Last March, West Hills Community College District faced an unprecedented challenge: a near total transition to online only classes. However, an advantage was already in place: open educational resources. West Hills College Lemoore is a state recognized leader in the use of Open Educational Resources, free textbooks and course materials offered completely online.
At West Hills College Lemoore alone, students saved $743,144 during the 2017-2018 school year and $1,165,138 during the 2018-2019 school year. However, in addition to the cost savings, the fact that OER has already been a major facet of life for many students at West Hills College Lemoore has been critical as classes transitioned online.
West Hills College Lemoore has increasingly shifted toward OER being present in most class sections, including three “Z” degrees, programs entirely without textbook costs as a result of OER. Over 40% of courses at WHCL are using OER.
Like many instructors during a time when education is having to cope with the move to online learning, Kennedy has had to adapt, something made easier by the buy in for OER. This has included revamping the online class learning space, adding more content and resources and reimagining how student and instructor interaction happens.
“I loved having an OER textbook because it was easy and free” said Madison Mello, one of Kennedy’s students. “I’ve had classes before where I had to spend $80 on the textbook. I liked that you can access it in so many different ways: you can get it on your cell phone or computer or even print your textbook. It’s really convenient, especially now.”
Because of OER, Kennedy was able to pull snippets from different textbooks to complement the learning experience, feature student videos alongside readings and make sure that students have textbook access in a time where shipping and incomes are both affected. For Kennedy, it’s all a matter of reminding students that education is adaptable and that she is here to make their learning experience a great experience, regardless of how it’s delivered. “It’s all about humanizing the learning experience,” said Kennedy. “Nothing is easy, but OER at least has made the transition smoother. It made it easier to make changes to the content to make it more accessible and inclusive.”
Technology in general has made a lot easier in terms of this transition. Kennedy has encouraged students to submit videos, has uploaded videos herself giving students a taste of her personality and has made an effort to make class as digitally interactive as possible. To view a video submitted by WHCL student Joshua Neal (right), click here.
“I want my students to know I care about them and I’m here for them,” Kennedy said. “One of the things you find in sociology research is that even people who don’t have a large social circle need to have social connections. Everyone needs a person or persons in your life who support you, somebody you feel is in your corner. In this world where we now have this separation and are forced into an environment where we’re separated, we’re trying to find those connections in a different way. That’s why it’s really important that when we’re developing our educational materials now, we’re keeping in mind that this is still an important connection to make even if we’re doing it virtually.”