Imagine taking a class where you had to pay little or no money for your textbook or materials. What if you could shape your own learning to what interests you, and you had the opportunity to share your hard work with professionals? All of that and more could be possible in an Open Education classroom.

Open Education has been spreading to classrooms across the Keene State College campus and provides a variety of opportunities for students that they may not get in a traditional class.

The Director of Academic Technology at KSC Jennifer Darrow has been raising awareness about Open Education at Keene State for the past three years. Open Education can take many forms, but at Keene State, the primary focus is on Open Pedagogy and Open Educational Resources (OER). “What really makes Open Education successful is the blending of Open Pedagogy and OER,” said Darrow.

She described Open Pedagogy as, “The practice of empowering students to cultivate their own learning.” One of the ways that Open Pedagogy is utilized by KSC students and faculty is a website called KSCopen.org. KSC Open is designed to allow students to post self-authored articles into the public realm. According to Darrow, student writing has improved on KSC Open. “They’re writing for a real audience, not just their professor.”

The second aspect of Open Education at Keene State is the use of OER, which not only helps further students’ education, but also helps save them money. OER are free and openly licensed, meaning they have a Creative Commons license on them. A Creative Commons license means the author of the work is allowing the consumers to share, use and adapt the materials.

Dr. Karen Cangialosi, a professor in the biology department, frequently uses OER and Open Pedagogy practices in her classes. Cangialosi said in her classes, “Students can have choices instead of a laundry list of assignments.” Her students utilize blog posts, such as KSC Open, and Twitter to share their learning, interests and research both with other biology students and professionals in their field.

Cangialosi’s interest in Open Education first began when she attended a conference about it in November of 2015. She brought many of the concepts she learned about back to KSC and began spreading it throughout the entire biology department where “it had great reception.” She encourages the spread of the Open Education outside the biology department, however, she added, “We’re not trying to force it down anybody’s throat, we just think it’s great… we encourage other faculty to look into it.”

Students taking Cangialosi’s classes are able to take part in creating the syllabus, designing assignments that appeal to them and completing self-assessments. Cangialosi also said that many other biology professors also use Open Access textbook options, such as OpenStax, which is a nonprofit based out of Rice University that provides free online textbooks and low-cost class materials for a variety of subjects such as math, science, social sciences and the humanities. “Many biology students don’t have textbooks,” said Cangialosi. “They get the option to buy the textbook or not.”

Darrow estimated that by using Open Access materials, the biology department has saved students over $80 thousand in textbook and material costs. A few professors outside of the biology department also use Open Pedagogy and OER, but according to Darrow, “The more we can advocate for OER, the more [students] can lobby for it.”

KSC junior Simone McEwan has taken two of Cangialosi’s Open Education-style classes: Tropical Marine Biology and Invertebrate Zoology. The courses often required students to create blog posts and use Twitter to share their ideas. When they create material to post, McEwan said, “We get to decide what we write about based on the topics we talk about.”

She said the Open Education style is effective. “You’re more engaged in your learning if you get to pick and choose.” She found that the level of engagement was paramount in the classes. “It’s really a matter of putting forth the effort… You get as much out of the class as you put in.” They also completed periodical self-assessments that, according to McEwan, “help you see where you need to improve.” She also added that being able to interact with the information through discussions, blogs and Twitter posts is “a lot nicer than having to sit there and do flashcards every day.”

Both Darrow and Cangialosi agreed there could be more Open Education opportunities for students if they asked for it. Darrow said, “It can’t come from one person; if students get involved for more OER, then KSC and its students will be in a better place.” When it comes to using Open Access textbooks and materials, Darrow said she feels “attention needs to be paid to the burden on students… students need to voice their opinions about textbook and materials cost.”

Cangialosi also said she wants students to get involved and push for the use of Open Pedagogy and OER. She predicted, “Students are going to lead this movement more than faculty.”

Students who are interested in learning more about the cost of higher education are directed by Darrow to the book titled, “Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream,” by Sara Goldrick-Rab. Goldrick-Rab will be at KSC on Feb. 15, to talk about student debt and access to education.

Abbygail Vasas can be contacted at avasas@kscequinox.com