CMTN Students Test the Economic Impact of OER Adoption

What happens when the commons are not a tragedy, but a shared resource that keeps being added to, remixed, and shared amongst members of a community? Specifically, what happens in a small rural college? How do we measure the economic impact of open educational resources (OER) in the context of a small rural college? As one of the BCcampus Open Education Advocacy and Research Faculty Fellows for the 2019–2020 year, I have embarked on an action research project with first-year economics students to assess the economic impact of increased adoption of OER at Coast Mountain College (CMTN).

Post by Karen McMurray, Instructor in the Business Administration program, Coast Mountain College

As an educator of first-year students, I hope to light a fire of interest for the disciplines I teach, and tracking economic indicators in our institution was one way to light those fires for economics. My students were tasked with creating a survey tool to measure the economic impact of OER on our community at CMTN. It seemed like a big ask already, so what I did not expect was for my students to take the assignment and add more from other disciplines, thus creating opportunities for integrative learning for themselves through their curiosity about the impacts of OER in our community. While the intention of the project was to find out the economic impact of OER, as an educator, I have also realized something about pedagogy: co-curricular, integrative learning opportunities may be a valuable way forward with required first-year economics education.

Students designed surveys for stakeholders impacted by the adoption of OER — including students, faculty, and staff at CMTN — to capture the economic picture. Some of the questions they wanted answers to were: Where did students save money? Where did they spend it? Did this spending multiply in our community the same way bookstore spending would? Did the savings students experienced in book costs translate to ensuring they had shelter, food, clothing, and transportation?

Students wanted to know the stories behind the data and incorporated survey questions around feelings, well-being, and trust of their community. It was clear that the marriage between data and personal narrative was driving students’ curiosity and excitement for the project, which is something that data alone could not achieve. From an educator’s perspective, I was challenged to let go of some of my expectations around diving into economic data and encouraged my students to continue to design surveys that also revealed the story of OER. Adding questions about feelings and social impact felt risky: it felt time-consuming and too far off-track from the learning outcomes of our course, but we kept going with it. How can you say no to following student curiosities? I couldn’t. Did my students want to measure the economic multiplier of OER on our community as I had assigned them? Yes, but they most certainly wanted our college to be considered from a social and emotional perspective, too. They did not see the point in only looking at economic indicators and wanted to know the social as well as the economic impacts.

Questions nominated for inclusion in our survey, but that fell outside of the scope of 100-level microeconomics, include:

  • How do you feel when you realize a class is relying on open educational resources?
  • You come to class on the first day and find out the class has a free textbook. How would you characterize your reaction to this?
  • When an instructor makes a free text the required text for a course, what happens to your perception of that instructor?
  • When using a free text, do you trust the content more or less?

These questions help to create meaning and foster understanding of the idea that economics is part of a larger system that includes people in roles beyond consumers and labourers, as we tend to view them in economics.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities and the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching issued a joint statement on integrated learning that states, “integrative learning goes beyond academic boundaries. Indeed, integrative experiences often occur as learners address real-world problems, unscripted and sufficiently broad to require multiple areas of knowledge and multiple modes of inquiry, offering multiple solutions and benefiting from multiple perspectives.”

Connecting our classrooms to community-created conditions is one way for integrative learning to occur. Students were propelled by their own curiosity to seek out how economic choices can impact a community in ways we would not typically consider in first-year economics.

What is this unexpected — and at times, seemingly unmanageable course — helping me realize as an instructor? That integrative learning can be valuable in 100-level economics courses, and that first-year economics instructors may be able to consider certain co-curricular opportunities for their courses. While first year economics tends to be a stand-alone course there is value in pairing economics with other courses that may seem unrelated but can actually make projects come alive in the community. My students themselves sought out integration of disciplines to get a whole picture whether I was ready or not. While my students approached my assigned project in ways I could not have anticipated, they helped me contemplate the value of changing the teaching of economics at the first-year level entirely through well-designed co-curricular integrative learning opportunities.

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