Virtual experience fuels strong year of OER projects

Open educational resources (OER), freely licensed course materials that save students money and allow instructors to create custom content, aren't exclusively for virtual instruction. But since OER materials are usually digital and often created in a module-based format, they are ideal for online teaching.

Interested in OER?

Instructors who would like to incorporate open educational resources in a course should contact Abbey Elder at or 294-5753 for a consultation. For examples of how and why ISU colleagues have used OER, read about the university's OER trailblazers.

So perhaps it's no surprise that after increased reliance on virtual coursework during the pandemic, including the required integration of every ISU class with the Canvas learning management system, applications for this year's round of Miller Open Education Mini-Grants were competitive, wide-ranging and innovative, said open access and scholarly communications librarian Abbey Elder, who coordinates the grant program. The eight projects the grant program is funding in 2021-22 includes instructional videos, handbooks, textbooks and tutorials in an array of disciplines from music to mechanical engineering to animal ecology.

"This year, I think you can see a lot more people thinking about being creative and interactive," Elder said. "More people have had a chance to experience teaching in a digital space and thought about how to do that in interesting ways."

The Miller mini-grant program has supported 40 projects in the program's four years, accounting for more than one-third of the $1 million ISU students have saved on course materials since the inception of the university's OER initiative. The program is supported by the provost's office, the university library and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

Here are the eight projects funded by Miller mini-grants:


Janci Bronson, teaching professor of music

Course: Music 127/128

Description: Bronson is creating a virtual piano education channel to support student learning in Class Study in Piano I and II, and for the general public learning to play the piano. These videos, many of which already are posted online, cover learning piano repertoire, scales/arpeggios/chords, improvisation, and music theory and history.

Regents OER grants

The years of support that ISU has provided for OER also was reflected in the five proposals selected for a state Board of Regents OER grant program. Most of the winners were from the University of Northern Iowa, which had a pent-up demand for OER funding because it doesn't offer specific financial support to creating or deploying OER, Elder said.

"This was the first time UNI has had a chance to support their faculty working on OER projects, and that resulted in a lot of excellent proposals coming from their school," Elder said.

The sole ISU-involved project funded by the Regents program was a proposal that included UNI literary education faculty Nandita Gurjar and Sohyun Meacham as well as ISU's Constance Beecher, associate professor in the School of Education and family literary specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. The $23,550 grant is funding the team's creation of a multimodal OER that focuses on early elementary literacy development, which would be used at Iowa State for Education 377, Teaching Literacy in the Primary Grades.

Award: $5,000


Emily Godbey, associate professor of art and visual culture

Course: Art History 281

Description: Godbey is replacing expensive art history textbooks used in History of Art II by integrating curated video content from and other high-quality arts organizations into a seamless experience of guided learning accompanied by text-based OER.

Award: $2,500


Tracy Heath, associate professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, and Joshua Justison, EEOB PhD student and graduate assistant

Course: Biology 465X, EEOB 565X 

Description: This project will create video guides and tutorials to prepare students for in-class activities, with exercises that build on methods learned in the classroom. Each video/tutorial module will be coupled with a publicly available instructor guide, enabling instructors outside of Iowa State to incorporate the materials into their macroevolution courses.

Award: $4,523


Sarah Huffman, assistant director, Center for Communication Excellence

Course: Graduate Studies 536

Description: Huffman is producing an OER Pressbook that compresses the research article writing materials from this course, Preparing Publishable Thesis Chapters, into an easily decipherable format accessible to any ISU graduate student.

Award: $2,500


Diana Lang, associate teaching professor of human development and family studies

Course: HDFS 102

Description: Lang will update, redesign and incorporate OER materials -- including research, videos and written content -- for use in all sections and modes of this course, Individual and Family Development, Health and Well-being.

Award: $5,000


Reza Montazami, associate professor of mechanical engineering

Course: Mechanical Engineering 160

Description: Montazami aims to create an OER in MATLAB, a programming platform for engineers and scientists, for use in this course, Mechanical Engineering Problem Solving with Computer Applications.

Award: $5,000


Lidia Skrynnikova, associate teaching professor of natural resource ecology and management

Course: NREM 120

Description: Skrynnikova will build a series of interactive tutorials to summarize the major concepts of environmental science for students in this introductory course on renewable resources.

Award: $4,000


David Starling, assistant teaching professor of biomedical sciences

Course: Biomedical Sciences/Animal Ecology 401

Description: Starling will create a course handbook for an introductory course on aquatic animal medicine. The handbook will be adapted from past course lectures, with video labs and student presentations as supplements.

Award: $5,000