Anderson University Initiative Explores Innovative Approach to College Affordability

Dr. Joanna Stegall, Chair of the Special Education Department at the Anderson University College of Education, is one of 11 AU faculty trained in the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) in an effort to provide innovative instruction and reduce costs for college students.

ANDERSON, SC - As the cost of a college education rises at public universities nationwide, Anderson University, one of the nation's leading private schools in affordability, is training its faculty in ways to help with students' expenses while providing flexibility in classroom instruction.

AU is accomplishing these dual goals through its innovative use of Open Educational Resources (OER), free and openly licensed media - think textbooks and videos, among other items - that can be used in the classroom or for research. The OER effort at AU was born from an ongoing institutional priority to reduce costs for students, specifically the amount spent on textbooks.

"OER is about affordability and accessibility for students, but it's also about allowing faculty to more easily customize their materials for a course without being tied to one specific book or publisher," said Dr. Joshua Herron, Associate Dean of the Anderson University Center for Innovation and Digital Learning (CIDL.) "Through the curation or creation of OER, an AU faculty member can offer students a more personalized experience based on our students' needs and context."

The effort is already bearing fruit. Eleven faculty members currently undergoing OER training at AU have saved their students nearly $38,000 in textbook costs alone. The faculty members' disciplines are across the academic spectrum, from science and marketing to theatre and nursing.

This semester's OER class wraps up on Friday, March 9. Herron said he's encouraged by the participation across campus, and confident the effort will continue to grow.

"Several AU faculty have begun using OER with enthusiasm," he said. "The development workshop is a way for faculty to take back control of their classroom materials and let students benefit from open, free resources created by their professors."

Dr. Joanna Stegall, Chair of the Special Education Department at the Anderson University College of Education, is one of the professors excited about the OER initiative.

"It's providing me with a student-directed venue for the development of more meaningful learning activities," Dr. Stegall said. "I am developing an OER for the special education program here at AU, so I am able to more critically assess each course for overlaps and for missing concepts across the entire program.

"(OER) allows my special education teacher candidates to have a common platform for collaborating in teams, and creating artifacts that represent the most important content across the platform," she said.

OER is just the latest in AU's efforts at innovation and affordability for its students, faculty and staff.

Most recently, AU announced the creation of a new Office of Technology, Online Learning and Academic Innovation, which will serve as the home of the CIDL. The new office and OER effort builds on AU's reputation for innovation, which includes the Mobile Learning Initiative (MLI); a new Coding and App Development program; and AU's two-time designation as an Apple Distinguished School, making it one of only 40 in the world to twice receive the distinction.