, I was quite surprised to learn that IJOER was indeed the FIRST journal to focus solely on OER research — especially given that the OER movement began well before 1995.

In fact, it wasn’t until November 2018 that the first OER-focused journal was developed. Prior to IJOER, research studies around OER were published in content-specific journals. For example, if a researcher conducted a study titled “The Development of OERs in the Physics Classroom”, the article would likely be published in a physics-related journal. IJOER provides scholars with a new and more relevant venue to publish their work.

OER journal

It was APUS’s own participation in OER initiatives upon which IJOER was developed. Dr. Conrad Lotze has been instrumental to the success of the OER Conversion Project whereby APUS faculty and staff have converted courses to OER. APUS has provided textbooks at no cost to undergraduate students through a textbook grant since 2001 and has focused on keeping its textbook costs low. As a result of these OER efforts, the university has saved close to $5 million in undergraduate Electronic Course Material (ECM) costs to date. These conversions have not only saved students and the university money, they have also generated infinite related research opportunities.

Having previously been editor-in-chief for another peer-reviewed APUS/Policy Studies Organization (PSO) journal, Internet Learning, I assumed I could rely on that expertise. However, starting a new journal from the ground up is accompanied by countless tasks such as developing editorial advisory and peer-review boards, submission guidelines, roles and responsibilities for board members, calls for papers and venues from which to distribute them, and promotional opportunities among many others.

Though familiar with OER, an expert in the field I am not. However, through this development process — from building editorial boards to “going live” with the website in the end — I have been welcomed into the OER family and look forward to showcasing cutting-edge OER research in the IJOER.  

Building the journal has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my career. I was given a significant amount of latitude in developing this project, so I turned IJOER into a space not only to publish research, but to create a truly engaging experience for my like-minded peers. In addition to posting a digital version on the PSO’s website, I developed another website featuring:

  • 3 Questions for an OER Leader. For this section I invite (or another individual nominates) an industry leader to discuss his/her expertise. For our inaugural issue, I was honored to interview Sharon Leu, who leads the Office of Educational Technology for the Department of Education.
  • IJOER Peer Review. This section highlights various OERs (in progress or completed). It also provides valuable and constructive feedback from IJOER readers and a space to showcase work in progress. For those who are developing OERs of any kind, this is a wonderful way to receive honest and helpful feedback from the larger OER community.
  • IJOER Blog. Two lovely University of Wyoming librarians, Samantha Cook and Kristina Clement, offered to assist in developing a blog for the journal open to contributions from individuals in the OER community.
  • OER News, Events, Tools & Resources. These include tools and surveys to conduct OER research and websites with a wealth of OER courses and materials. 
  • Interactive Research Articles. IJOER articles leverage interactive features such as videos, audio, slideshows, definition rollovers, animations, interactive graphs, links to resources, images, social media, etc., to bring research to life. These features enable authors to present their work in a non-linear, innovative fashion, while more effectively engaging readers.
  • Blockchain. Currently, its purpose in IJOER allows authors to “time-stamp” their article, verifying that he/she was the first to write, publish, and own authorship rights over the content. Author Sherry Jones provides a wonderful article on Blockchain and how it can be applied to OER and scholarly publishing.

The short-term IJOER roadmap includes conducting research on our Blockchain integration and also extending its use to the peer-review process to make it more transparent, recognizable, and trustworthy. We would also like to attract those in commercial industries who use OERs, since OER is not an education-only concept.

In keeping with APUS’s core values, the IJOER favors an evolutive approach for long-term, future development. We will dutifully remain at the cusp of innovation in the OER and publishing industry by integrating new processes, procedures, enhancements, and emerging technologies. Better yet, we may even be the developers of some of these processes, procedures, enhancements, and technologies.

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