Improving Student Engagement with OER Courseware

Sixty-five percent of students are not purchasing textbooks, despite knowing that this decision could impact their grade, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. In addition, research conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights last year found that while today’s students are optimistic, motivated and focused on majors that will land them a good job, many are very concerned about the cost of their education. They need guidance in finding affordable course materials to ensure their success.

As an answer to the challenge of delivering high quality course content at an affordable price, Barnes & Noble College launched a pilot of their new Courseware platform in the fall of 2016 at Penn State University, West Liberty University, and Cuyahoga Community College. The goal of the pilot was to determine if OER Courseware could lower the cost of learning materials while improving student engagement and outcomes.  

Courseware in the Classroom 

Becky Witt Meacham, an Assistant Professor of Psychology who teaches at West Liberty University, was one of the faculty members who participated in the Courseware pilot. Professor Meacham had some initial concerns about adopting the program for her first year students, Introduction to Psychology course. “There was some apprehension that Courseware was going to use up a lot of my time,” she says, “but I found I could add content – such as interactive assignments — easily into the course.” Usually a book-based course, Meacham was also impressed by the quality of the course material. “In the past, the volumes we used were expensive, frankly, and frequently updated,” she said. “The content in the Barnes & Noble’s Courseware was not only free but, I thought, rigorous enough for the classroom.”

Donya Waugh, who also adopted Courseware for her students at Cuyahoga Community College, had a similar experience. “I liked the flexibility of being able to move chapters around, re-ordering the content to the way I like to teach the course. It gave my students resources for every chapter of the course book – quizzes and videos along with content that I could add myself,” she says.

Both faculty found the Courseware platform flexible enough to adapt to their respective teaching styles. For example, Meacham added in examples from the student’s own real-life circumstance to motivate the classroom and help them master the material. Waugh was able to easily pull in a variety of different content, which ranged from U2 music videos to her own assignments. With that kind of customization, the instructors are optimistic this new Courseware platform, with its streamlined analytics reporting, can help them better identify those students who are having difficulty with any part of their learning. “Features like self-checks, where my students could check their work and help improve their grade, were particularly useful,” Waugh pointed out.

Learning for Digital Natives

As Barnes & Noble College widens the rollout of Courseware to all campus bookstores this semester, the combination of high quality, curated OER and original content, along with opportunities for faculty to easily develop and customize to their lesson plans, is proving effective. It also offers the chance for students to learn in the classroom in the same way they are increasingly living their lives, digitally. It’s a trend which Meacham, with a tech savvy sixteen year old of her own, is increasingly familiar with. “There’s just a lot of potential here,” she says. “I think this generation is the one that is really going to be familiar and comfortable with learning digitally.”

To learn more about Courseware, click here.