Wendy Riggs: Spearheading Open Access

Wendy Riggs, biology instructor at College of the Redwoods, is an expert on open access education.

Wendy Riggs, biology instructor at College of the Redwoods, is an expert on open access education. She’s someone who thinks deeply about what it takes for students to show up in her classroom. Covering expenses is a huge hurdle for many students pursuing higher education. Tuition, housing fees, supplies and course materials cost a lot.  And textbooks are one of the most notorious items on any college student’s expense list.

In the last decade, an emphasis on open access learning tools has taken hold. Educators, thinkers, publishers and others have put heads and resources together to create learning tools that cut student costs without sacrificing quality – making higher education just that much more accessible. Wendy is an open access pioneer and has been working to create and promote open source educational tools since the start. Two tools she uses everyday in her teaching: LabArchives and OpenStax.

LabArchives, our learning platform, cuts students costs and is the only platform of its kind designed specifically for science instruction and learning. OpenStax has published nineteen low cost, peer reviewed, digital science textbooks for university course instruction.

These two powerful, low cost tools are now integrated with one another! Here, Wendy details her open access efforts, why open access matters, how to bring it to your students and more on how these valuable tools can bring positive change to your course and higher education in general.

Open source/access has become a buzzword. You were early to the game, how’d you get so invested in it? I started teaching at the high school level and was very motivated but didn’t have to think about textbook costs at that point. Then in 2009 when I started teaching at College of the Redwoods, I remember other faculty members showing me the books they used for their classes. I just did what they did, and submitted the book orders. It wasn’t until week six of my course that my students told me the book was $300. I was absolutely blown away. I hadn’t thought about the impact on my students. That was the moment when I went, “Holy crap this is not ok.” I started exploring alternative options and was pretty set on finding something that was less expensive. It was a concerning situation for me.

What alternative textbook options did you start exploring? I started by cobbling together images and resources that were free and open soruce that I could use to create a text book for my students. It took ages.

Cobbling together resources was a huge investment of time and energy. I was lucky enough to have support on my campus for this. We had a graphic designer I could go to when I needed an image, which was an incredible resource- but it still took time.

Wendy started out by compiling as many open access resources as she could find into a printed “textbook” of sorts. It was a huge time commitment on her end.

And from there? In 2011, I participated in the Kaleidoscope Grant, which funded the development of courses at College of the Redwoods using open education materials. I pulled together a bunch of resources for my non-majors general biology course and got involved with the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement.

A year after that, OpenStax developed their non-majors biology textbook. I wanted to cry with joy, I was so happy to have such a high quality textbook to use with my students. I no longer had to cobble together random resources on my own.

OpenStax low cost, peer reviewed digital textbooks cover a wide range of subject matters and topics.

Once you’d found OpenStax textbooks what’d you do next? Within a few semesters I convinced my colleagues to join me. Our entire department has been using the OpenStax Concepts of Biology textbook for our non-majors since 2012.

When OpenStax published their non-majors biology textbook I knew it was a jackpot! To have open resources all in one place and in textbook format was totally amazing. OpenStax has many many many faculty participants work on their textbooks and it’s so incredible to have access to such high quality textbook titles.

So now you had a low cost textbook in place. How did you find LabArchives? In 2017, we ran our first online general biology course, with a lab. It was winter break, right before I launched this online course for the first time and I got an email from LabArchives. I immediately realized it would be the perfect tool for facilitating the lab component of my upcoming online course. While I’m pretty good at cobbling things together, there is no question that LabArchives is a much better lab notebook tool than anything I could have created. In fact, I’m not sure what would I have done if I hadn’t found LabArchives.

And how has LabArchives worked with your online course? LabArchives has been absolutely clutch in making my online lab class doable. I had already developed most of my teaching materials for my face to face course, and while LabArchives was a new addition to my giddyup, I absolutely needed it to make my online course happen. Everything students need for the lab can happen inside of LabArchives, and this is really important because the fewer places students need to go to get their work done, the better.

Students can complete all phases of their online lab course within LabArchives. It’s easy to add images and image annotations as seen here with LabArchives desktop or mobile app.

How exactly do you set up an online lab course? I am able to facilitate the entire lab for my remote students via LabArchives. I have the students do one lab a week. Each week, they have a folder in LabArchives which has an introductory page for the lab, any handouts they need, tasks, data tables, “add selfie” sections, summary questions, etc.

Before the lab, students go to LabArchives to get their shopping list for the week, so they know what supplies they will need to buy. Sometimes students tip each other off with advice like, “Quick the dollar store has test tubes on sale!”

All assignment submission and grading is digital and flows through LabArchives too!

Selfies? Yeah! Students take pictures of themselves (and often their kids and pets) with the lab experiments. The selfies let me know that my online students are actually the ones doing the work and completing the lab!

How does LabArchives help facilitate the course experience since you don’t actually ever have all your students in one place? I create a discussion forum each week where students can talk about the lab. It is a totally free space. Students can help each other and answer one another’s questions in the forum. There are always one or two people who do the lab early who come into the forum and offer tips to others.

LabArchives also lets my students work in groups and that is something I’m playing with now. I have students tag one another as they complete tasks together. Working in groups is easier on them and faster to grade for me. Doing a lab on your own is hard. It requires a very detail oriented approach. Because of this, I have to do a lot of back end strategizing, but LabArchives helps me set it all up so students can be successful.

Do students recognize this effort? Ahhh…my students frequently express gratitude for the low-cost, high-quality tools that facilitate our class (LabArchives and OpenStax). These resources really make a difference. My students are grateful for the effort!

Are you excited about the LabArchives x OpenStax integration? I was stoked to see this partnership because I love both of these companies!

And what are you up to these days? I got to go to the Open Education Conference a few years ago and now I have a leadership role on campus. I am the liaison and guide for faculty who want to introduce more open source resources to their course curriculum.

As I mentioned, I teach both on campus and online courses now. Promoting student access is a constant goal for me. My online lab kit costs almost $200, so now I’m trying to figure out how to reduce that cost. I’m committed to trying to help my students reach their goals.

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