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Faculty Spotlight

OER Faculty Feature: Dr. Christopher McClain

Dr. McClain

Dr. McClain is an assistant professor in the Mathematics Department at WVU Institute of Technology and a 2019-2020 OER grant winner. This feature details McClain’s experience with the WVU Libraries and Teaching and Learning Commons Open Educational Grant and its impact on students.

Q: What inspired you to apply for the OER grant?
A: My own field of mathematics has been at the forefront of open access for some time, including resources for both research and education. I had already begun using and developing some open resources in my teaching, but the OER grant offered an opportunity for additional drive, support, review, and validation.

Q: Which grant category did you choose and why?
A: I chose the "Innovate" category. I knew that my goals would require me to create new resources and reorganize existing resources. I am ultimately interested in writing completely new textbooks that are seamlessly integrated with interactive resources, but the projects that I have in mind would likely take a few years to complete which does not satisfy the time constraints of the "Create" category.

Q: What did your grant project entail?
A: I adopted free online textbooks for Calculus 1 and 2 and organized the course through the free platform MyOpenMath.com. In addition to offering an online homework system that is far superior to those offered by publishing companies, MyOpenMath facilitates the integration of textbook chapters, online videos, homework with immediate feedback, and links to any other resources I deem helpful. In class, I occasionally use Plickers.com for brief assessment, and I use the Desmos.com interactive graphs both in class and through MyOpenMath to illustrate challenging concepts for students. All of the resources have been 100 percent free to students.

Q: Were there any notable student responses to using an OER in class?
A: Students have overwhelmingly preferred the MyOpenMath homework system over the expensive homework systems they have used in the past. In addition to being free, the user interface is much more easily navigable. I also received positive comments regarding the in-class Plickers exercises which suggested that the students viewed the experience as a bit of a game.

Q: Can you tell us about the impact of incorporating OER into your teaching?
A: For myself, I consider the experience liberating. I feel that my approach to using OER slightly decentralizes the learning process. While the students still look to my classroom and MyOpenMath to organize their experience, both environments serve to encourage students to explore rather than rely on a single reference for everything. I also find that the use of OER meshes well with my approach to teaching which is much more dialogue-driven than it is a relaying of already printed information. For the students, I think there is a bit of a learning curve in the beginning because many of them are preconditioned to expect a streamlined authoritative process. My hope is that the experience broadens their perspective, and they realize that even the most traditional of classrooms has always been intended to be but a gateway to many other resources and opportunities for learning.

Q: Your department adopted online materials for college algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus and are considering options for calculus. Can you tell us more about that?
A: My department is sensitive to the financial burdens of our students and the rapid increase in educational costs over the years. My colleagues have been open and enthusiastic about exploring additional options for students. Their first priority, of course, is to maintain high standards in their classes, and it has been understood from the beginning that we would not sacrifice quality, rigor, or integrity in pursuit of alternatives. We have also committed to choosing texts that have a print version for those students who prefer them. As we diligently weighed the pros and cons of various online textbooks, we were able to come to a consensus on our selections and how to best use them moving forward. Dr. Deborah Chun, Chair of the Mathematics Department, and Dr. Paul Steranka, Interim Dean of WVU Tech’s Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences, have been especially supportive of my own endeavors, as well as those of my colleague and fellow grant recipient Dr. Caleb Holloway. My department has a healthy attitude toward sharing and collaboration, and we are in the process of developing a bank of resources that will benefit everyone while still preserving instructor autonomy and the freedom to innovate.

Q: Do you have any advice for others who may be considering adopting, adapting, or creating OER?
A: It takes a lot of work and preparation to leave the confines of a hardbound cover, but it is worth it. Anyone pursing this direction, however, should certainly first explore the efforts of others. The best part about OER is the increased opportunity to build on the successes of others rather than always build something completely new from scratch.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A: I am grateful for this grant, the opportunities it affords, and the personnel at the WVU libraries and TLC in Morgantown. I am also grateful for the support of my department here at WVU Tech in Beckley.

Learn more about the WVU Libraries and Teaching and Learning Commons Open Educational Resources Grant.

The grant is open to all instructors from the Morgantown, Tech, and Potomac State campuses with the support of the department chair and Dean’s Office. The goal of the OER Grant Initiative is to encourage instructor experimentation and innovation in finding new/and potentially better and less costly ways to deliver learning materials to their students through OER. The deadline for the 2020-2021 Grant Program applications and proposals is March 31. Contact Martha Yancey, Martha.Yancey@mail.wvu.edu, with questions.