Opening Doors with Open Educational Resources

By Clara Hodges Zimmerman

In April 2021, I responded to a call from a colleague at Berkeley City College for collaborators on a project funded by ASCCC Open Educational Resource Initiative (OERI) to write a textbook-style advanced-level OER for students who were learners of English. It was a year into the pandemic and I was back to teaching after having a baby in October. To be honest, I was feeling a little isolated and disconnected from my vocation (although maybe that was just the sleep deprivation!). So, I eagerly emailed back my enthusiastic response and joined eight other community college ESL instructors from around the state interested in filling a gap in the OER/ESL world.

Goals

We had several goals in mind as we started.

First, we wanted a text that truly addressed the mix of language and composition skills for a reading-and-writing focused course one level below transfer English composition.

Next, as ESL teachers, we spend a lot of time making materials that address our students’ unique needs and identities, particularly since most ESL textbooks are geared toward an extremely general, international audience. We wanted to create a text that was narrower in its intended audience but reflected the diversity of the students in our classes; it was just our luck that the participants in this project represent rural, urban, small, and large campuses from around California.

Finally, we felt strongly that students need authentic models of student writing as well as other authentic texts not edited for an “ESL audience.” To that end, each of the six chapters in the book contains an unedited student essay and authentic readings from a variety of sources.

Process

Since most of us didn’t know each other, one of the first things we did was discuss and create a values statement to make sure our goals aligned. Central to this statement was a firm belief in the need for broad, equity-minded representation in images and examples used throughout the text and an emphasis on writers and writing that mirrors the diversity of the California Community College population. We also agreed that, because we each bring our own biases to the table, we would keep an open mind throughout the writing process and be open to suggestions for revision. In retrospect, I believe that this discussion was crucial to the success of this project since it provided a focal point for our large team of contributors.

To select content and frame the structure of the book, we pulled course outlines from our colleges’ English composition classes and advanced ESL courses, examined and compared them, and made choices based on what we felt students would need to be prepared with for success in transfer-level English. We also reviewed existing OER for ideas and pooled activities and lessons we’d developed for our own classes. Then, we drafted the chapters. After completing a draft, we peer reviewed each other’s work, filled in any gaps, and put the draft on LibreTexts, our publishing platform. Finally, the book was peer reviewed for content, accessibility, and appropriate licensing by a team at ASCCC OERI.

Takeaways

I was fortunate to be able to present the text with my colleague and project lead at October’s CATESOL conference and, as we prepared, we spent some time reflecting on the project.

We agreed that the process of creating this text was far more intensive and laborious than we had imagined going into it. Since our team was large, weaving together everyone’s voices to create a cohesive text was a challenge. However, we came to think of these different voices as a strength of the text and a feature to highlight. Other challenges were much more mundane; for example, learning how to import and edit the textbook in LibreTexts was a learning curve we hadn’t anticipated. Personally, though, despite the tremendous time and effort spent on this project, I still came away with my cup filled; I felt, and continue to feel, a greater sense of community and am reinvigorated about my vocation.

More than anything, this project underscored for us the power and importance of inter-campus collaboration in service of our students. A shared vision and set of values that reflect a commitment to student success will lead to projects that create an impact in our students’ lives. And, the more high-quality OER that are created, the easier we can meet zero- and low-textbook cost goals for our classrooms.

Now that it’s out in the world, our text will, we hope, be useful in a variety of language classrooms and situations. While we designed the book for an ESL class one level below transfer English, much of the content could be easily adapted for to levels above and below this – in my case, I’m teaching a transfer-level English class this semester and have adapted activities and examples to use in my class. (This flexibility is one of the benefits of using OER; I don’t feel guilty about assigning a text and only using bits and pieces that suit my class’s needs!)

As an English teacher, I love a good call to action. I encourage you to think about creating, adopting, and sharing OER in your own classes as it feels useful and appropriate for your situation. These high-quality resources can help alleviate financial strain on our students, be customized for real students in real classrooms rather than an imagined audience, and create opportunities for valuable cross-campus discussions and collaboration. What are we waiting for? 

We’d love feedback on the text, particularly if you have adopted it in some form in your classroom. You can find Reading, Writing, Research, and Reasoning: An Advanced ESL Text here.

Clara Hodges Zimmerman grew up between Indonesia and California and developed a love of language and learning at a young age. Her family moved to Porterville when she was in high school, and her first college class was English 101A at Porterville College (thank you, Professor Mills)! She has a BA in Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Redlands and MA in English with a TESOL emphasis from Central Washington University. Prior to coming to Porterville College as an adjunct instructor in 2015, she lived and worked in Washington State and Guangxi Province, China. She teaches English, ESL, and Linguistics courses at Porterville College. In her free time, she loves reading, being outdoors, and spending time with her family.

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