OER mini-grants enhance access to education

Now in its sixth year, the Miller Open Education Mini-Grant program is energizing the creation of open educational resources (OER) for use at the university and beyond.

Access is a notable theme among this year's recipients, said Abbey Elder, open access and scholarly communication librarian.

"Many instructors are developing materials that aren't just for them," said Elder, who also serves as the statewide open education coordinator for Iowa OER. "The OER created here at Iowa State can have an external impact and I think that really embodies our land grant mission. It’s all about expanding access to education and helping people learn from our expertise."

Sponsored by the university library, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and office of the senior vice president and provost, the Miller Open Education Mini-Grant program provides funding and support for instructors developing free customizable and openly licensed course materials such as textbooks, lab manuals, guides and more. Elder said the use and development of OER at the university has grown significantly in recent years.

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"The minigrant program is another tool to help faculty overcome the hurdles of creating and adapting OER," she said. "When I came to Iowa State, we had a few faculty using open textbooks that were more plug-and-play. We now offer more programming and workshops and have additional support in place to help faculty engage with OER more intentionally." 

Elder said it's important that faculty know this program isn't like some grant programs where the money is awarded but direction and assistance can be sparse -- there's a robust support system in place that includes the ISU Digital Press, formatting guidance and a peer review process. The big takeaway, Elder emphasized, is that you don't have to figure it all out on your own.

"I offer consultations and we have a strong partnership with CELT so faculty have assistance figuring out what's available and how to use it," she said.

Eight grant recipients will share nearly $31,000 in awards, each receiving between $1,000 and $5,000, depending on the scope of their project. The 2023 minigrant recipients include:

Amber Anderson, assistant teaching professor, agronomy

Course: Agronomy 182

Anderson is developing an open textbook for the Introduction to Soil Science course that will be accessible to students in upper-level agronomy courses and shared with community college soils instructors to strengthen their connections to Iowa State.


Doreen Chung, associate professor, apparel, events and hospitality management

Course: Apparel, merchandising and design 467

After adapting an existing open textbook on consumer relations with supplemental content for students in the Consumer Studies in Apparel and Fashion Products course, Chung will share the OER with educators nationwide through an academic association in apparel and fashion.


Sarah Dees, assistant professor, philosophy and religious studies

Course: Religion 361X

Dees is integrating an open pedagogy approach to the new Religion, Health and Medicine course that will support the Integrated Health Sciences program currently under development.


Karri Haen Whitmer, teaching professor, genetics, development and cell biology

Courses: Biology 257X and 499

Whitmer will create an OER targeted at supporting student success in a new Bionics course. The OER will introduce bionics projects teaching human anatomy and physiology concepts alongside basic manufacturing techniques critical for simple bionics prototype development.


Sarah Huffman, assistant director, Graduate College Center for Communication Excellence 

Course: Graduate studies 536

Huffman received a Miller mini-grant in 2021 to create an open textbook for graduate students in the Preparing Publishable Thesis Chapters course and will use this year's mini-grant to update the textbook with interactive features, enhance its design and accessibility, and add information about the publication submission process.


Carly Manz, associate teaching professor, genetics, development and cell biology

Course: Biology 255L 

Manz is compiling an open lab manual for the Fundamentals of Human Anatomy lab with materials adapted from existing OER, additional activities and updated content.


Erin Todey, peer review groups coordinator and English writing consultant, Center for Communication Excellence in the Graduate College

Courses: University studies 302, 401 and 402

Todey will create an evidence-based guide for the McNair Program Introduction to Research and Senior Seminar courses to help students develop their Statements of Purpose (SoPs) for graduate school applications. The guide will explore the expectations and writing process for SoPs and provide SoP samples from students accepted into graduate programs.


Zoe Zawadzki, graduate student, applied linguistics and technology; Agata Guskaroska, graduate student, applied linguistics and technology; Kate Challis, graduate student, applied linguistics and technology; John Levis, professor, English 

Course: English 525

The team will collect and organize accessible and easy-to-use English pronunciation teaching materials for the Research and Teaching of Second Language Pronunciation course, providing support for English as a second language (ESL) students at Iowa State and ESL teacher training around the world.