Amid financial woes, the timeline Pearson and Howard originally envisioned proved too ambitious, and the experiment was scrapped a few days after the university began laying off 200 employees — including members of the Digital Learning Lab.

Long said HBCUs have struggled going online due to a variety of factors, including shortage of funds, competing priorities, and a lack of knowledge.

“In my professional experience, there seems to be an issue of having the expertise,” she said. “And I think we often operate in an silo where we are we trying to invent these materials, resources, and courses so it gets backlogged and stymied. Then before long the administration becomes frustrated, there’s turnover in personnel, and the changes just never happen.”

But Wiley realized, Long said, that by using open educational resources, the faculty would not have to create new learning materials. It would just be a matter of locating existing resources and customizing them to fit the needs of the student body.

That’s where Lumen Learning came in. Lumen had already worked with several institutions, including the Open High School of Utah and Tidewater Community College, to implement fully open courses and programs.

“As we are able to engage with the center, we’re really able to target and focus the open resources for the specific needs of this group of students,” Thanos said. “The resources gives us the freedom and flexibility to focus on specific teaching styles and learning outcomes.”

Long said the most difficult part of the initiative was changing faculty perceptions, as instructors had grown so “comfortable” with commercial products.

But once the faculty was able to work with the materials, and weigh the pros and cons of both options, many came to prefer the new resources.

“OER allows faculty members to custom tailor the courses to their teaching preferences and that has been the most relevant aspect of why this initiative is working for us and is exciting other HBCUs,” Long said. “It’s lowering student costs but also giving more access. And the central core mission at HBCUs is access for students that otherwise would not have a college education.”

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.


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