Mathematics department champions Open Educational Resources for enhanced learning

| Author: Robert Wang | Media Contact:

The Mathematics Department at Central Michigan University is spearheading the adoption of Open Educational Resources to enhance the learning experience for students at CMU. This initiative aims to make quality educational materials freely accessible while promoting adaptability and interactivity in mathematics courses.

Mathematics Department Chair, Ben Salisbury, a staunch advocate for OER, highlights the benefits of utilizing these resources in various mathematics courses. The cost-effectiveness of OER for both instructors and students, coupled with the flexibility to tailor content to specific course requirements, is gaining widespread support. Salisbury shares personal experiences with OER textbooks in courses like MTH 105, 132, 133, 332, 521, and 523, pointing out that there are promising options for other courses such as MTH 107, 113, 130, 223, and 233 available at the aimath website.  Several options for the 100 and 200 level courses are available at the openstax website.

One notable feature of many OER books is their multi-format availability. Some authors provide an HTML version with interactive elements while offering on-demand printed versions, enhancing accessibility for students with different preferences. For instance, Salisbury underscores the value of SageMath cells integrated into a textbook, by K.D. Crisman of Gordon College, used in MTH 521, facilitating interactive learning during lectures.

To further customize the learning experience, he discusses the integration of WeBWorK, an open-source online homework platform designed for STEM courses. While acknowledging a learning curve, Salisbury attests to the benefits of investing time in mastering the platform for creating customized homework problems.

The momentum towards OER gained traction in 2019 when Salisbury proposed, and the department successfully implemented, a free-option policy for the Calculus sequence. The department embraced the idea, leading to the adoption of two OER books and WeBWorK for Calculus courses (132, 133, 233). Buoyed by this success, an  OER Committee was established in 2021, focusing on standardizing OER usage in other courses.

The committee's efforts resulted in the adoption of OpenStax textbook and WeBWorK homework for  MTH 105, marking a significant milestone. While the mandatory use of OER in MTH 105 has not been officially discussed, the course is primarily taught by graduate students under a single coordinator, creating an effective standardization. MTH 107 also witnessed an informal transition to OER, authored by professor Yeonhyang Kim, and this change is reflected in its latest master course syllabus revision.

The increasing acceptance of OER prompted the formation of another OER committee this year. This committee is tasked with identifying additional courses suitable for OER implementation and forming subcommittees to aid in the transition process. Salisbury expressed optimism about the possibility of making the use of OER mandatory for MTH 105 and 107, with hopes that courses like 113, 130, and 223 will follow suit.

However, challenges remain, as concerns about academic freedom have been raised. Salisbury addresses these concerns, emphasizing the need for a coordinated approach and arguing that a balance must be struck between academic freedom and a structured educational environment. To facilitate this transition, the department is advocating for the provision of resources by the Department, College, and University, including time and training, shared materials, and appropriate technology to support faculty in adopting OER and navigating the learning curve.

The CMU Mathematics Department's bold embrace of Open Educational Resources is poised to reshape the educational landscape, providing students with cost-effective, adaptable, and interactive learning materials, while fostering a collaborative and supportive environment for faculty.