OneClick Digital and the Medrano Project: OER as Content, OER as Pedagogy

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Key Takeaways

  • A need to reduce course material costs sparked a project fueled by two epiphanies: students need access to free content, even if it requires a login; and, when armed with information literacy research skills, students can find their own content.
  • When students cull and curate a living textbook, their role changes from passive recipients of knowledge to active content experts and drivers of the pedagogy, creating a "read-write" classroom culture.
  • The project succeeded in solving the textbook-cost dilemma and resulted in impressive gains in student satisfaction and engagement with learning.
  • Open educational resources can become a library service center much like instruction, reference, and collection development, supporting faculty and students with digital content, corresponding creative pedagogies, and copyright compliance.

Sheila Afnan-Manns is faculty librarian for Scottsdale Community College; Reyes Medrano is a residential faculty in the Business Division, Paradise Valley Community College; and Kandice Mickelsen is faculty librarian for Paradise Valley Community College.

At the library reference desk, one of the most frequent questions that cash-strapped students ask is whether we have a copy of a textbook that they can check out. Library reserves — where instructors place a copy of the textbook that students can use for hours at a time — provide some relief. However, not all instructors use reserves, and check-out periods can be limiting.

Today, open educational resources (OER) offer hope for substituting expensive content with that which is digital and free. But, in an age of 2.0 millennial learners, are there possibilities beyond cost reduction? This is a question we pondered in spring 2010, when the Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) Business Division urgently approached the two of us (faculty librarians Sheila Afnan-Manns and Kandice Mickelsen) seeking a "free" solution for a summer early-start program with no textbook budget. Although turnaround time prevented us from addressing that initial request, it inspired us to create an information-literacy-driven approach that took OER beyond common notions of content replacement to a student-driven pedagogy that has considerable potential for saving students money and increasing their engagement with learning.

When the Content Is the Pedagogy

We first experimented with OER in fall 2009, when we developed a three-credit course, IFS101: Research Skills in the Digital Age, that transfers to Arizona state universities and meets their critical literacy (L) general education requirement (IFS courses focus on information skills). We intentionally replaced costly course materials with digital content. As expert searchers, finding open content on the web was not a problem. Yet how, in good conscience, could two faculty librarians ignore the rich scholarship found only in the proprietary databases to which we subscribe, especially when access requires only a simple login to authenticate? The fact is, we didn't need to — we could blend.

Epiphany 1

Coining our approach OneClick Digital, we integrated digital content from library and open sources directly into Blackboard; this let us explore information policies — including ownership, privacy, censorship, and human rights — while teaching Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) information-literacy-based research skills. The lessons we provided encouraged students to use their critical thinking and digital research skills to find, evaluate, and ethically contribute additional sources to the course — in essence, creating digital scholars with skills transferable to other college courses, the workplace, and their personal lives. Our students flourished in a OneClick Digital–driven model that resulted in access to content that was both relevant and current. Given their heightened engagement, students actively contributed resources that demonstrated critical thinking and interpretation, including videos and online articles (see, for example, the Peer Lesson on Censorship article "You Can't Say That on Television: The FCC's Hard Line Stance on Broadcast Indecency").

A video on information sharing that students created for IFS101 (1:42 minutes).

A video on privacy and social media that students created and shared with IFS101 (1:24 minutes).

So, while we primarily set out to save students money by replacing costly course materials with a course-contextualized blend of library and open digital content, we experienced an even more profound byproduct — increased student engagement that was clearly reflected in their work and their perceptions of the course, as explained by one of the students:

"IFS 101 has conferred a certain skill set within myself that would have definitely been more beneficial to have had at the beginning of my college career, not my last semester at PVCC. My newly learned talents will follow me not only throughout the rest of my educational career, but life; it has taught me so much more than Internet skills. Beginning with week one, I was intrigued by the course's subject matter. The class has not been a collection of redundant busy work, [but] rather a throng of thought-provoking challenges that allowed me to actually learn — not something that can be said for all of my general degree requirements."

In fact, this participatory approach, in which students become partners in their own learning, speaks to the way in which digital technologies are shaping their behaviors and expectations. In a recent TED talk, Remix [] author Lawrence Lessig astutely observed that for all of human history culture was "read-write,"1 where people participated in the creation and re-creation of knowledge and information. The technologies dominating the 20th century were more of a one-way street as television, radio, and vinyl records privileged "efficient consumption" over individual production, resulting in a "read-only"2 passivity that was mirrored in many classrooms. Digital is now returning us to our read-write roots where students live and thrive in a "rip, mix, burn" world, repurposing old into new through their distinctive lenses. Modeling this behavior in the classroom ushers in a student-centered environment where the content becomes the pedagogy.

We aggressively marketed the course as "textbook free" and designed a survey to measure the impact of this variable on student motivation to enroll and the overall engagement level. The results were telling:

  • 90 percent of our students found the course's digital content "more engaging" than a traditional textbook.
  • 25 percent said that the "no required textbook" advertising was an incentive to enroll.
  • 50 percent said that textbook costs had been an academic barrier in the past.

Subsequent semesters revealed similar survey results. IFS101 offered the first window into our accidental invention, in which blending digital content from library and open sources further developed into participatory "read-write" pedagogy. We knew we had stumbled on something exciting and unique — but would this approach transition to other academic disciplines? And would other instructors be willing to experiment, and thereby render their textbooks and current pedagogies null and void?

The OER Pedagogy: Read-Write Learning in a 2.0 World

We found a willing partner in our coauthor Reyes Medrano, a veteran International Business instructor in the sunset of his career who had the enthusiasm and courage to try something new in his three-credit, face-to-face course, International Business Studies 101 (IBS101). We talked throughout fall 2010 about replacing the current $120 textbook with OneClick Digital sources. However, our excitement soon morphed into cautious hesitation as we found ourselves overwhelmed by the notion of creating a textbook replacement for the course. One afternoon while sitting together in the PVCC Library, doubting how we could pull this off, our first epiphany evolved into yet another.

Epiphany 2

What were we thinking? Why should we do all the work when our IFS101 students, armed with information literacy–driven research skills and critical thinking, were perfectly capable of curating their own content? In our current vernacular, this might seem like a no-brainer, but back in 2008 through 2010, OER was little understood and concepts like MOOCs, flipped classrooms, and "publishing as pedagogy" were hardly dominating the literature. We were innovating outside the box. Referring to student-curated course content as a "living textbook," Medrano was all in. Suddenly, the pedagogical side of our OER model had new information literacy–inspired legs, and we were all off and running.

Implementation: The Medrano Project

The concept of a read-write classroom where students cull and curate a living textbook emphatically changed our role from providing content to supporting students in their role as content experts — the fundamental definition of OER as pedagogy.

We created a Remix []-inspired framework of:

  • Rip: combine critical thinking and information-literate research skills to find the best open and proprietary resources.
  • Mix: synthesize those resources — whether text, video, audio, or image — into fresh and cohesive ideas.
  • Burn: instantiate those ideas into new forms of information in ways that are ethical and copyright compliant.

Within this framework, our pedagogy included ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills' Framework for 21st Century Learning to further heighten student engagement through critical thinking, digital scholarship, and communication and collaboration. We spent several weeks prior to the semester's start developing the specifics of our pedagogical framework, which included the integration of information literacy instruction; lesson plans in proprietary and open access content; Blackboard's 2.0 tools; and team-based learning, in which students would work cooperatively in groups to research relevant and timely information rooted in course lectures. Concretely, student teams would assemble their findings in a wiki replete with images, videos, and peer and instructor feedback. Each week, teams would present their findings to the class, with Professor Medrano addressing areas needing additional content or understanding. Our goals included (1) student mastery of IBS101 course objectives, and (2) student display of 21st century and information literacy skills, including digital research, peer teaching, public speaking, and team building.

OER as Pedagogy Cycle

We decided to unveil our approach to students on the first night of class in the hope of sweeping them up in our enthusiasm, and it worked.

Our students eagerly embraced participatory learning, and their digital skills of curating, creating, and presenting the information they researched and learned gave them a sense of content ownership.

A student describes student engagement in response to the presentation (18 seconds).

A student explains the class coming together (22 seconds).

As the following describes, we actively engaged students in our approach from day one and continued supporting their captivation or participation or enthusiasm throughout the course.

Launching the Pedagogy. Instead of pedantically lecturing about the new approach and testing for understanding, we disrupted any sense of first-day passivity by immediately requiring students to solve a problem. We provided OER as content puzzle pieces, and students found their own puzzle pieces through an underlined keyword. Groups with the same keyword proceeded to create a living textbook page, complete with a chapter heading. This activity also established the cooperative teams of students who would work together throughout the semester. See our TMP Student Activity for examples.

Supporting the Pedagogy. Having given students a physical grasp of the living textbook concept, we introduced Blackboard wikis and library and open resources via a Business Research Guide. Professor Medrano would deliver a limited lecture on a "chapter" topic, assigning subtopics to each group. Students listened for keywords to launch their research, using the research guide as a starting point; the Blackboard wiki was the final project.

Students interact in IBS101 (26 seconds).

Students used their keywords and synonyms to broaden or narrow their searches, with the Boolean logic tool [] as a reference. Students also embedded sources using URLs for open content and persistent links with EzProxy for library sources. They were required to blend both open and proprietary sources and encouraged to add images, graphs, charts, and videos. Faculty librarians (authors Afnan-Manns and Mickelsen) spent several weeks embedded in the course teaching and reinforcing information literacy skills, as well as providing technical support for the Blackboard wiki. In addition, the library provided 24/7 ASK virtual reference support and a 24/7 online tutorial.

Assessing the Pedagogy. On a weekly basis, student groups engaged in peer teaching using their Blackboard wikis as visual cues, with Professor Medrano serving as master responder to clarify or elaborate on key points and questions. Finally, he supplied a complete review before the formal assessment, which tied in nicely with the student wikis. Points were awarded for review/blogging of peer wiki pages. In addition, faculty librarians provided virtual wiki feedback throughout the semester ensuring that a pattern of consistent quality and flow emerged. Professor Medrano used periodic exams as the primary assessment tool, and he also evaluated the wiki pages and awarded students points for posting content.

The course grade was a combination of exam scores and points awarded for posting, peer reviewing, and presenting content; in-class participation was also a factor. When comparing the traditionally taught IBS101 course, which was dominated by the textbook and instructor lectures, the most noticeable difference was fewer student withdrawals and thus higher completion rates in the OER version course. A standard 4–5 percent attrition rate dropped to 1–3 percent for a class of 25 students each semester over a three-semester timeframe; during this same timeframe, the student-led lectures with instructor introduction and synopsis mirrored the traditional course with respect to a consistent grade distribution with one difference: only one failure was recorded for the OER version over three semesters. At the same time, grade distribution among students remained fairly consistent.


Using digital content as a student-centered pedagogy had a positive impact on Medrano.

Medrano shares his thoughts on the process designed for the Medrano Project (2:15 minutes).

There is no doubt the Medrano Project has tapped into what active, participatory learning is all about. Findings from IBS101 student surveys across different semesters affirm the efficacy of digital content as a "read-write" pedagogy:

  • 100 percent of students strongly agreed or agreed that instructors encouraged critical thinking and problem solving.
  • 95 percent found content for this course more engaging than a traditional textbook.
  • 76 percent strongly agreed or agreed that information literacy instruction provided by faculty librarians assisted in their creation of the "living textbook."
  • 95 percent expressed feeling more competent in interpersonal communication skills and group interaction.
  • 91 percent believed peer instruction enhanced their learning.
  • 90 percent believed the living textbook created by the students facilitated better learning.
  • 100 percent believed the "no cost" textbook feature was an added benefit.
  • 62 percent had previously found textbook costs to be an academic barrier.
  • 100 percent strongly agreed that instructors promoted learning that is interactive, hands on, and pertinent to class content.
  • 91 percent expressed feeling more competent in critical thinking, research, and presentation skills.

A short video of Lawrence Lessig expressing the heart of "read-write" for students (12 seconds).

Taught now for several semesters, the Medrano Project has been recognized both within the Maricopa Community College District [] and nationally for sparking unprecedented student engagement while saving students more than $100 each on textbooks. Similar to the IFS101 student surveys, IBS101 students surveyed in the fall of 2010 and 2011 reported higher levels of engagement and noted the importance of saving money on textbooks. Following are excerpts of student comments from the two IBS101 surveys:

  • "… the innovation of the course and this type of thinking is the reason I go to PVCC."
  • "Saved money not having to buy a textbook – epic!"
  • "This course is amazing! Love the interactive learning, working with classmates…"
  • "Since this course is about current business affairs, it makes more sense to do it this way. If we had a textbook it would be outdated by the time we started. I've enjoyed this class."
  • "I would like to give credit to two of our librarians … I just wanted to let you know how much of a difference they made in showing us how to do the research and putting together our wiki pages."
  • "The textbook-free class has allowed me to improve my presentation skills and has made me more involved in the class because I am researching the information for the class."

Next Steps

Student success in the Medrano Project was specifically predicated on the interaction of librarian expertise and the OER movement. In order for students to find, evaluate, curate, and use credible and scholarly content, they must develop information literacy skills. Librarians broaden the OER discourse, first by including proprietary content easily accessed by faculty and students through a simple login, and second by offering professional knowledge about open access scholarly content — from open data and open courses to open journals, e-books, institutional repositories, and much more. Campus discussions about OER will thus benefit from including faculty librarians.

Likewise, academic libraries must recognize that OER's current popularity can be leveraged into greater use of proprietary databases, in which the majority of scholarship still resides and for which institutions are already paying. From assisting faculty in curating content to replace, supplement, or enhance expensive course materials to teaching information literacy skills to students who can then curate their own content, librarians add material value to OER efforts on any campus. In fact, OER can become a library service center much like instruction, reference, and collection development; such a service center would support faculty and students with digital content, corresponding creative pedagogies, and copyright compliance.

As a next step, we are currently leading the implementation of a reading list tool at our respective colleges that will allow for seamless interoperability between our web-scale product, Ebsco Discovery Service (EDS), and our district's content management system, Canvas by Instructure. Developed by EbscoHOST, the reading tool will let faculty and students search for content within EDS — including proprietary databases and harvested, open scholarly content — without leaving Canvas, thereby eliminating the need to address permalinks or EzProxy. Once relevant content is found, it can be added directly to the Canvas course with a simple click of a button as well as annotated to contextualize readings and assignments. The reading tool will also promote copyright compliance by relying on linking. Further, the tool saves course reading lists so that other faculty can download them into their own courses and modify as needed. Once it is installed, we will market and provide training in this new functionality with the anticipation that library and open content will be used at even greater rates.

When we presented the Medrano Project on an OER panel at the April 2013 Association of American Community College's Annual Convention in San Francisco, we had the great privilege to hear keynote speaker and open education pioneer Sal Khan challenge the audience by asking, "What do you do when you remove the lecture as the core activity in a classroom?" We felt like jumping on stage to share our answer! In an era where student success and completion mandates are becoming ever more critical, the Medrano Project demonstrated that content and learning can be elevated while at the same time lowering the cost of course materials. Referring to the digital creativity our students live in every day, Lessig noted, "This is the life our kids push for. They demand it…. We can't make them passive again."3 With lower costs and greater engagement so easily obtainable, why would we ever want to?

  1. Lawrence Lessig, "Laws That Choke Creativity," TED 2007.
  2. Lawrence Lessig, Keynote address, WIPO Global Meeting on Emerging Copyright Licensing Modalities, November 4, 2010 (audio file).
  3. Natali Del Conte, "Lessig Addresses 'Crazy' Linux Users at LinuxWorld,' PCMag, August 16, 2006.

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