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A Flexible OER Implementation Using a Commercial Application at Athabasca University


Athabasca University (AU) in Alberta brands itself as Canada's Open University and, as such, is a leader in the country and internationally in supporting open education and open educational resources (OER) in particular. There is significant OER activity at Athabasca University.

Opportunity Athabasca University (AU) in Alberta brands itself as Canada's Open University and, as such, is a leader in the country and internationally in supporting open education and open educational resources (OER) in particular. There is significant OER activity at Athabasca University.

The School of Business is a faculty leader in the university in implementing new technologies and OER. Initially, two faculty converted a first-year accounting course to OER use without any additional funding. The School of Business then received grants from the Alberta Chartered Accountant Education Foundation (now the Alberta CPA Education Foundation) and the Alberta government, through its OER Alberta initiative, to create an OER textbook for second-year courses.

Innovation A faculty member in the Accounting in the School of Business chose OER because of her and her students' growing dissatisfaction with the approved commercial textbook and its locked-in assessment application.

The OER consists of three pieces: a textbook with practice questions, a solutions manual for the practice questions and an extensive bank of audio tutorials. The audio tutorials explain and demonstrate, in detail, the concepts necessary to complete challenging exercises that are part of the practice questions included in the OER textbook. Students receive a suggested plan detailing what practice exercise(s) to complete after reading each section in the textbook. They can check their answers against the solution and view the audio tutorial for support. This self-assessment encourages independent learning and helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses. Instructors are available to help address weaknesses. Once students determine they grasp the concept, they can do the web-based assignment, using a commercial assessment application from Lyryx Learning Inc., an Alberta company. The Lyryx application does not require the use of any specific text and works using a complex algorithm that changes the structure of questions.

Benefits The main benefit from this project is the increased flexibility that the use of an OER textbook supports. OER were introduced into three first- and second-year accounting courses, allowing the instructor to try the Lyryx application. The new Lyryx application is far more pedagogically sound because, instead of requiring students to enter answers into a template, students prepare the entire answer. Feedback provided by the Lyryx program allows students to identify their weaknesses, resulting in increased tutor contact where questions are more focused and specific, and which are mainly exceptions that need explaining. This demonstrates a significant shift, showing greater understanding and more independent learning supporting students to be better learners.

Lyryx also had the effect of decreasing and even eliminating student cheating on assignments by avoiding formulaic responses and requiring answers showing their work towards the solution. Increased vigilance revealed no instance of cheating since the OER/ Lyryx implementation.

There are faculty time savings as Lyryx automatically assigns the grades algorithmically. In addition, Lyryx eliminated many of the technical problems common in using the commercial textbook's assessment tool for these courses.

Another important benefit is the students identified real value in the resources and so were very active in using the optional review questions and other content. In the first-year course, when given the option of completing one of two major assignments, many students did both, even though they got credit for one only.

The transition to teaching using OER was seamless. Students were not aware they were using OER. From their perspective, the OER learning resources looked familiar either as a textbook or as online content. Student achievement levels were the same with OER as with the commercial textbook; however, student satisfaction increased significantly with the use of the web-based assessment.

For this first-year course, savings amounted $145 per student. With 1,500 students annually, this represents savings of $217,500 per year. Because of the success of this project, OER are now being assigned to two other second-year accounting courses with a combined total of more than 1,000 students. This represents a potential savings of more than $200,000 annually.

Challenges The main challenge was the time and effort required to author OER to replace the commercial textbook, especially as the first OER developed was through the volunteer efforts of two faculty with no institutional or external support. (The CA Education Foundation, mentioned above, distributed the funding later to a maximum of $30,000 per year.) This was a constraint, but did not stop the OER development. Later, Alberta OER funding for the audio tutorials was received. Another challenge was finding competent authors.

In general, faculty tended to trust the commercial publications more and so uptake by colleagues has been slow. In adopting the OER, faculty are required to review the content and adjust their teaching notes, resulting in more work than continuing with the commercial textbook.

The university required the OER content to be vetted by institutional editors. Fortunately, this significant expense was absorbed by the university.

Potential Athabasca University needs a new model for course production, including OER, to facilitate continuous updating.

Plans include trading courses with colleagues in order to expand OER use in the Business School to at least two more courses.

Proposals for the future include ensuring government funders mandate the adoption of OER created by others to receive funding and that three or more faculty should collaborate, with each one committing to using the OER. It is also hoped the university will return some of the savings from OER implementation to the faculty to support further OER development.

Contact Dr. Tilly Jensen School of Business Athabasca University tilly.jensen@fb.athabascau.ca

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