Grant Will Help Promote Free Educational Resources

News Story: July 20, 2018
Steven Michels

Sacred Heart University has received a $2,500 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to establish a faculty fellowship in open educational resources (OER) for the 2018-19 academic year.

Open educational resources constitute free digital assets such as online research repositories, curriculum-sharing websites and freely accessible, online alternatives to textbooks.

Frank Robinson, assistant professor of physics and director of SHU’s Engineering 3+2 program, will fill the fellowship, devoting time to supporting the colleges, departments, programs and individual faculty in creation and integration of OER into courses. He also will work with librarians to identify existing quality OER alternatives to course materials and offer a series of workshops on the importance of the OER initiative as it relates to equity and affordability for students.

Steve Michels, assistant provost for teaching and learning, will serve as project leader for the grant.

Robinson, who specializes in modeling convection in stellar and planetary atmospheres, has been using College Algebra for Physics, an OpenStax textbook (free in digital format and low-cost in print), in multiple sections of his introductory courses, which are complemented by problem-based learning and lab exercises. In the fall, Robinson will teach a physics of Hollywood course that analyzes the physics in Hollywood movies. The course is already available free on the public Canvas platform.

Robinson also presented on the topic, “Transforming a Lecture into an OER,” at the New England Faculty Development Consortium conference in fall 2017 at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass.

The grant is the second one SHU has received from the Davis Educational Foundation, which Stanton and Elisabeth Davis established after Mr. Davis’ retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. In November 2017, SHU received additional funding for this purpose in support of a critical-thinking program at the University that included $14,000 for the creation of OER materials. In all, SHU has received five grants from the Foundation since 1998 totaling more than $432,000.

The Office of the Provost will contribute $1,500 in matching funds to support this fellowship and will continue to make funds available for faculty who review and adopt OER materials.

“I congratulate Steve Michels and Frank Robinson on this grant,” said Rupendra Paliwal, provost and vice president for academic affairs at SHU. “We will continue to pursue innovative ways to enhance student engagement and learning and to address overall cost of education.”

The fellowship is the latest development in the University’s attempt to address the high cost of textbooks. Zach Claybaugh, the OER and digital learning librarian, has been compiling a list of OER textbooks by discipline, which has been downloaded from the University’s Digital Commons site nearly 6,000 times from 75 countries. The initiative has saved students thousands of dollars, especially in the Math Department.

Sacred Heart is currently integrating faculty development activities at the University into the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI), which Michels oversees. The CEIT will open in the fall.