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Over the past several decades, the topic of campus safety has become increasingly important to discussions around the roles universities play in the lives of their students. For many, their college campus becomes their first home-away-from-home. For many more, it is a crucial new community, as full of opportunities as it is peers. When it comes to holistic student success in higher education, feelings of belonging to and active participation in their student community are influential factors—neither of which are possible without first establishing a sense of safety.

(Campus) Climate Control

A campus climate study is both difficult and important. In many ways, it’s exactly the type of challenge we should spend additional time thinking through. High-profile incidents, political conversations, and research have all raised serious questions about what can be done to improve the overall safety and climate on college campuses. Of course, understanding what you are required (or recommended) to do is often different from understanding why—and taking accurate, routine measurements of your campus climate is necessary to developing initiatives that most effectively address the unique concerns your student body.

Demystifying the Process

If your campus is new to assessing campus climate, the scope and importance of the work can be more than a little daunting. There are many reasons to conduct a climate study, but no universal “right” way to conduct one. That being said, over 20+ years of research on the subject has shown there are three main challenges to most climate studies: definitions, sensitivity, and context. By investigating these challenges, campuses can be better prepared to craft a climate study that will provide accurate, actionable information to support their particular needs.

Challenge 1: Definitions

The term “campus climate” does not have a universal definition or use, so it is important to establish how climate will be defined on your campus and make that definition widely known.

Climate can be defined around populations and domains

For instance, much of higher education climate research focuses on racial climate. However, it could also focus on populations defined by gender identity, sexual orientation, disabilities, socio-economic status, religion, or ageand the list goes on. And your climate studies aren’t limited to the study body; they can also assess issues faced by faculty or staff, including those within the faculty community (for instance, tenure versus tenure-track versus non-tenure).

Even with a specific group, climate studies can include various domains

They can focus on knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, or environments. If a campus is assessing climate related to race/ethnicity, their study could ask about students’ knowledge of or attitudes towards other groups, specific behaviors, interactions, incidents, or experiences. The study could also focus on classroom environments, curriculum, policies related to incidents, or diversity training. It could center on campus perceptions, senior officials, representation, policies, or needed improvements. Climate studies can even focus narrowly on specific issues. For instance, while a White House task force has focused on sexual violence, ADA requirements focus on accessibility. The range of domains for climate studies is large.

Wow, that’s a lot

You’re right! It is. Clearly, a single climate survey can’t address every issue--and we shouldn’t expect it to. Issues will change over time. For this reason, it is important to define, focus, and broadly communicate what “campus climate” means to your university, while being open to broadening or shifting that definition as needs arise.

Challenge 2: Sensitivity

Campus climate is a sensitive topic that can provoke powerful responses. Climate focuses on issues related to our identity, experiences, and values. Thus, it can prompt a wide range of emotions, from passion and excitement to heated discussion and anger. Climate studies have the potential to rouse similar responses.


Concerns can erupt around any aspect of a climate study. Who is involved in the planning may come under scrutiny. Assessment methods, in particular the wording of questions, can become points of contention. Study results will likely prompt strong reactions. Recommendations are meant to provoke discussion.


Those who plan climate studies need to expect these strong reactions. However, the added attention can be both distracting and frustrating because it has the potential to slow down or even stall a study. But, consider this: how often does an assessment project lead to this level of engagement, or even passion? Embrace the sensitivity of a climate study as an opportunity to promote the quality of the work, and broaden the impact of the assessment. In this situation, sensitivity is an indicator of how critical it is the work be done, and done well.

Challenge 3: Context

Climate studies are inextricably grounded in the broader context of a specific campus. Political dynamics—both internal and external—may influence the who, what, and how of a study. Legal concerns, such as open records laws and mandated reporting, may affect what data is collected and from whom. Research policies and ethics affect the questions that are asked (do no harm!), and even perceptions of the media may have an affect on how results are shared or which initiatives are prioritized.


A climate study has to be planned with this wide range of factors in mind. While there may be less effective methods, there is no universal “right” way to conduct a climate survey because context always matters. Many people have insights about important issues. Research boards, legal and media representatives, diversity groups, sexual assault response teams, and others all play a role in the process. Planning and conversation are two powerful tools for assessing and addressing context.

Bridging the Gap

We’ve said it once before: climate studies are both difficult and important. The data they provide set the tone and direction for your greater campus safety prevention, information, and procedure initiatives. Still not sure where to start? Benchworks Campus Climate Assessments are backed by over 25 years of experience, research, and higher education data, and customizable to your campus concerns. Request a demo and we’ll walk you through the process (we’re nice, we promise).


To bridge the gap between theory—or requirements—and practice, the Clery Center provides relevant resources and strategies in conjunction with National Campus Safety Awareness Month to enhance your own understanding of current campus safety best practices and to improve your own prevention and response procedures. Learn more here.

How College Unions Foster a Sense of Belonging among Students

College unions and student centers play a vital role on campus as a central hub for programs, services, and student life in general. College unions aim to not only provide critical services but also to supplement the classroom experience by allowing students to grow and learn as part of their broader college experience. A major component of these efforts is to help students achieve a sense of belonging in both the student union and at the institution more broadly.


This research note explores the concept of sense of belonging in relation to the college union. The findings are drawn from a national dataset constructed from the responses of over 14,000 college students to the ACUI/Benchworks College Union/Student Center Assessment during the 2018-2019 academic year.


Key Questions:


1. To what degree did college unions contribute to student sense of belonging?
2. How did the degree to which college unions contribute to sense of belonging differ across populations?
3. How did the degree to which college unions contribute to sense of belonging differ based on union engagement?
4. How did the degree to which college unions contribute to sense of belonging relate to the overall college union experience?


With average attrition costs at nearly $10 million per institution, improving student retention rates, especially from the first to second year, can have a significant impact on institutional budgets and resource allocation. Unfortunately, those looking to combat the issue with data-informed interventions often quickly realize that while there may be lots of data, actionable insights are few and far between. Moreover, it can be difficult to know which data, when acted upon early, will most positively impact student retention and success.

In sum: Water, water everywhere!

If trying to make heads or tails of the gigs of data your students generate seems like a lost cause, fret not. Below, we've distilled our data collection philosophy to three simple strategies you can use to shape how your campus gathers and utilizes this info for maximum impact and minimum stress.

The Key Three: Early, Easy, and Systematic


1. Early Data Collection

It is currently common practice for many institutions to focus on mid-term grades and first-semester GPAs to trigger interventions with first-year students. However, changing the trajectory of the student experience after 8 or 15 weeks can be overwhelmingly difficult, especially when the issue is academic. Students establish academic habits and behaviors as well as social circles and involvement patterns during the first few weeks. They also experience challenges, including a tougher academic environment, homesickness, increased freedom, and more.


While the consequences of these foundational experiences and behaviors may not be seen right away, research (Woosley, 2003) has shown that students' initial college experiences, especially within the first few weeks, are linked to long-term outcomes. Therefore, the first step in improving the impact of our first-year student data is the development and use of targeted early indicators.


Like red flag systems of the past, early indicators signal issues may need to be addressed. Unlike those first systems, however, today's early indicators go beyond simply lighting flares to identifying patterns and behaviors that need to be addressed at both the class and individual levels. Done right and your early indicators prompt early interventions—giving your support resources time to make an impact within that crucial time frame before midterm reports.


2. Easy Data Collection

Another common obstacle institutions face when it comes to first-year students is capturing full and complete data. You know what we mean—not all faculty submit midterm grades or attendance records. Not all courses use learning management systems. Not all students complete surveys. And no one appreciates new requirements and systems that create additional tasks to generate data.


To overcome this obstacle, we need to get creative and make data collection easy—and most importantly, part of the workflows already taking place. For instance, taking class or event attendance does not have to be a manual task. Tools that allow students to log into a course can take the load off of faculty. Or better yet, digital classroom engagement tools (e.g., polls, quiz questions, etc.) can be used to automatically record attendance. Surveys, too, can be streamlined or shortened, incorporated into first-year seminars, put into simple tools, and more. Additionally, survey data can be linked with other data sources so that questions don’t have to be repeated.


In sum: simplifications to data collection not only decrease the workload on data providers, they can also improve the quality of the data by standardizing data sources and removing opportunities for human error.


3. Systematic Data Collection

Finally, our third strategy for improving the impact of first-year student data is to be systematic and strategic about the data collected and used. While conversations about big data push our desire for digits to ever growing heights, it is becoming increasingly apparent that not all data is equally useful. As T.S. Eliot laments in Choruses from the Rock, "Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" It's time to get that knowledge back.


Research has unearthed a plethora of key issues related to student success and retention in one way or another—issues like academic performance, social integration, financial means, motivation and class attendance, to name a few. A systematic approach requires thinking about these issues holisticallyensuring they are coveredbut also simplyeliminating duplications. Some issues may be measured through easy tools (e.g., attendance through a classroom engagement system). But some issues, such as commitment and motivation, may need to come directly from the student on a survey. Once the data elements and sources are put in place, the data needs to be integrated so that individual elements are placed in a broader context. Class attendance issues may prompt different inventions when placed alongside other concerns such as finances or homesickness. Thus, to make an impact, an institution needs a systematic approach including a variety of tools to easily collect and integrate a set of focused data.



Overall, big data alone won’t solve the first-year student retention issue. To make an impact, data must be received early, gathered and analyzed easily, and acted upon in a systematic manner.


Looking for additional guidance on how these strategies can be implemented using the data your campus is currently working with? Check out Cirque by Macmillan Learning for more information on how we make it easy to gather and intervene on the most impactful early insights.



New Platform Enables Faculty and Instructional Designers to Discover and Use Affordable, High-Quality Content

Powerful curation tools catalog institutional resources, including OER, to make free and low-cost content available to students

LOS ALTOS, CALIF. (October 14, 2015) — Intellus Learning, formerly known as Ace Learning Company, announced today the launch of a new platform designed to help faculty discover, review and use the abundant digital resources, including Open Educational Resources (OER), that are available within their colleges and universities. Instructional designers can use the platform to more quickly discover content and track its use in order to accelerate and improve course development—and reduce the cost of materials for students.

Because Intellus Learning has fully integrated with leading LMS providers, the platform also offers rich analytics to help faculty and institutional leaders understand how students use and engage with content. Over the past year, Intellus Learning has worked with twenty-four institutions and systems, including a California State University campus, Indiana University and Western Governors University.

“The average annual cost of materials for full-time students is now over $1,000. Intellus Learning is helping faculty at one of our leading campuses better utilize Open Educational Resources (OER) and digital library resources with the goal of improving the affordability of education for our students,” said Gerry Hanley, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services at California State University, who oversees the system’s Affordable Learning Solutions initiative. “By providing greater visibility into most content resources, we can support faculty in their course development process and increase the real-time data available to instructional designers and faculty.”

In 2012, the 3,793 academic libraries in the U.S. spent over $1.5 billion on electronic serial subscriptions and on e-books, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. During the same year, those libraries had 253 million e-books. However, student surveys continue to find that cost and affordability are a major reason why students do not purchase assigned course materials.

“Despite billions in investment to create free, digital resources, much of the high quality OER available and existing institutional licensed content is underutilized on campuses globally,” said David Kim, Intellus Learning Founder and CEO. “We hope to unlock these investments by helping institutions and faculty easily access existing assets, evaluate what works, and personalize the learning process to increase college completion with an eye towards affordability long-term.”

Michael Horn, coauthor of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns with Clayton M. Christensen and Curtis W. Johnson, has also joined the company as an Advisor.

“Using real-time feedback, Intellus is bringing state-of-the-art technology to bear on the instructional design process to foster continuous improvement and a more affordable and successful student pathway,” said Horn. “This is just the beginning of the transformational changes that will impact the industry longer-term.”


About Intellus Learning ( Intellus Learning supports great teaching and learning in higher education with intelligent analytics that help faculty and institutions select the best content for each learner. Through its curation and management platform, Intellus Learning helps align institutional investments with course-level learning objectives to improve transparency and reduce redundancy. Intellus Learning brings faculty insights and student preferences to the forefront of institutional decision making, creating an environment that prioritizes value. Follow Intellus Learning on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Media Contact: Ted Eismeier,

New features provide real-time insight into how students engage with course content to inform instructional design and link content to outcomes

LOS ALTOS, CALIF. (June 30, 2016) — Intellus Learning announced today the launch of new content analytics features that will help educators understand how students are engaging with digital course materials and open educational resources. The platform enables faculty and instructional designers to access granular data, in real time, to track how and when students are engaging with academic content during their studies.

Surveys continue to show that cost is a leading reason why students do not purchase assigned textbooks and course materials. To level the playing field and reduce the cost to students, institutions are now using content analytics to maximize affordable academic resources that align with course-level learning objectives. Faculty and instructional designers can leverage these insights to match students with engaging, relevant content, improving student experience and outcomes.

“Affordability is a crucial priority for us at the CSU system, so we’ve undertaken efforts to help faculty use OER and digital content more effectively,” said Vice Provost Dennis Nef of California State University Fresno. “Despite increased investments of time and money in digital content and OER, most faculty and instructional designers have little understanding of how students navigate or respond to individual content items. The Intellus analytics layer brings us one step closer to unbundling content by enabling us to curate and select only from resources that are both instructionally relevant and also highly engaging for students, and better understand how students use that content.”

“We know that student engagement increases as we align course goals and design to industry best practices,” said Matthew Gunkel, Group Manager for eLearning Design & Services and Architect for eLearning Technology at Indiana University. “The platform Intellus provides allows faculty invaluable insights that can directly inform course design and improve course quality over time.”

While colleges and universities are awash in digital content, faculty and instructional designers have not previously been able to evaluate how students respond to individual content items, such as library and publisher content, OER, and digital course materials embedded in the LMS. With the advent of Intellus Analytics, faculty and instructional designers are able to evaluate course structure and content based on course-level learning objectives and differentiate content selections based on student preferences and abilities.

“With the vast array of instructional resources available to educators to support instruction, faculty and instructional designers often face an overwhelming task in selecting and curating content,” said David J. Kim, founder and CEO of Intellus Learning and an expert in the application of analytics in digital asset management and search marketing. “Our new analytics layer enables intelligent curation that considers relevance and student engagement, helping faculty pinpoint the resources that will have the greatest impact.”

In partnership with many institutions, Intellus Learning has now indexed over 45 million online learning resources (e.g., articles, books, videos, and digital content items) spanning major OER repositories, library archives, and publisher and institutional databases. Last fall, Intellus Learning launched a new platform designed to help faculty discover, review, and use the abundant digital resources, including OER, that are available within their colleges and universities.

About Intellus Learning ( Intellus Learning supports great teaching and learning in higher education with intelligent analytics that help faculty and institutions select the best content for each learner. Through its curation and management platform, Intellus Learning helps align institutional investments with course-level learning objectives to improve transparency and reduce redundancy. Intellus Learning brings faculty insights and student preferences to the forefront of institutional decision making, creating an environment that prioritizes value. Follow Intellus Learning on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Macmillan Learning today announced the acquisition of Intellus Learning, an educational platform as a service company that gathers information across institutions to help faculty and administrators find and evaluate the best, most affordable digital content for each learner while providing actionable data on course engagement and success.

Using a patented approach to machine learning, Intellus indexes the millions of content learning objects in use at an institution and provides real-time analytics on student usage. By organizing the wealth of digital learning assets owned or licensed by the institution, the platform provides transparency to all stakeholders to better inform resource allocation and instructional design.

Commenting on the partnership, Macmillan Learning CEO Ken Michaels said, “Our customers are rightfully focused on providing the most affordable learning experience that engages students and lifts their performance, while providing early student retention transparency. Finding the right mix of content and tools that answers both teaching and institutional objectives can be challenging. This partnership will facilitate the alignment of teaching objectives with administrative goals and student preferences, while not sacrificing quality instruction or diminishing student outcomes.”

The National Center for Education Statistics states that university libraries spend an estimated $2.6 billion on academic resources. Filtering the massive amounts of content in use at colleges and universities is complex and leads to disjointed approaches to content and budget management.

“Intellus’s platform surfaces the best learning tools for students by matching teaching and learning objectives to all available materials. It is incredibly powerful,” said Susan Winslow, Managing Director for Macmillan Learning. “At Macmillan Learning, our goal has always been to provide the best educational content and tools for educators. Intellus allows us to continue that work while supporting institutional budgetary and retention goals.”

Founded in 2011, Intellus has indexed over 50 million online learning resources such as books, articles, videos, and digital content items by spanning library archives, publisher and institutional databases, as well as major open educational resource (OER) repositories.

“Our platform provides greater visibility for educators so they can better control each course outcome,” said Intellus founder and CEO, David Kim. “That is our mission: to make teaching and learning easier for faculty by providing a personalized and affordable learning experience for students.”

The Intellus platform is already being used at a variety of institutions, including California State University. Gerry Hanley, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services at California State University stated, “One of our innovative campuses adopted Intellus in 2015 to enable their faculty to explore and choose the more affordable and high-quality learning materials for their students. The Intellus platform has helped us better support CSU faculty to quickly and easily discover potential course materials from a wide range of publisher, library, and open educational resources collections, which in turn provides our faculty more time to choose the best materials for our students’ successful learning.”

“I’m thrilled about the partnership and the opportunity to work with the Macmillan Learning team,” said Mr. Kim. “With the backing of a commercial publisher, we can accelerate our growth and fulfill our mission for more students.”

Intellus Learning will work alongside the Macmillan Learning team, with Mr. Kim reporting directly to Mr. Michaels.

# # #

About Macmillan Learning: 
Macmillan Learning improves lives through learning. Our legacy of excellence in education continues to inform our approach to developing world-class content with pioneering, interactive tools. Through deep partnership with the world’s best researchers, educators, administrators, and developers, we facilitate teaching and learning opportunities that spark student engagement and improve outcomes. We provide educators with tailored solutions designed to inspire curiosity and measure progress. Our commitment to teaching and discovery upholds our mission to improve lives through learning. To learn more, please visit our website or see us on Facebook, Twitter, or join our Macmillan Community.

About Intellus Learning: 
Intellus Learning supports great teaching and learning in higher education with intelligent analytics that help faculty and institutions select the best content for each learner. Through its curation and management platform, Intellus Learning helps align institutional investments with course-level learning objectives to improve transparency and reduce redundancy. Intellus Learning brings faculty insights and student preferences to the forefront of the institutional decision making, creating an environment that prioritizes value. Follow Intellus Learning on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About the California State University: 
The California State University is the largest system of senior higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, 49,000 faculty and staff and 474,600 students. Half of the CSU’s students transfer from California Community Colleges. Created in 1960, the mission of the CSU is to provide high-quality, affordable education to meet the ever changing needs of California. With its commitment to quality, opportunity, and student success, the CSU is renowned for superb teaching, innovative research and for producing job-ready graduates. Each year, the CSU awards more than 105,000 degrees. One in every 20 Americans holding a college degree is a graduate of the CSU and our alumni are 3 million strong. Connect with and learn more about the CSU at the CSU Media Center.

Algorithms can help faculty discover and select open educational resources for a course, map the concepts covered in a particular text, generate assessment questions and more.

The basic definition of machine learning is that it allows a computer to learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. One obvious example: the way a Netflix algorithm learns our TV-watching habits to make suggestions of other movies we might like. We come into contact with dozens of such machine-learning algorithms every day.

Algorithms are even starting to make an impact on university campuses, taking on time-consuming tasks to ease faculty and administrator workloads. For example, RiteClass's predictive admissions platform uses machine learning to produce a "Prospective Student Fit Score" by ingesting data about current students and alumni. The Fit Score will determine how similar (or different) a prospective student is to current students and alumni, according to the company, helping institutions make data-driven admissions decisions.

And in support of faculty members, several efforts are underway to use machine learning to analyze the contents of open educational resources (OER) for their fit in a particular course.

Algorithm-Assisted Content

California State University, Fresno has been urging its faculty members to seek out appropriate no- or low-cost course materials. The problem: Replacing costlier course material with appropriate OER content is time-consuming, said Bryan Berrett, director of the campus's Center for Faculty Excellence. To ease the process of selecting material, CSU-Fresno has been piloting an analytics solution from Intellus Learning, which has indexed more than 45 million online learning resources and can make recommendations of matching OER content. "If I am teaching an English course and I have a standard textbook, I can type the ISBN number into Intellus," explained Berrett. "Broken down by chapter, it will say here are all the OER resources that are available that match up with that content." The faculty member can then upload the resources directly into the course learning management system.

Intellus says it can also index the millions of learning objects in use at an institution and provide real-time analytics on student usage.

A similar homegrown effort at Penn State University has branched out into new directions, said Kyle Bowen, director of education technology services. PSU's BBookX takes a human-assisted computing approach to enable creation of open source textbooks. The technology uses algorithms to explore OER repositories and return relevant resources that can be combined, remixed and re-used to support learning goals. As instructors and students add materials to a book, BBookX learns and further refines the recommended material.

Bowen explained that the work was inspired to some degree by more nefarious uses of machine learning. Looking at examples of researchers using algorithms to generate fake research papers begged the question: If you can do something like that to create fake research papers, could you use it to create real ones or real content? "What better problem to try to solve than looking at open content?" he said. "How could we simplify or expedite the process of generating a textbook or a textbook replacement?"

In the process of training machines to search for appropriate content, the PSU researchers discovered that algorithms often surface content the faculty member may not have known about. Even if you are an expert in a topic area, there are still elements of the field you may not be as familiar with, and the algorithm is not biased by knowledge you already have.

Describing the process of fine-tuning the algorithm, Bowen said it works less like a Google search and more like a Netflix recommendation. "With a Google search, you provide a term, and if you don't like the results you change your terms. Here you are changing how the machine is thinking about those terms," he explained. "You are telling it 'more like this, less like that,' and you keep iterating. It begins to focus on what you are looking for and what you mean by that term. It goes by the meaning the faculty member is trying to get to."

Next Steps

Although PSU is continuing its work on the OER textbook project, Bowen said, "What we uncovered was that using this machine learning approach to generate textbooks was potentially one of the least interesting things we could do with it." The institution's data scientists have moved into three other areas with the intent of taking on even more complex issues:

1) Prerequisite knowledge. In terms of sequencing how material is presented, machine learning might help instructors understand the prerequisite knowledge a person would need in order to understand a particular body of text. "We want to make sure that as you are coming into a class, the prerequisite knowledge has already been introduced," Bowen said. "You could do that yourself by charting out the concepts to see how they relate across the material. But in this case, the machine can more effectively construct concept maps and identify disconnects inside of them."

2) Generating assessment questions. Anybody who has crafted a multiple-choice midterm or final exam knows how challenging it is to make it representative of the work and create distractors to effectively assess understanding of a topic. PSU is working on a prototype algorithm that, given an OER chapter or a textbook, can suggest multiple-choice assessments.

"This gets into an area of machine learning called adversarial learning, which comes out of security. It is how the computer identifies spam messages," Bowen said. Spam e-mails aren't real e-mails, although they are trying to look like they are — they are trying to exploit a vulnerability. With the creation of a spam filter, machine learning identifies pattern matches. "We want to do the opposite," he said. "We want to identify things that don't fit the pattern but look like they would. What are some things that might exploit gaps in someone's knowledge? What we have found is the machine creates really difficult multiple-choice tests. It shows very little mercy."

PSU has not yet begun testing this solution with faculty. "It is important to explain that it is not the goal to replace what the person is doing, but rather to assist the faculty member," Bowen said. The goal would not be to have the machine generate multiple choice assessments on the fly, but to help a faculty member craft a multiple choice test that is representative of the material and help simplify the process of creating those tests, he added. The same is true with prerequisite knowledge. It is not to replace the work being done by faculty members, but to support them as they think about prerequisite knowledge.

3) Brainstorming with your computer. A third conceptual area PSU is working on is letting the computer help you brainstorm.

"We all have friends who are really smart and who we go to to bounce ideas off of," Bowen said. Such a friend might ask if you have thought about other concepts. "You can do that with your computer," he explained. If you are thinking about a topic, the machine can say, "well based on that, have you thought about x?" It can help you brainstorm an activity and also form or prototype ideas and come out with a concept map or outline that helps you explore new areas.

"So although the original algorithm was designed to generate texts, when we look at it, these three areas are potentially higher value problems to work on. We have moved away from our original research to look at how we can provide more targeted assistance on pain points in developing OER material."

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology. 

Early this year, the Association of College and Research Libraries compiled their top 5 articles about open educational resources (OER). The topics of these five posts focus on how libraries can participate in the integration of OER at their school from simply supporting the integration of these resources to becoming more vocal about their availability to actively engaging in OER adoption and authoring.

Each of these topics are relevant to today’s librarians as they work toward ensuring they offer beneficial resources to students as well as faculty to make content accessible.

According to an article posted on EdSurge, more colleges are setting up support systems to encourage OER adoption, using the campus library as the pitch center for OER. At the University of Texas at Arlington, a full-time Open Education Librarian is employed on staff. A recent project she did to bring OER to the forefront was create a series of videos promoting professors who replaced commercial textbooks in their courses with OER. These videos also addressed common pain points associated with traditional textbooks and how OER can help remedy those issues.

Marilyn Billings, the Scholarly Communication & Special Initiatives Librarian at University of Massachusetts Amherst, spearheads the Open Education Initiative (OEI), a faculty incentive program that encourages the use of OER to support student learning along with the creation of new teaching materials and the use of library subscription materials. The library has a dedicated space on their website for OER and accepts grant proposals which require an anticipated OER implementation date.

The importance of the role of the librarian in establishing OERs into curriculum was evaluated in a study done by the Centre for Academic Practice & Learning Enhancement (CAPLE) and Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards (CETIS), at the University of Strathclyde. This study looked primarily at higher education OER projects worldwide. The main objectives, according to the study, for these projects were:

    Implement repository or content management/publishing system for OER release
    Release existing institutional content as OER
    Raise awareness of OER and encourage its use

Findings showed that in three out of four project teams, at least one librarian participated, and from those teams, the library was either leading or a partner of the initiative 50 percent of the time.

The expertise librarians are able to offer related to content-focused OER initiatives can greatly benefit teams working to create new curriculum or content management processes as their relate to OER.

Advocating effectively for faculty to incorporate OER has many benefits for students and educators, but it can also lead to additional responsibilities for librarians when their workload is already full. In the paper, Librarians and OER: Cultivating a Community of Practice to Be More Effective Advocates, librarians in British Columbia, Canada came together as a community (BCOER Librarians) to focus on education and professional development that would help libraries facilitate the use and decampment of OER.

Through a monthly, virtual meeting, the librarians in this group share ways to support the use of quality OER by collaborating on ideas, tools and strategies. To date, according to their website, there are 40 institutions participating in OER and students have saved over seven million dollars.

In an article from the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), it’s recommended that librarians integrate open practices and cultivate leaders who can share their knowledge about OER policies and practices. An example of how this works can be seen at Granite State College in New Hampshire where a new Library Media Specialist certification program enables faculty and advisors to integrate open education practice and OER creation and improvement into course creation workflows. Additionally, OER courseware is being utilized for the certificate course itself.

Regardless of the educational model being used in conjunction with open content, it’s important to note, says Stephen Downes in Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources, that the nature of the content must be taken into consideration. Content needs to have longevity, and to do so should be flexible and adaptable to local needs. It also needs to be modifiable and adaptable based on licensing models. Think of content in a local context, how it pertains to your school and to the course it will be used for, and whether it requires changes in order to be relevant and appropriate.

With so much discussion going on around OER and effectively utilizing it for academic purposes, there’s no shortage of content around these five key topic areas. The common thread, however, when thinking about how you, as a librarian, can bring OER into the curriculum at your school is collaboration. Connect with your local faculty to gain support, but also see what other schools are doing and how their strategies are working for them.

~Collaboration Will Aggregate and Assemble Relevant Open Education Resources and Institution’s Library Materials to Improve the Teaching and Learning Experience ~

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The collaboration with Intellus Learning allows for interoperability that enables libraries to increase use and efficiency of their collections.


EBSCO Information Services (EBSCO) and Intellus Learning, an educational platform as a service company, have partnered to provide academic libraries with a content curation, assignment, recommendation and analytics tool. The collaboration will benefit college and university customers as they strive to offer affordable, reliable and relevant resources to students, while supporting faculty’s teaching and learning goals.

Intellus Learning empowers instructors to access high-quality open education resources (OER) and other openly licensed content, as well as their institution’s academic library materials to help meet budgetary goals. By offering curated content, Intellus Learning enables instructors to quickly capture robust and affordable course materials. Students can seamlessly engage with assigned course materials via the institution’s learning management system, including all EBSCO resources to which the library subscribes.

According to Craig Bleyer, the General Manager of the Institutional Business at Macmillan Learning, “Our customers are rightfully focused on providing the most affordable learning experiences that engage and retain students. Yet, finding the right mix of content and tools that answers both teaching and institutional objectives can be challenging because of the amount of time it takes to curate and assemble course objects. Via this partnership with EBSCO, we are providing a powerful search and discovery tool, which enables instructors to identify the highest-quality and best-rated free and openly-licensed content, as well as access library content to make the most efficient use of content already available at their institution.”

The technology integration between EBSCO and Intellus Learning helps institutions launch and maintain affordability initiatives by facilitating efficient and insight-laden access to high quality, free learning content. Through an intuitive interface, faculty can curate and quickly assign pertinent OER and library content to students. The Intellus engine also offers a robust reporting dashboard that provides real-time insight into students’ engagement with the assigned materials. This pre-built feedback loop enables faculty to tweak the curriculum on the fly to suit students’ needs.

EBSCO Information Services Senior Vice President of Business Development, Mark Herrick, says the integration will help libraries promote their valuable resources and improve the workflow process for faculty. “The collaboration with Intellus Learning allows for interoperability that enables libraries to increase use and efficiency of their collections. By integrating technologies, the content selection process works better and faster for faculty while enabling them to select from library resources in the context of their courses and already subscribed to by their institution.”

To learn more about EBSCO and Intellus Learning, please visit: and

About Macmillan Learning 
Macmillan Learning improves lives through learning. Our legacy of excellence in education informs our approach to using user-centered design, learning science, and impact research to develop world-class content and pioneering products that are empathetic, highly effective, and drive improved outcomes. Through deep partnership with the world’s best researchers, educators, administrators, and developers, we facilitate teaching and learning opportunities that spark student engagement and lift course results. We provide educators with tailored solutions designed to inspire curiosity and measure progress. Our commitment to teaching and discovery upholds our mission to improve lives through learning. To learn more, please visit or see us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN or join our Macmillan Community.

About Intellus Learning 
Intellus Learning empowers instructors to quickly access high-quality open educational resources (OER), other openly-licensed content, as well as their institution’s academic library materials to help replace expensive course materials, while providing powerful, real-time insight into students’ engagement with the assigned content. To learn more, please visit:

About EBSCO Information Services 
EBSCO Information Services (EBSCO) is the leading discovery service provider for libraries worldwide with more than 11,000 discovery customers in over 100 countries. EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) provides each institution with a comprehensive, single search box for its entire collection, offering unparalleled relevance ranking quality and extensive customization. EBSCO is also the preeminent provider of online research content for libraries, including hundreds of research databases, historical archives, point-of-care medical reference, and corporate learning tools serving millions of end users at tens of thousands of institutions. EBSCO is the leading provider of electronic journals & books for libraries, with subscription management for more than 360,000 serials, including more than 57,000 e-journals, as well as online access to more than 1,000,000 e-books. For more information, visit the EBSCO website at: EBSCO Information Services is a division of EBSCO Industries Inc., a family owned company since 1944.

For more information, please contact: 
Nikki Jones 
Sr Director, Communications 
Macmillan Learning 

Jessica Holmes 
Communications Director 
EBSCO Information Services 
978-356-6500 ext. 3485

By David E. Hubler, Contributor, Online Learning Tips, and Andrea Dunn, Associate Vice President of Electronic Course Materials, APUS

There once was a bookstore owner whose media pitch was short and simple. “Books cost too much,” he said, explaining why he founded his discount bookstore chain. However, he wasn’t thinking of the ever-increasing cost of college textbooks.

Perhaps stirred to action in part by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) call for free college tuition for all, American colleges and universities today are looking for ways to reduce the cost of higher education tuition, room and board, and of course textbooks.

Institutions of higher learning are examining steps they can take, so students won’t have to make the hard choice between paying all their fees and eating. Above all, they hope to reduce the overwhelming average student debt of $39,400 that can follow college graduates for decades.

New York University recently made national news when it announced that its School of Medicine would provide full scholarships to all current and future students in its doctor of medicine program. The free tuition includes the current incoming class and all students in their second or third year as well. However, “most medical students will still foot the bill for about $29,000 each year in room, board and other living expenses,” NPR noted.

Bill Conerly, writing in Forbes in 2016, reported that 38 community colleges were developing curricula to use Open Educational Resources (OER).

As Conerly explained, “Think of public-domain textbooks, but textbook is too narrow a term. Many courses involve interactive learning modules as well as tools for professors. It’s no surprise that this move came from community colleges, which are more sensitive to student costs than traditional four-year colleges are.”

Totally Free Online Textbooks Are Available for Common Undergraduate Courses

Totally free online textbooks are available for many common undergraduate courses, such as economics and biology. Courses that require non-textbook readings can be inexpensive if the material is out of copyright. For example, Plato’s Republic is available online for free, Conerly said.

APUS’ book grant program provides textbooks and/or e-books at no charge to doctoral students and students earning undergraduate academic credit. OER brings together teaching, learning and resource materials in any medium that has been released under an open license.

APUS Converted 222 Courses to Open Educational Resource Status in 2017

Open Educational Resources include textbooks, curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation products. In 2017, APUS converted 222 courses to OER.

“With publishers having more flexible options these days, it’s getting better for students,” says Andrea Dunn, Associate Vice President of Electronic Course Materials at APUS. These options help lower the cost of purchasing class materials. Students can access free materials – textbooks, articles in journals, and articles written by professors specifically with OER in mind – through the university’s online library and open Web.

“We’re not just adopting a resource because it’s free. We’re using it because it’s of equal or better quality than a mainstream textbook publisher such as a Pearson or a McGraw-Hill can provide,” Dunn explains.

Last year, APUS made the OER initiative a priority for all academics. That extends now to graduate students and instructors. “There are five APUS programs that don’t have any associated textbook costs with them at the graduate level. The term for that is the ‘Z-degree’ for zero-cost degree,” Dunn explained.

Currently there are five Z-degree programs in APUS master’s programs:

  • Management
  • Political Science
  • Environmental Management
  • International Relations
  • Public Policy

“We’re reducing the cost to the student while maintaining the quality of the learning materials,” Dunn said.

One advantage of using timely online articles and government documents rather than textbooks for courses in International Affairs, for example, is that current events change too rapidly for textbooks to stay current.

APUS is partnering with Intellus Learning, which has integrated some of the university’s library collection so faculty and students can search for and access OER materials as well as licensed library content. The company has an index of digital assets available from OER repositories — video, ebooks, text, audio, interactive, assignments — that support teaching and learning.

The Intellus website explains that its “simple interface improves the usability of digital content by connecting faculty and students with resources aligned to specific learning objectives. All digital content is then matched with faculty and student learning objectives.”

“It’s kind of a soup-to-nuts solution that takes the heavy lifting away from those who are not familiar with the Open Educational programs in repositories,” Dunn explained.

College Libraries Are among the Leaders in OER and Lowering Higher Education Costs

College libraries are among the campus leaders driving the OER movement at APUS and elsewhere. For example, in Ohio, a library consortium called OhioLink is part of a statewide effort to curate and enhance a set of OER course materials for 21 course subjects. The University of Texas at Arlington has a full-time OER librarian. The University of Minnesota has an Open Textbook Library from which textbooks can be downloaded for free or printed at low cost.

Cooperation among University Libraries and Private Learning Companies Are Creating a New Era in Information Services and Academic Research

Cooperation among university libraries with private learning companies like Intellus is creating a new era in information services and academic research that are significantly reducing the cost of higher education for all students.

APUS librarians and course materials staff work closely with faculty to find suitable resources for their classrooms. The collaborative, cross-departmental approach supporting the OER initiative involves faculty, program directors, deans, course material support staff, project managers, compliance staff, information technology specialists, and instructional designers.

The APUS faculty has created open textbooks that are still in use in undergraduate courses and are free for other institutions to adopt as well. If suitable resources cannot be found in the OER realm or within the library, there could be more of in-house content creation.

APUS aims to use Open Educational Resources and library materials in all courses where it makes sense to replace current textbooks. While OER may not fully support some courses, the great majority will utilize these kinds of resources to lower costs for the University and students alike.

Calls to adopt and support open educational resources (OER) are on the rise across higher education. Because of the interdisciplinary and often abstract considerations that accompany an institutional embrace of OER, early expectation setting is important for everyone involved. In this first webinar in our On the Open Road series, participants will learn about some of the early planning and ongoing practices that have led to successful university initiatives in OER.


Open Educational Resources are, by definition, free to learners. Still, running an effective OER initiative to get these free resources into the hands of students in a meaningful and pedagogically sound way takes time, energy, and money. In this webinar, TJ Bliss will explore the various ways colleges and universities are financing their successful OER initiatives, including methods for internal funding and an exploration of the external funding landscape.



Faculty are continuously searching for textbooks and materials that fit course requirements and their teaching style. Before the availability of open educational resources (OER), faculty were restricted to commercial publications designed for broad audiences with general theories and concepts across a wide array of topics. Though these resources offer relevant information and supplemental materials, they do not always meet the needs and interests of faculty and students. Adopting and creating free, openly licensed resources (OER) offers faculty the freedom to reuse and remix materials that complement their teaching style and approach based on their discipline training, expertise, and knowledge of their students. In this webinar, faculty will learn about free open educational resources, benefits of going OER, and ideas on their use and application.


As the open educational resources (OER) movement matures, questions continue to emerge about how to best support and sustain the use of OER at scale. Instructors and librarians maintain valuable partnerships for managing OER adoption but may need additional assistance when it comes to ensuring ongoing use and (re)development of resources. Instructional designers and technologists, in particular, have the skills, resources, and experience necessary to shepherd sustainable simple OER adoptions into long-term learning innovations. In this webinar in our On the Open Road series, participants will learn how those who support the design, implementation, and technology of teaching and learning on campuses might further expand the potential of OER in higher education.


Implementing an institutional OER initiative takes planning, communication, and coordination across stakeholders, sufficient funding, and faculty, staff, and administrators. In this webinar, Dr. Gerry Hanley will present the California State University system’s strategy for implementing its Affordable Learning Solutions program which showcases the adoption of OER and other affordability solutions to better meet the needs of California's students.