The following is a guest blog post by Daniela Dutra Elliott and Paula Mejia Velasquez, winners of the 2020 Leeward OER Creation Award (LOERCA).
Daniela Dutra Elliott
My experience developing OER has changed the way I teach and interact with learning materials. I teach classes in botany and agriculture and finding materials that are relevant for Hawai‘i can be a challenge. Teaching these subjects through local examples and incorporating content relevant to Hawai‘i makes learning more relevant to my students.
I started out by just wanting one of my classes to be textbook cost zero (TXT0), which meant the library purchased an electronic copy of the book I was using that students could access for free. This was the only book available for native Hawaiian plants and ecosystems. The main issue was the language used was not very accessible and most of my students were not using the materials. After attending an OER workshop sponsored by our library I got inspired to give OER a try.
In the Spring of 2020 I was a recipient of the Leeward OER Award for a team project with Paula Mejia Velasquez, to create the OER textbook “Botany in Hawaii”. At that moment I thought I could remix some existing OER materials that were available online. Unfortunately, most of the botany materials were not specific to Hawai‘i and it quickly became clear that it would be better to write all 10 chapters from scratch. The intention of the project was to localize the botany materials and make them more relevant and enticing to students.
There are many things that I can talk about regarding this experience producing this OER book. For this blog post I want to focus on the part of the experience that I most enjoyed. One thing I was not expecting is that it would be hard to find illustrations and photos with an open license we could use in the project. Creating illustrations is something I was familiar with, but I I didn’t know how much work it was going to take for a project like this. Learning new software and techniques to make things look good were super challenging, but that’s something I really enjoyed and would like to continue improving on. I think that having illustrations that are locally based make a huge difference for the kind of teaching I do. I think our students can relate to the materials better and become more interested in the subject.
Here is an example of an illustration I put together using a plant that is found in Hawai‘i. After collecting a fresh hau flower, I took it to the lab where I photographed a step by step dissection. Then I used software to do the post editing and add labels. So now my students can learn the terminology related to flowers with a local example.
Here is another example of an illustration that I put together for the stems chapter using a variety of kalo that was grown in the gardens at Leeward. In the text, we include a link to an illustration using Hawaiian language and knowledge.
I feel really thankful to all the nature photographers that gave me permission to use their images. And to those who release their illustrations through Wikicommons which can be used and adapted by anyone. To highlight the need of sharing resources through an open license, take a look at the example below of an illustration that was put together using my photos as well as photos by other photographers. If you want to make a difference in the OER world, consider sharing your photos with an open license on sites like Flickr or Wikicommons. Photos of everything (not only plants) can be used by those working on OER projects in different disciplines.
A lot of people donated their time to peer review this book. From Leeward CC: Alyssa MacDonald, Annemarie Paikai, Kalei Laimana, Bruce Koebele and Chai Blair-Stahn reviewed the chapters and provided a lot of feedback that we used to improve things. Our library and EMC staff supported me in this long road towards having good OER materials for my classes.
Working with OER is powerful because you can create free materials that can be constantly adapted and improved. My students have also reacted positively which validates my reasons for embarking on this journey in creating local OER materials relevant to Hawai‘i that captures and shares its beauty and uniqueness through the botany lens.
Paula Mejia Velasquez
Creating our Botany OER textbook, “Botany in Hawaii,” has been quite an adventure, one that we hope will provide students with more relatable class materials and access to a more affordable education. In my case, I have converted all my classes to be textbook free for several years now by adopting OER textbooks. I got the inspiration for this from several of the OER workshops offered at Leeward CC. For several years I remixed and modified available OER materials from different sources to tailor them to the specific needs of each one of my classes. Given that there are not many OER Botany textbooks available, at one point I came to the realization that I was creating and modifying a considerable portion of the content instead of just mixing materials. In addition, most Botany textbooks (conventional and OER) often use examples from the mainland, showcasing plants that students have never seen or even heard of, which make them not very relevant to my classes, or even the islands. This is when I teamed up with Daniela to create a Botany textbook that would be focused on Hawaiian plants, presenting examples of local plants and ecosystems, and aiming to better connect our local students to Botany.
Last year, Daniela and I received the Leeward OER Creation Award, and we decided that instead of just remixing and modifying existing OER materials, we would take on the endeavor of developing an original Hawai’i-centric Botany textbook. The journey of creating an OER textbook from scratch has not only been an interesting academic exercise but also an undoubtedly time-taxing venture. As with most side projects, we ended up working crazy hours and trying to carve time from our busy schedules. We are deeply grateful to our colleagues that helped us by reviewing the book: Alyssa MacDonald, Annemarie Paikai, Bruce Koebele, Chai Blair-Stahn and Kalei Laimana, Miles Thomas, as well as to the staff at the Leeward CC library and EMC, and LibreTexts that have supported us in the process.
I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to better communicate the sometimes perceived as “dry” scientific topics in an engaging and approachable language suitable for our students and classes. I have a newly found respect for the science communicators that can make the most advanced scientific findings not only easy to understand, but also seem so cool and appreciated by the general public.
To anybody interested in OER, I would say that one of the biggest virtues of creating, mixing or using OER materials is that they are not immutable products, on the contrary, they can continuously be adapted, improved and tailored to meet the specific need in your classes. There are many possibilities, as you can adopt an OER textbook, or select only chapters or sections of interest, or mix chapters/sections from different textbooks, or even create your own OER materials. It does not matter which route you go, the main idea is to be able to offer free high quality, relevant, relatable and novel materials to our students so that they can achieve their educational goals regardless of their socioeconomic background.