Fifth in our ongoing series on Camosun’s Open Sustainability Project, as I finally catch up with the amazing faculty project stories I have collected so far (three more interviews to go!), is Pooja Gupta. Pooja teaches upgrading math, and for this project she has been working on adapting an existing open textbook, splitting it into three textbooks and creating ancillary materials to support instructors using them – specifically creating PowerPoints and open math problems for student self-study using an open system called MyOpenMath.

Pooja tells me that her Open journey “started with searching for a suitable open textbook that I could use with my upgrading math students, but there were none. In addition, I was using Pearson MyMathLab for teaching my online math sections, but we had concerns about student privacy where student data was being stored.  More traditional textbooks are expensive, and the editions change frequently which always made me anxious because I worried about how students who bought that $200 textbook would afford a brand-new edition. So, there were multiple reasons leading me to look for something more sustainable and less expensive for students.”

Reducing costs for students was the biggest incentive for Pooja to work with Open Educational Resources (OER) mainly because the courses she works with are tuition-free, and it seemed unreasonable to ask students to purchase expensive textbooks when they are expecting free courses.  She does note, however, that even with open textbooks “if a student prints them, that can still be expensive because these are huge books. I work in a department where we see a huge economic divide, from international students from wealthy families to students for whom buying a textbook means losing a week’s worth of meals.  Sometimes choosing a textbook for a course can be a bit emotional because there is such a huge divide, and one solution does not work for everyone. Even when using digital texts, I am constantly concerned about students. Will they be able to access it? How are we going to support them?  But sometimes you just have to do the best you can at a given time.”

Pooja has faced many challenges along the way in this project, but the biggest was the inability to find a reliable open online tool she could use to create a math test bank.  “There aren’t many options that are adaptive, and the only platform I had available initially in which to build questions was D2L which is not open. So that was my biggest challenge: finding an open platform that would work across the country, and in different countries, which would randomly generate questions.  There were paid subscription services everywhere, but nothing open source.”  Finally, she settled on the MyOpenMath platform.

As you can probably guess, Pooja is not one to give up and one of the biggest lessons she learned in moving into OER is persistence.  “This process of finding and getting MyMathLab to work with D2L has been going on for at least 5 years.  But if you keep asking questions and talking to people, then things happen. So, I kept prodding and poking and kept at it – being persistent really paid off.”

As for advice Pooja has for other faculty wanting to explore the world of Open Education, she says first, “make sure to vet the content of any open textbook you want to adapt because it might work for one group of students, but not another.”  But don’t limit yourself to one book.  “Find multiple open textbooks. Don’t be afraid to put them together and make it your own, add your own personality into it. In addition, be mindful of the copyright and creative commons licences.  If you don’t know how to attribute licenced content, connect with a librarian. And finally, don’t rush the process of finding the right open textbooks, because it is not going to happen overnight, and give yourself time to work with the materials before you pilot them with your students. Also, knowing that there is a lack of editors in the OER world, I have committed to improve my resources on an ongoing basis.”

Like other faculty involved with our Open Sustainability Project, Pooja plans to keep working with OER.  But she first wants to complete her current project working with her test bank in MyOpenMath before exploring more open options, like H5P, to support her in bringing math to life for her students.