Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

From Nostalgia to Student Success: A Professorís Journey with Open Education Resources

by Elizabeth M. Benton - August 08, 2019

For many community college faculty members, the textbook remains a staple of the college classroom. However, free and open or low cost texts via open education resources (OER) offer the possibility of expanding access to college for would-be college students otherwise discouraged from ever giving college a try. This narrative account challenges administrators and faculty members to engage in a promising educational change process that enriches curriculum and pedagogy of community college teaching and opens doors for students seeking post-secondary education and career preparedness.

A few years ago, I attended an academic meeting at which a fellow faculty member shared his experience with open educational resources (OER), a term now familiar to me. What the faculty member described can be simplified this way: using open source materials, as opposed to costly textbooks or anthologies, faculty members can reduce cost to their students and maintain the rigor we have always experienced. I recall listening intently because I had seen so many students over the years who bemoaned textbooks and felt weighed down by heavy backpacks and empty bank accounts. This new movement at my community college, undergirded by an OER grant, promised to provide resources such as textbooks “openly available for use by educators and students” (Butcher, 2015, p. 5). The professor’s testimony, coupled with my own literature review, piqued my interest. It could be a risk to abandon the textbook, a staple of the college classroom, but I was willing to consider new teaching and learning if it could contribute to college access.

On the one hand, the discussions around OER seemed to come at just the right time. Several publications, such as Reclaiming the American Dream (American Association of Community Colleges, 2012) criticized community colleges for high cost and low completion. The development of OER could significantly reduce cost and improve college access, if not completion. On the other hand, the community college where I work had embarked upon the ever important but relentless activity of an academic restructure. In addition, state legislation had hit us hard, demanding much college-wide reform that affected the college’s general education requirements. In a short amount of time, we had to address much-needed change.


As a department chair then, I felt compelled to guide faculty toward the possibility of teaching that had a greater impact on students. I spoke with several members of the OER grant team and reached for reading that could direct my thinking and action. During my term as chair, I had become interested in several texts about educational change, higher education, and community college reform (Alfred, 2009; Bailey, Jaggars, & Jenkins, 2015; Fullan, 2007; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012; Wyner, 2014). So, I picked these texts up again and dug deeply into a few key chapters. If I was going to lead faculty through these murky waters, I needed some stability of my own. Educational change without a plan did not seem the best path, so with the guidance of the grant leadership team, my English department colleagues and I began a process to consider individual and collective use of OER in both literature and composition courses.

As I read and studied texts, I recognized my role as both department chair and faculty peer. I had to listen to multiple viewpoints, understand multiple perspectives, and navigate disagreement between varying stakeholders. I also had to experience the reform for myself to have a credible and informed voice. In one of the texts I reviewed, the authors identified “good teaching” (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012, p. 14). As a department chair seeking to encourage faculty to try new approaches, I zeroed in on “collective accomplishment and responsibility” (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012, p. 14). Experimenting with OER needed to be a collaborative process that included more than one or two early adopters of change. Similarly, Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) provided some insight into change management: “The four wrong drivers of policy are negative accountability, individualistic solutions, fascination with technology, and piecemeal or fragmented solutions” (p. 41). Instead, better alternatives include “professional capacity building, collective responsibility, teamwork, and collaboration and moral commitment and inspiration” (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012, p. 41). OER development was going to involve research and practice, reflection, trial and error, and a community of peers.


In the fall semester of 2016, the English and Reading department held a series of forums for English and Reading faculty members to explore theory and practice around OER for composition and literature courses. Two faculty members teamed up to facilitate the forums. One professor was completely comfortable with the OER movement, and the other was a self-proclaimed “skeptical participant.” This part of educational change felt good. Hearing faculty members and college leaders share insights, including steps and missteps, made me feel like part of a group of people inquiring together. Inquiry and discussion led to action. Supported by the OER grant, teams of faculty created instructor resources for OER use in literature and composition. Individual faculty members were then able to access the resources as they moved toward OER adoption in their own English classes.

With the forums in the rearview mirror and the department-wide process underway, I started curriculum planning for my sections of English composition. The more I contemplated teaching a 15-week course without a textbook as its anchor, the more deeply I felt mired in dread and doubt. My regular practice of changing up course themes and classroom activities kept the courses fresh, but an overhaul seemed daunting. My preferred curriculum is fairly simple; I utilize standard course outcomes and requirements for reading and writing, and I meet those objectives via essential questions (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). I also use the standard textbook, articles I pull from different sources, a class reading such as a memoir or novel, and the ever present documentation handbook. I love the pedagogy of my classes as well: mini-lecture, small and large group discussion, workshop writing and conferencing, and numerous interactive activities peppered throughout the course. I went into the OER course development process open to changing the course content but not wanting to lose the pedagogy I felt met student needs.

Through the OER grant, my colleagues and I were able to attend open lab sessions where we searched for free and open texts. After attending a second open lab session, I settled on an OER. My two key critiques of the OER I chose are reflected in some of the literature. First, the format of the free text is not always the best quality. Navigating between the home page and the readings is not altogether intuitive. The second critique stems from the business model of some OER. Nkuyubwatsi (2018) describes several business models that have sprung up around higher education’s use of OER. Two caught my attention: institutions can purchase sources for “commercial use” or faculty can use “free” sources that “consist of the inclusion of advertisement of commercial products” (Nkuyubwatsi, 2018, p. 1). The use of advertisements to fund the OER may be a necessity, but it affects the ease with which students read and study the course information. Eventually, I circled back to my colleague who facilitated the open lab session, and she recommended an OER supported by Lumen Learning, a resource that is well organized and user-friendly for students and me.


After a collaborative process of leading change and a positive experience in my own classroom, surprisingly, I hesitated to designate my courses as OER for the upcoming semester. My reluctance to use OER again puzzled me. I then recalled an article I had read many years ago that addressed my response. According to Goodson, Moore, and Hargreaves (2006), teacher nostalgia “is a testimony of teachers’ experience of change over time. It is an act of ongoing construction and reconstruction of the meaning of change for teachers’ professional lives” (p. 43). Goodson et al. (2006) explain that nostalgia “acts as a prompt and guide to action and commitment in the ongoing, everyday life of teaching and schooling” (p. 43). For these and other reasons, Goodson et al. (2006) assert, “Teacher nostalgia cannot be trivialized as a maudlin emotional indulgence of little social or political consequence” (p. 43). The meaning I had made of the classroom (for the past twenty years) had been challenged by a new way of teaching and learning. Even though the OER experience had been rewarding for my students and me, I still hesitated to continue. I grieved what had been discarded and would undoubtedly become forgotten.  However, by making a simple change to more accessible teaching and learning, my colleagues and I could increase student access to community college completion and career development.

When it comes to OER, other teachers and I may miss the stacks of books strewn around the classroom. We may miss observing students in small groups huddled around the same pictures, poems, or short readings. Heck, we may even miss the regular occurrence of students asking to run to the parking lot to grab their forgotten books from their car. In my now teaching life, however, I am resolved not to deny access to quality education because students cannot afford it. I refuse to make students pay hundreds of dollars for a book that contains information they and I can access without cost. I cannot look at my beleaguered students who come from all over the metroplex and ask yet more of them. Maybe I have nostalgia for familiar ways of doing things, but my students don’t give a rip for my nostalgia. They want teaching that prepares them for their next move.


Alfred, R. L. (2009). Community colleges on the horizon: Challenge, choice, or abundance. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). (2012). Reclaiming the American dream: Community colleges and the nation’s future. A report from the 21st century commission on the future of community colleges. Washington, DC: American Association of Community Colleges.

Bailey, T. R., Jaggars, S. S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America's community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Butcher, N. (2015). A basic guide to open educational resources (OER). Vancouver, BC: Commonwealth of Learning.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Goodson, I., Moore, S., & Hargreaves, A. (2006). Teacher nostalgia and the sustainability of reform: The generation and degeneration of teachers’ missions, memory, and meaning. Educational Administration Quarterly42(1), 42–61.

Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Nkuyubwatsi, B. (2018). Revisiting the reusability and openness of resources in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology open courseware. Journal of Interactive Media in Education2018(1).

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wyner, J. S. (2014). What excellent community colleges do: Preparing all students for success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 08, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23027, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 6:10:10 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue