SCALE-ing up Mathematics Open Educational Resources at a Higher Education Institution

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

This session will cover a four-phase design-based research project to encourage mathematics faculty at a higher education institution to use, adapt, and create open educational resources (OER). This project reinforced differentiated instruction in college-level mathematics courses and saving students' educational costs without sacrificing the quality of instruction.

Extended Abstract

Open Educational Resources (OER) are openly licensed educational materials that allow for user customization at no cost (Hilton, 2016). Since 2015, our institution has saved students over $1.5 million by using no-cost course materials, including OER and library-licensed content. Despite this institutional success, few courses in the Department of Mathematics have transitioned to the use of OER. The cost of course materials in this subject area can be up to $332 per course. Many students, regardless of major, are required to take these courses to fulfill their graduation requirements. If affordable learning resources were to be adopted within the department, especially those high-enrollment courses, the potential cost savings to thousands of students annually is tremendous. Additionally, affordable learning resources can help students who cannot afford expensive course materials to maintain effective learning, especially those from low-income communities and Pell Grant recipients (Colvard, Watson, & Park, 2018). 


However, mathematics instructors may have difficulties in delivering online courses because they have faced time constraints and limited access to course resources and professional support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, math can be a complicated subject to teach completely online when students in a traditional classroom often rely on the instructor writing and explaining equations on the board in the classroom. Course instructors might resort to online supplemental resources or textbook access codes. Still, high subscription fees and copyright restrictions constrain instructors in customizing many of these resources to meet students’ needs (Hilton, 2016). Besides, many resources provided online are not curated or validated, so the quality of these resources remains uncertain.


On the other hand,  copyright restrictions might increase students’ spending on courses beyond textbook purchases (Lin & Tang, 2017). Understanding mathematics instructors’ needs for OER and their hardships and difficulties in selecting and integrating OER in teaching is urgently needed. Therefore, this proposal showcased design-based research that informs design, theory, and practice concurrently via iterations (Hoadley 2004; Sandoval 2014). Specifically, this research included four iterations: surveying instructors’ needs for OER, creating educational materials to address the instructors’ needs, implementing educational materials and evaluating their effectiveness, and revision.  


Literature Review  

For customization, OER provides users with permission to retain (e.g., save a copy), reuse (e.g., use a portion of or the whole materials in another context), revise (e.g., make needed changes), remix (e.g., combine two resources), and redistribute (e.g., share materials in a class) available resources in line with their needs (Wiley & Hilton, 2018). Another advantage of OER is the time-effectiveness of updated resources since they become immediately available for use without waiting for the long publication cycles (Kimmons, 2015). Evidence that OER decreased college students’ educational costs without harm to their course performance has been documented. Clinton (2018) found students using OpenStax textbooks in an Introductory Psychology course spent less money on course materials but performed slightly better than those using traditional textbooks. Colvard et al. (2018) reported Pell Grant recipients had a significant increase in final grades and marked fewer fails and withdrawals, confirming the effectiveness of OER in promoting educational equity. This has been of particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic when students have not had access to shared textbook programs (e.g., course reserves) often housed at a college library.


It is noteworthy that OER needs to undergo verifications and curations before being implemented in courses to ensure effective online learning, given that anyone can publish OER. Free-standing OER without any pedagogical strategies cannot empower students with specific expertise desired in a domain. To provide accessible resources, screening and then adapting available OER to support instructors’ pedagogical demands is required (Hilton et al., 2014).  


Design-based Research 

Iteration 1: Surveying instructors’ needs for OER 

The first iteration of the design-based study was completed. Our team undertook a comprehensive needs assessment to determine best practices for encouraging the adoption and customization of OER within the Department of Mathematics. An adapted survey about instructors’ perception of OER (Jhangiani, 2017) and follow-up semi-structured individual interviews were conducted to query mathematics instructors on their general understanding of open educational resources, pedagogical needs, and how librarians can best assist them in reducing the cost of course materials. The OER perception survey included four dimensions, including instructors’ demographic information, knowledge about OER and open licenses, the experience of using OER in teaching, and perception of OER. A total of 6 of 23 mathematics instructors responded to the survey. Survey results were analyzed using SPSS to report descriptive statistics. All respondents had at least heard of OER, but only two use them for teaching. Descriptive statistics also show that curriculum-appropriate open textbooks, library-licensed materials, and ancillary materials such as homework systems in mathematics were widely available. Several semi-structured individual interviews (n=4) were conducted via Zoom with selected participants from those elected to participate in follow-up interviews. After scheduling interviews, participants answered predetermined questions focusing on their challenges and needs to integrate OER in teaching. The semi-structured interviews allowed researchers to ask follow-up questions to provide additional information when desired. All interviews were recorded, anonymized, transcribed, and then analyzed using NVivo 12. Inductive analysis (Creswell, 2017) with open coding and pattern coding (Saldana, 2016) was used to identify the themes. Quantitative and qualitative findings were then converged to understand instructors’ challenges and needs for teaching with OER in mathematic courses. Participants also discussed their needs for professional development and supplementary resources using WeBWork, a popular open-source replacement for MyMathLab.

Additionally, instructors’ concern about a lack of positive climate on integrating OER mainly resulted from colleagues’ apprehension of open licenses. Team members were thus determined to assist Mathematics faculty by developing outreach materials and programs for OER awareness and also professional development resources on efficiently using OER and supplementary homework system (e.g., WeBWork). Our team currently are working on Iteration 2 - creating educational materials to address the instructors’ needs.



This project provided implications about scaling up mathematic instructions using OER. Practically, this project promoted OER usage in mathematics courses by providing curated resources, facilitating professional development, and reinforcing social justice by saving students’ educational costs and ensuring that low SES can afford to learn effectively in a period of uncertainty. 


Level of Participation

This session will be educational and focused on providing attendees with knowledge about this project and our approach. There will be time throughout the session for attendees to share their understanding of OER and use them at their institution. Additionally, we will be featuring the tools we utilized for this project (e.g., Canva, LibWizard, and  Screencast-o-matic) will encourage participants to follow along on their own devices. That way, they can promote OER at their institution. Lastly, there will be time for questions.


Session Goals

The primary goal of this session is to educate attendees on OER and the process of aiding a department on campus to be more familiar with OER. This session will share our research on the subject and the development of materials to assist faculty in feeling confident of electing to use OER. Additionally, attendees will hear first-hand challenges about OER and our approach for empowering our faculty to use OER.




Clinton, V. (2018). Savings without sacrifice: a case report on open-source textbook adoption. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning33(3), 177-189. 

Colvard, N. B., Watson, C. E., & Park, H. (2018). The impact of open educational resources on various student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2). 

Hilton III, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(4). pp 573–590.  

Hilton III, J. L., Robinson, T. J., Wiley, D., & Ackerman, J. D. (2014). Cost-savings achieved in two semesters through the adoption of open educational resources. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning15(2).  

Keefe, J. W., & Jenkins, J. M. (2008). Personalized instruction: The key to student achievement. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Rowman & Littlefield Education. 

Kimmons, R. (2015). OER quality and adaptation in K-12: Comparing teacher evaluations of copyright-restricted, open, and open/adapted textbooks. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning16(5), 39-57. 

Kimmons, R. (2016). Expansive Openness in Teacher Practice. Teachers College Record118(9), n9. 

Lin, Y. J., & Tang, H. (2017). Exploring student perceptions of the use of Open Educational Resources to reduce statistics anxiety. Journal of Formative Design in Learning1(2), 110-125. 

Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education. Revised and Expanded from "Case Study Research in Education.". Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco, CA.