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Teaching & Learning

Tennessee colleges are using OER to develop culturally responsive classrooms


News & Updates
September 23, 2022

This past July, ATD’s Teaching and Learning team traveled to Chattanooga State Community College to deliver a new two-day Summer Institute on Open Educational Practices to faculty and staff from eight colleges across Tennessee. The purpose of the institute was to formally launch the work of ATD’s most recent open educational resources (OER) project, a partnership with the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) that prepares and supports college faculty in integrating open and culturally responsive teaching into their OER courses.  

While the use of OER — freely available, high-quality learning materials that can be downloaded, edited, and shared — has been growing steadily at colleges, educators have begun to recognize that OER use offers more than a no-cost alternative to expensive textbooks. It is a tool for them to make teaching more dynamic and responsive and to circumvent the limitations that come with publisher-created materials and instruction.  

OER as an equity tool

At the heart of creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable campus is providing learning experiences that make all students feel welcome. Course content includes diverse perspectives tailored to students’ backgrounds, needs, and interests, and there is a culture of care and mutual respect. Every element of the course experience — course design, instructional content, teaching practices, assessment, faculty, and student interactions — can and should be designed through an equity lens with students at the center.  

Many traditional teaching practices and publisher-created materials and assignments, such as textbooks and standardized tests, minimize student voices. Often restricting instructors to a mass-market curriculum, these traditional practices emphasize memorization rather than knowledge creation and real-world problem-solving. An important thing about OER is that it can be revised, allowing instructors to design course assignments and materials that elevate cultural perspectives and create meaningful educational experiences. Refreshed courses can then be used to appeal to students from diverse backgrounds, giving them a voice in their learning. Additionally, students can co-create instruction and generate new knowledge. They become empowered to curate curriculum materials, write exam questions, or generate content to add to an OER textbook.  

The Summer Institute in Chattanooga is a continuation of ATD’s Teaching and Learning with OER grant initiative, a two-year study funded by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation to identify the ways experienced OER faculty are using open content in their instruction. The original study produced a new framework, developed by ATD research partner SRI Education, that identified five dimensions of open and culturally responsive teaching: 

  1. Student agency and ownership 
  2. Inclusive content 
  3. Collaborative knowledge generation 
  4. Critical consciousness 
  5. Classroom culture  

The Summer Institute centered this framework to prepare Tennessee OER grantees to design activities based on these five dimensions in their OER courses.  

ATD coaches will provide additional virtual support to the college teams over the fall term and, once the OER courses are launched in spring 2023, SRI researchers will survey faculty and students, conduct interviews and focus groups, observe OER classrooms, and collect other data to see the ways faculty implemented these practices into their teaching, and how students experienced them.  

Building momentum

At the end of the second day, each of the 11 teams of faculty and staff from colleges across Tennessee took turns presenting their ideas for the OER courses they were developing. 

  • An English OER course designed so students collaborate on course design as well as develop content to publish in the course text 
  • An introductory Spanish OER course that incorporates authentic language videos created as a capstone project by the more proficient students completing the final, upper-level Spanish class  
  • An open statistics course that, as a final project, has students work in groups using real-world datasets relevant to their local communities, such as data on eviction rates and student debt  

The other teams each shared similar plans for their OER courses — in philosophy, math, sociology, history, and English — instructional plans that give learners agency, integrate diverse and inclusive content, and provide students the opportunity to collaborate and create knowledge. These are all practices ATD refers to as open and culturally responsive teaching. 

Due to the success of the Summer Institute in Chattanooga, and growing demand from colleges, ATD’s Teaching and Learning team will offer a modified version of the workshop to ATD Network colleges to complement existing teaching and learning services that support OER adoption and use and the integration of open and culturally responsive teaching practices into OER courses. The 11 colleges in the Tennessee OER study will complete the development of their OER courses by the end of the fall term and launch the new courses in spring 2023. ATD and SRI expect to publish the outcomes from the study in the fall of 2023.  

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