Faculty make the most of Affordable Learning Grants

Closeup of Christine Curtis
Christine Curtis

When hours got long and logistics were tricky, Christine Curtis focused on what developing a free, user-friendly online textbook would mean for her students.

“They’re excited to not pay for the software, or a textbook,” Curtis said. “But we’re also able to be more interactive and the students really like that. It’s compatible with Blackboard, which they’re already familiar with, and the content is really good.”

Curtis, a senior instructor in the Murrow College of Communication, put in significant time last summer exploring different open educational resources. Once she selected a source, she uploaded it to Perusall and, with help from Academic Outreach and Innovation staff, developed material to supplement the source textbook.

Funded by an Affordable Learning Grant, Curtis’ investment is paying off for students in her Global Campus “Public Speaking in the Digital Age” course. They had been paying $100 or more for access to Top Hat, a platform that wasn’t compatible with Blackboard. Now the students have engaging material and an excellent platform to share questions and insights.

Curtis is now preparing to adapt online educational resources (OER) for her “Communication in Global Contexts” course. She’s tackling the ambitious project in the middle of the semester during her precious spare time, but she’s committed.

“I think to go this route you definitely have to be student-centered to be successful,” Curtis said. “I do it because I recognize the financial hardships of my students. I really like working with them and if I can make that process a little bit easier, then I’ve been successful.”

Closeup of Theresa Jordan
Theresa Jordan

Theresa Jordan is challenging students in her Social Studies Methods courses to not only read and comprehend their open-source textbooks, but also to consider how they might shape them to fit their own curricula in the future. The majority of her students are aiming at teaching careers.

Jordan, clinical associate professor in the Department of History, adopted an open textbook for three courses this fall after receiving an Affordable Learning Grant last spring. While the material isn’t flawless, it’s providing opportunities for important discussions for many future teachers.

“It’s a philosophical change, but I’ve told them the text is open for edits and correction,” Jordan said. “I think it can be a tremendous asset for them going forward and it’s been a great pedagogical practice to look at the book through that lens.”