1 Introduction

At Florida State University, like many other universities around the world, classes swiftly shifted from classrooms to the Internet during Spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instructors used emergency remote teaching (ERT) methods (Hodges et al., 2020) to complete the term. Campus classes moved online, but even classes that were already online were not immune to the effects of the pandemic. Students and instructors alike experienced changes in their lives at this time (e.g., work and family responsibilities), and these changes added stress and new challenges for completing coursework. In this case study, we explore how an asynchronous online course was adapted during the pandemic in a way that capitalized on the course topic and allowed graduate students in instructional design to apply newly learned knowledge and skills in the service of helping other educators and instructional designers adapt to new teaching conditions. Specifically, this feat was accomplished through the creation and sharing of open educational resources (OER) about OER integration in learning and related consulting and assistance for educators seeking to use OER.

Open Educational Resources are learning materials with a copyright license that allows anyone to use them freely according to the 5Rs defined by Wiley (n.d.): retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute. Collectively, these 5R activities benefit educators and students alike through the free exchange of resources with the rights to customize them to suit a specific learning need. However, educators experience barriers to OER creation, sharing, and use largely due to lack of knowledge about how to manage copyright and work within institutional policies about curriculum approval and textbook adoption (Ozdemir & Bonk, 2017; Serena & Nathaniel, 2018).

Educators are not the only OER contributors. When students create and share OER, their work is considered a renewable assessment. The renewable assessment, a student-generated artefact that is publicly shared and openly licensed (Wiley & Hilton, 2018), stands in contrast to disposable assessments that are used by teachers for grading and have no further use. Whereas disposable assessments represent substantial student labor that is reviewed relatively briefly by a teacher, when renewable assessments are used an additional audience and lifespan is created (Seraphin et al., 2018). Renewable assessments are not practical for all situations, but when appropriate time is available for students to do the work, students are capable of producing quality resources, and there is a need for the resource students are creating, renewable assessments can be rewarding for students to create and valuable to others.

2 Method

This study uses a case study approach to examine the experiences of instructors and students in an online class at a university in the United States during Spring 2020. Case study is appropriate pragmatic inquiry focused on local instances of a phenomenon (Thomas & Myers, 2015). This graduate-level class focused on open learning and OER and was in its inaugural offering. The class was designed based on an earlier special topics course on Open Learning and MOOCs, with students learning basic concepts during the early weeks, engaging in a collective applied instructional design project during the middle weeks, and then deploying and evaluating their work with an authentic learner audience during the final weeks (see Dennen & Bong, 2015 for a description of the precursor course). The three research questions that guided this case study are: (1) How was an online course redesigned to accommodate learner needs in response to COVID-19? (2) How did learners respond to the course redesign and use of renewable assessments? (3) What products and outcomes were generated by the students?

This study focuses on an online, graduate-level course in an instructional design program at Florida State University. Told from the perspective of the course instructor and teaching assistant, it reports on the course redesign process and outcomes. There were 26 students enrolled in the course which is required for a graduate certificate in Online Teaching and Learning and an elective for the Master’s and Ph.D. Programs. Data sources include course materials, course redesign artifacts, a survey of students conducted at the onset of ERT, the instructor and teaching assistant’s teaching notes and correspondence during the redesign process, the instructor’s teaching journal, course evaluations, and artifacts documenting learning outcomes. These items were used to reconstruct the design process and describe the learning products and outcomes.

3 Results

3.1 Course Redesign and Learner Needs

The OER Course included a multi-phased project that all students collaborated on. This project required students to create a set of open educational resources for educators and instructional designers on the topic of OER. Through this project, students would be simultaneously applying the course knowledge and skills while building learning materials about the course topic. The end result was collectively decided to be a web site that shared all of the OER. Within the course, the project was broken into phases with activities and deliverables (see Fig. 11.1). Students were nearing the end of the development phase when it became clear that the pandemic would affect the university.

Fig. 11.1
figure 1

Original and revised course project

When the university announced that the campus was closing, the instructor created a check-in survey for use with her campus classes (see Dennen et al., 2022 for an example of how the survey was used with a campus class). She then realized that her online students might be affected by the pandemic in ways that could affect course performance even if the course modality was not changing, and surveyed the OER class as well. She was also aware that this moment provided an opportunity for helping others, because instructional design skills and online learning expertise was suddenly in great demand. With that in mind, the survey also polled students to see if they would be interested in alternate paths for assessment in the course, focusing on application in authentic contexts.

Nineteen students completed the survey. Although they all reported stable living situations, 13 students reported that they were experiencing higher stress levels than usual, one to the extent that they felt unable to learn at that moment. Four more students were unsure about their ability to keep learning. Lack of childcare, changed work duties, and stress were common factors mentioned by students. Several students worked as educators or instructional designers, and they reported having to quickly shift their own courses or assist others in that process. Twelve of the 19 who completed the survey specifically detailed work duties that had both increased and changed.

Three options were given for completing the remaining 4 weeks of the course and providing artifacts for assessment. Students were asked to indicate preferred options and could choose more than one. These options were:

  1. 1.

    continue with the existing course syllabus/assignments (9 students)

  2. 2.

    apply relevant knowledge and skills in the workplace (10 students)

  3. 3.

    help others apply OER-related knowledge and skills (9 students)

Regardless of the chosen path, students were expected to document their work in a portfolio with annotations discussing how they met the learning objectives. This portfolio had already been planned as an assessment because students were given choices about how to be involved in the latter phases of the course project and yet everyone was required to provide evidence that they had mastered the course objectives.

The course project was slightly revised as shown in Fig. 11.1. Some students shifted their focus to their workplace before their portion of the class project was fully developed, and others stepped in to help finish them through the quality assurance checks and revisions. We had originally planned a soft launch of our OER materials at a local conference for educators and instructional designers, to include presentations about OER and how they could be created and shared with others or adopted and adapted for local use. That conference was canceled. In its place, we found the opportunity to share our work with an undergraduate class that was transitioning to ERT and coincidentally addressing relevant topics. Essentially, the specific details of the plan changed for the last four weeks of the course, but the activities remained the same. Students who opted to focus on needs at their workplace or volunteer in other settings were required to engage in similar activities (development, implementation, and evaluation).

3.2 Learner Response to Redesign

Students could have ignored the new options provided to them and completed the original course assignments, but instead they were receptive to the choices offered to them. As anticipated, the students who had authentic opportunities to implement OER at work seized those opportunities. The students who did not have to deviate from the original course plan generally opted to find ways to help others in addition to working on the course project, suggesting that both options were attractive to them. This service orientation was encouraged by the instructional team, who were doing the same.

Student feedback was favourable, with one student stating, “I appreciate the fact that we were able to tweak it so much and make it extremely flexible given the wild circumstances the world is in right now.” Another student who was shifting courses to an ERT format commented:

[The redesign] made it possible for me to be a much-needed resource for my peers. In addition, as I created my own content to share it with my students online, I was able to do it with better awareness of how to share with a wider community. Learning the meaning and potential of “open” made that possible.

No one complained about the redesign, and instead commented on how the flexible course outcomes helped them apply skills and meet goals:

I really appreciated the modifications to the course to reflect what is going on in the world, when she very easily could have kept everything as is. It allowed me to continue to improve my understanding of the content, while still allowing me to focus much needed energy into other areas. The changes were also great because it allowed me to practically implement some of what I have learned throughout the class.

Other students commented on how the original course design was what they appreciated, starting with traditional content-focused learning and then following up with practical application:

The way the course begins with more typical coursework (i.e. readings plus discussion) prior to diving into the major renewable assessments is a great way to transition into a project-based class. It gave us a great background in the material before we had to dive into the major work.

I enjoyed the actual practicality of the course in that we collectively designed OER to share with the world. It gave me hands on experience of the entire process.

These comments from course evaluation reaffirm the positive sentiments noted by the instructional team as the course ended.

3.3 Learning Products and Outcomes

As mentioned above, student learning products and outcomes were documented in the final portfolios submitted for assessment. Many students also shared about their work outside of the class project through posts to the class discussion board. Instructor field notes from the end of the class sum up the success of the course at meeting learning objectives and serving others:

I can’t believe how well this has turned out. The class project isn’t as polished as I had hoped, but that’s okay. Maybe next year’s class can continue work on it (a legacy project, that’s a nice way to model ongoing improvements and OER). Any worries that students would use the flexibility to evade course requirements were unfounded. On the whole, they’ve exceeded my expectations, especially when it comes to volunteering to help instructors in need. I can feel the tired, but also the pride. It’s much like when the MOOC class ended, but no pandemic. I think next year I could offer options from the start (class project or other) and/or have everyone do a little of both. This idea of more broadly serving our local communities and the field at large is appealing.

3.3.1 The OER Course Project

The OER Course project reflects the work of all course members. Each student contributed to the initial conceptualization of the project during the planning phase and worked in a small group to design OER about OER. The project mission was to “to help instructors and instructional designers LEARN and TEACH OTHERS about how to locate, design, develop, implement, and share OER.” Topics covered by the project ranged from conceptual overviews of OER and intellectual property issues to guidance for integrating, sharing, and teaching others about OER. To cover this content, students were given the option of creating new learning materials, but were encouraged to reuse, revise and remix existing OER to the extent possible. Both approaches were used.

Students designed templates to ensure consistency across all materials created by the various teams. The course members developed a collective identity as a design group, the OER on OER group, and opted to apply the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) Creative Commons License to all materials. Additionally, students were mindful to provide their OER in multiple forms to maximize usability. Generally, this meant sharing two or more file formats for each item, a compiled one such as a PDF or video, and editable source files, such as word-processed documents, video scripts, and individual images. By sharing these varied file formats they sought to enable future users of the materials to not only retain and reuse, but also remix, revise, and redistribute these materials.

To implement the project, we offered a soft launch of the “OER on OER” website and materials to an undergraduate class (see Sect. 3.3.2) and shared via workplaces, personal networks, and social media networks. Some of the places students documented sharing the website included Facebook groups for educators, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and Line. One student created a social media banner for posting online, and the students also created a LinkedIn group to serve as a legacy for future OER classes.

Although the initial plan had the class systematically tracking how the OER were being accessed by others (e.g., via social media and website analytics), we shifted away from that in light of the changed course plan. Instead, more effort was placed on meeting needs related to OER wherever they arose. Still, all students were responsible for tracking the individual impact or path of whatever they personally had shared in order to fulfill the course learning objective, and overall website user data was shared with the whole class during the final week. Finally, the instructor and TA presented a webinar on OER and open learning, highlighting how the OER on OER website is an example of open pedagogy and renewable assessment (i.e., an item with utility beyond assessment in a single class).

3.3.2 Assisting an Undergraduate Course

An undergraduate educational technology course was covering two related topics, OER and online intellectual property, during the shift to ERT. The OER on OER team offered to assist, using the opportunity to serve others and receive formative feedback. Two OER class students developed and presented lessons about OER and intellectual property via Zoom, and another created two videos tailored for the class.

Within the undergraduate class, some of the opportunities to complete extension-oriented assignments evaporated, and thus the undergraduate students were offered the option to freely explore and evaluate the OER on OER website to fulfill that course requirement. Seventeen of the approximately 70 undergraduates enrolled in the course chose this option. Their feedback showed that they were engaged in the learning materials and felt motivated to use OER in their future classrooms.

Although intended as a temporary solution, the OER on OER resources providing an overview of OER and intellectual property have become a continuing resource used by this undergraduate class, along with the story of their creation which serves as a model of OER use. Additionally, this experience resulted in the creation of a new extension-oriented assignment option for the undergraduate students, in which they could create, revise, or remix and then (re)distribute OER targeted at inservice teachers on a topic related to emerging technologies (a topic taught in their class).

3.3.3 Applying OER in Other Settings

The students found multiple opportunities to apply OER concepts at work and across their educational communities. Current teachers tended to focus on meeting the needs of their own classes. Beyond that, three main approaches were used to help others during the early pandemic response, each of which showcased student knowledge and skills related to OER:

  1. (a)

    Locate and revise OER to replace prior classroom-based materials.

  2. (b)

    Convert existing materials into OER with a Creative Commons license to help others.

  3. (c)

    Create tutorials to help others develop remote teaching skills and share them as OER.

4 Discussion and Conclusion

The OER Course resulted in not only student attainment of learning objectives, but also a collection of services and products offered to the larger education community. Had it not been for the pandemic and the decision to offer students a flexible way to demonstrate their newfound knowledge and skills, a singular product would have been produced and disseminated, mostly as a proof of concept with the hopes that others might find it useful. Applying Seraphin et al.’s (2018) time-space-gravity model, this course pushed students to not only have a meaningful learning experience (gravity), but also ensured that the student-generated OER transcended the course boundaries of time and space. As part of a flexible response to the pandemic, these two dimensions were meaningful to students and enhanced their sense of gravity. Although much of the learning interactions and products were generated and used beyond these boundaries, portfolios provided a useful means of assessing this dispersed work. Portfolios were also useful for assessing individual contributions to group design work, and pushed students to reflect on and articulate how they met the learning objectives.

The OER class students had a positive experience working in the OER context. Like the students in Baran and AlZoubi (2020), they exerted great agency in the process of creating and sharing OER, and took pride in sharing what they had learned and created with colleagues and in online spaces. This finding is aligned with findings from other studies where renewable assessments were used (Zhang et al., 2020). As is the case when renewable assessments are used, their work benefit people beyond themselves and their class. In this sense, the OER class provides an example of how a pipeline of OER creation and support can be set up, with advanced students in an area fulfilling their learning objectives while simultaneously helping educators of students at other levels identify, adapt, and use relevant OER with their own classes. This pipeline was useful during the pandemic and on a small scale addressed the needs of educators within the reach of this class.

During the early pandemic months, many educators became aware of how inflexible their existing learning materials were. Huang et al. (2020) called for the field to go beyond the creation of OER and consider open pedagogy, specifically teacher ability to use OER effectively in their course. Although we did not focus specifically on teacher reactions to OER, we found that OER were attractive to teachers during the period of ERT when they had to swiftly find alternate learning materials in digital format that could be shared with their students without violating copyright. However, echoing the findings of others (Ozdemir & Bonk, 2017; Serena & Nathaniel, 2018), we noted that teachers need help to understand and navigate this process.

This case study demonstrates how advanced students are capable creators of OER, which can serve as a form of renewable assessment. As a secondary finding, this study found that OER is a helpful tool that can empower teachers in their search for relevant and customizable digital learning materials. This study has implications for service learning, demonstrating some of the options for connecting student-creators and student users as suggested by Stone et al. (2020). Teachers’ acute need for OER as prompted by the early portion of the pandemic should not be viewed as an isolated moment, nor should this class’s response be viewed as a temporary solution. Instead, this case shows the power of connecting learners and professionals in flexible, open environments where learning outcomes can provide meaningful service to individuals beyond the boundaries of the classroom.