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SU receives BOR INNOVATION Grant to develop OER-Based online program

Southern University Baton Rouge (SUBR) has been awarded a Louisiana Board of Regents (BOR) eLearning Innovation Grant for a project entitled, “Enabling Educational Quality and College Affordability through a System-Wide Implementation of Zero-Textbook-Cost Courses and Degrees.”

Moustapha Diack, SU chair of the doctoral program in SMED, College of Science and Engineering (CSE) and the Office of Online Learning at Southern University Shreveport (SUSLA), co-principal investigator, Veronica McEachin, received more than $18,000 to develop the first associate degree program using exclusively Open Education Resources (OER). The OER-based degree, commonly dubbed Zero-cost-textbook degree (Z-Degree) will serve as a model for Louisiana. Southern was one of four state institutions to receive the grant.  

The project, beginning July 1, 2017 and will go through June 30, 2018, was granted to the Southern University System with specifics to SUBR and SUSLA to enhance the eLearning infrastructure through the implementation of a curricula redesign utilizing free OER to deliver a high-quality learning experience without requiring the purchase of textbooks or other course materials. The SUBR campus, with leadership from the CSE’s doctoral program in science/math education will oversee the research and implementation of the project in collaboration with Southern University Shreveport.

In April 2016 the SU System partnered with California State University’s MERLOT to create the Southern University Open Online Library for Education (SUOL4Ed). Today faculty can use the online open textbook resources to incorporate OER in their curriculum. However, in the near future the hope is to offer Z-degrees with free course materials and books. This could save Southern students more than $1,600 a year on educational cost and will enable the institution to create online programs with ownership of rights.

“Southern was the first higher education institution in Louisiana and among HBCUs to deploy these environments and we will strive to maintain a leadership role in this field by fostering institutional transformations and the needed curricular reforms,” said Diack.

During the spring semester, Southern University and the Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) global organization hosted the first HBCU Summit/Innovate Conference in New Orleans. The summit brought 18 HBCUs to one location to share best practices about OER and how to utilize it on their campus. The SU System received a MERLOT Stewardship Award at the INNOVATE 2017 International Conference co-sponsored by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC). The SU System was recognized for its leadership role in launching the partnership with the California State University MERLOT, an Affordable Learning Solution (AL$) portal, and SUOL4Ed. Planning for the 2018 summit has begun and will be held in Tennessee and co-hosted by four local HBCUs said Diack.

“The Louisiana Board of Regents eLearning Innovation Grant is a seed grant that is very significant since we will leverage the project results to submit bigger grants through the National Science Foundation or other funding agencies to fully implement the Z-Degree model within the SU System,” said Diack.  

“The goal of the Southern University project is to implement a model of open education resources-base courses and OER-based program, commonly known as zero-textbook program, which will save the students money and help with recruitment,” said Diack.  “The project will begin with our online undergraduate criminal justices program, where all courses use OER. In such program the student wouldn’t have to buy any book or course materials to complete the program. Learning materials currently cost about the same amount as a two-year tuition program, ranging from roughly $1,200 to $1,600 a year. It ends up allowing the student to save, and the cost of graduating from the program will be less.”

With Southern being the first HBCU to develop OER; accessibility, college of affordability, and student success, the OER and Z-degree becomes a recruitment tool for the system,” said Diack. “Research has shown that students aren’t buying textbooks because of the cost, therefore preventing the student from being successful in the classroom.” 

Diack says that efforts are underway to develop the OER-based degrees in biology and math, which involves the SUBR College of Sciences and Engineering and SUSLA. There are 27 faculty members who are currently a part of the program and who have been certified for quality model courses by Diack.

The ultimate goal is uniting all the HBCUs with SUBR taking a leadership role on open education resources and offering them at their universities.