Behind the Scenes with Jacqui Cain, an OER Content Developer

Jacqui Cain, an instructor at College of the Redwoods, has worked on many OER projects. She has developed content as part of the the Open Course Library Project and created an open textbook/reader under the Kaleidoscope Grant. She is also currently designing an “Indigenous Peoples Reader” that uses folk stories and myths from the original peoples from around the world. We hosted an interview with Jacqui to find out more about her projects, what benefits come out of using OER and what it takes to develop them.

Educators have traditionally placed a premium on their Intellectual Property when creating textbooks and other learning and teaching materials. How does that fit with the OER agenda?

The short answer is “it doesn’t,” but I have to question the premise that there is a tradition of educators hiding their materials and copyrighting everything they write or create. Certainly there are some who refuse to provide lecture notes to students, and many more who make their living through publishing materials, but the vast majority of educators are actually quite willing to share effective learning tools and strategies that they have created. It used to be called “collegiality.”

When I first got started as a college instructor, I can’t even remember how many of my fellow faculty freely offered me samples of their syllabi, lesson plans and other resources. One way of looking at the OER movement is we’ve taken this tradition of collegiality out of the hallways and lunchrooms on campus and moved it to the Internet, broadening the participation exponentially as we did so.

OER is not trying to steal the intellectual property of educators, and educators who want to continue their relationship with textbook publishers are free to do so just as other educators can’t tell me not to post my curriculum under a Creative Commons license and allow others to access and tailor the material for their students. I think there is this fear that somehow the Open Education movement will be the end of traditional textbook publishing, or that all faculty will be required to give away their content, but that simply is not the agenda, and I doubt it is even possible seeing how entrenched many campuses are in the traditional model that means that learning only occurs with expensive textbooks and lecturers.

What incentives are there for educators to make their creative efforts available as OER?

What incentives are there for us to write a chapter of a textbook? There is the financial reward, but if you ask most educators, they would say that a larger incentive is the prestige of being published, the feedback and respect from their peers, and the satisfaction in knowing that their work will continue on and become part of a larger body of knowledge and learning.

For example, I have created open courses as part of several grant projects. These were essentially ‘work for hire’ contracts, where I was given a fixed sum for the curriculum with the understanding that it was going to be distributed under a Creative Commons license: similar to contributing to a textbook. However, I have also worked on projects where I have said that I was going to develop the content without using any copyrighted material, specifically, so that could become an open resource. I was still compensated for my design and development, and there were no additional financial incentives to make the work open. In fact, in a few spots it made my work a bit trickier, but it was worth the effort to have the content shared so I can get more feedback and continue to improve my material, and to learn how others are using and adapting the content.

This is one thing I would like to ask to anyone reading the blog – if you use OER and you can, tell the original author! This is a key part of making the open education movement effective and growing our community.

Of course the biggest incentive to participate in OER is to benefit the students; that is why I got involved in OER. I saw how students were struggling to meet the rising cost of tuition and books, the mounting debt from student loans, and the frustration they experienced at trying to buy books online from discount sellers, only to get the books late and have it effect their grades. One book may not have that big of an impact on a student’s life, but as more and more educators opt for open texts we are going to see a significant impact. For example, on my campus they estimated that last semester alone students saved over $100,000 in textbook costs in the courses where the faculty decided to use open texts and materials.

How does Creative Commons licensing fit into the OER picture?

I don’t think this would work without Creative Commons licensing. In fact, I know that I have only been given permission to use some materials because I could say that I was going to publish under a CC-by license. Educators respect the license and trust that the philosophy that drives those who use CC licenses also keeps everyone honest. The license has integrity because those who use it have integrity and we are good at policing ourselves.

 Why did you choose out of copyright materials like a Sherlock Holmes novel to begin your work and why did you decide to make that available as OER?

I have designed several courses for reading and writing instruction, from Pre-Composition level all the way through Basic Skills. These kinds of courses require that the students have to read, and read quite a lot actually! There were several approaches I could have taken. I could have had the students do searches for online non-fiction essays following specific criteria, or, I could use content that was in the public domain. I needed more control over what the students would use as reading material. Because the content was going to have such a wide distribution, I had to ensure the outcomes of the lessons would always work. I decided to go with a fixed text.

I did some research and found that detective fiction is particularly suited for teaching critical reading skills because the students were highly motivated by the stories, and because they naturally begin to use deductive thinking strategies – like those used by the characters in the stories. I also wanted reading material that was as culturally neutral as possible, and thought that 1885 London was as unfamiliar to an 18-year old student from Washington as it would be to a 40-year old student from Lebanon. The stories that I selected also allowed for a multi-cultural approach, as gender roles were quite different and surprising, as well as discussions on race and culture because London was a town full of immigrants who quite naturally make appearances in Doyle’s stories.

The project I am currently developing is an “Indigenous Peoples Reader” that uses folk stories and myths from the original peoples from around the world. About one-third of the content is from the North American continent, but I also have stories from several countries on the African continent, throughout Asia, and the Hawaiian Island and Australia.

Do you think teaching online makes it easier to find and use OER materials?

Again, the short answer is “no,” but I don’t believe that finding and using OER materials is particularly difficult for anyone. I say that, but when I got started four years ago there was almost no material for developmental-level reading and writing instruction available. The content that was out there was designed for high school students, and I did take advantage of much of that and redesigning it for an older student population.  When I hear people say that they have a hard time finding something, I think what they mean is they want something that is all packaged and neat like a textbook with a CD full of supplemental materials. The secret is that we (educators) have become a bit lazy thanks to the textbook publishers and have grown accustomed to teaching the book. OER is rarely that tidy and wrapped up with a bow, but with a little work, instructors can create learning materials that are customized to the specific needs of their students.


Are you using OER? Do you have any questions for Jacqui? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section!

One Comment

  1. Indigenous Peoples Reader Project | College Open Textbooks BLOG

    […] This project, along with other OER projects that I am currently working on, were mentioned in a guest blog I posted for SoftChalk. I submitted this as a proposal for the 2012 Online Teaching Conference, and […]

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