Instructors think big in latest round of OER mini-grants

The Miller Open Education Mini-Grant program continues to make an impact across campus in its fifth year.

Instructors who received a mini-grant this year come from a range of disciplines and proposed a diverse mix of open educational resources (OER), the freely licensed and customizable course materials supported by the grant program sponsored by the University Library, the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching and the provost's office.

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.

But there is a common thread among the approved projects, said Abbey Elder, open access and scholarly communication librarian. Each is ambitious and geared toward improving the quality of instruction by addressing specific learning needs.

"They are all student-centered in their approach," she said. "There's a lot of reflection coming through in how they're putting their projects together."

In some cases, that involves expanding on prior work. Four of the seven projects include a faculty member who previously used the mini-grant program to incorporate OER in a course. The scope of this year's work also is why there are seven projects, the fewest in the five years of the program, said Elder, who leads OER efforts at ISU and oversees the mini-grants. Most of the projects, which totaled about $33,000, were at or near the $5,000 per-grant cap on funding. 

"Basically, everyone wanted to build something big and exciting," she said.

The mini-grant program has been a catalyst for the growing use of OER, accounting for about one-third of the $1.4 million in student savings on course materials since 2017, Elder said. Those savings will accelerate in the coming years, as OER and immediate-access course materials received $300,000 in jump-start funding as part of the university's recently approved 2022-31 strategic plan.

Elder said planning is underway for how to use the jump-start funds. Being highlighted as a major initiative in the strategic plan has value, too. It may encourage more instructors to consider using open materials, she said.  

"It shows the support that we have," she said. "Instructors who are learning about OER for the first time can see this isn't just a one-off new thing that a few people are working on. It's something that's going to continue to be an institutional priority, and if they participate, their work will be acknowledged."

An expanding support system, including the ISU Digital Press, also helps sustain and grow OER usage, Elder said. "People know they're not doing this on their own," she said.

Here are the recipients of this year's mini-grants:

Janci Bronson, teaching professor of music

Courses: Music 228 and 415B

Building on her experience developing piano instruction videos, Bronson is creating a set of intermediate-level videos for two higher-level courses, Class Study in Piano IV and Literature and Pedagogy in Applied Music: Piano.

Jeanne Dyches, associate professor, School of Education

Course: Education 395

Dyches is developing a new open textbook with the students taking her course, Teaching Disciplinary Literacy. The students, who are earning secondary education credentials, will learn equity-oriented literacy strategies in their particular disciplines, hear from expert in-service teachers and develop original content to support future students in the course.

Rachel Eike, assistant professor of apparel, events and hospitality management (AEHM), and Ellen McKinney, associate professor of AEHM

Courses: Apparel Merchandising and Design 426, 495 and 496

Eike and McKinney are creating instructional text, designer resources and lesson plans to support client-based adaptive apparel design. The material will be used by students who focus on adaptive apparel in their capstone projects.

Thea Gessler, graduate assistant and doctoral student in genetics and genomics, and Tracy Heath, associate professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology

Course: In development

Gessler and Heath are developing an experiential course to give first- and second-year undergraduate students experience and insight into conducting biodiversity research. Using open-access course materials will allow the course to be repurposed at other institutions.

Cassie Rutherford and Beena Ajmera, assistant professors of civil, construction and environmental engineering

Course: Civil Engineering 360

Rutherford and Ajmera are developing a new inquiry-based module with an augmented reality sandbox and 3D printing for this course, Geotechnical Engineering. They're also developing an open curriculum module, laboratory workbook and inquiry-based lesson plans for use within the engineering education community.

Walter Suza, adjunct associate professor of agronomy

Course: Agronomy 320

Building on his open textbook Genetics, Agriculture and Biotechnology for a course of the same name, Suza is adding content on chromosomal mutations, animal cloning, transgenic animals, statistical analysis and population genetics. Interactive opportunities such as exercises, case studies, scenarios and experiential activities will help students apply what they learn.

Shenglan Zhang, associate professor of world languages and cultures

Course: Chinese 101

Zhang is creating online modules with accompanying booklets for teaching Chinese characters. The modules are based on the latest research on how students learn Chinese characters and the most effective methods for teaching them.