UI OpenHawks grants help faculty create open resource textbooks tailor-fit for their courses

After its first year of awarding grants, University of Iowa Libraries are in their second year of the OpenHawks grants. These awards are for faculty members to create online resources for students at no cost.

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Jenna Galligan

The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter


The University of Iowa Libraries will begin their second year of awarding OpenHawks grants that allow faculty members and students to develop their own educational resources, after awarding 15 in the last academic year.

The three-year grant program is funded partly by the UI Office of the Provost and Undergraduate Student Government, giving faculty members the opportunity to use the funding to create or adapt online textbooks and resources for students and eliminate cost barriers.

There are five different grant-award types: adoption with funding ranging from $500 to $1,000, remixing with funding ranging from $750 to $2,000, support materials with funding ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, course design with funding up to $5,000, and Open Educational Resources creation with funding up to $10,000.

The adoption grants are for those who already have a textbook they want to use but require adaptations to it, and the remixing grants allow faculty to take existing open licensed content to make their textbook, said Mahrya Burnett, scholarly communications librarian in UI libraries.

The funding can help faculty members work toward a more interactive textbook, Burnett said, like a module or project-based program. The money can also help faculty with compensation for authoring the textbook and resources or they can hire experts or students to help them write, copy edit, and peer-review the work, she said.

The OpenHawks grant deadline for the spring 2020 round of applications has been extended to May 8, Burnett added.

The program benefits students most because it means they could have one less textbook to buy for the semester, Burnett said. After its first year, the grant is projected to save students $100,000, she said.

“One of the other advantages is really, from the student perspective, is that they would have the resource available to them on the first day, so you don’t have to wait for the book to come,” Burnett said.

Kate Magsman-Conrad, an associate professor of communications, was awarded a $10,000 creation grant to create a textbook from scratch for her class communications research methods class. The class is required for the major and is disliked by many students, she said.

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Her and a group of honors students have worked to create and complete the textbook for the past year, Magsman-Conrad said. The textbook will be ready for use for the fall 2020 semester, she added.

The textbook has infographics and charts that students created, she said, with content and sampling examples related to Iowa. There’s also a weekly assignment in the textbook for students to complete and the best submission will become part of the book, Magsman-Conrad said.

“First and foremost, it’s free, and there’s no cost to the students at all,” Magsman-Conrad said. “I think that’s intensely valuable. The second thing is that for Iowa students in particular it’s very tailored to our class — to the way I teach methods in that particular class.”

Giovanni Zimotti, Spanish and Portuguese lecturer, and Fernando Castro Ortiz, lecturer and director of the Spanish Speaking, Writing, and Conversation Center, were awarded $9,000 to create a textbook for intermediate Spanish students interested in education.

The corresponding class was piloted this semester and now he and Zimotti are fine tuning it, Castro Ortiz said.

There are four modules to the course with activities, discussions, and vocabulary and grammar sections, he said. The four modules are: the role of immigration in the U.S., bilingual education, education systems in Spanish-speaking countries, the political system, and the relationship between parents and teachers, Castro Ortiz said.

“It’s important that students see at this level, now that they are finishing with this class for their language requirement, that they realize that for their professional future that Spanish is going to be relevant and important and useful,” Castro Ortiz said.

Castro Ortiz teaches the course and Zimotti has been helping to create the materials. The textbook is developed on a site called Pressbooks, Zimotti said. The interactive materials allow students to do self-assessments and figure out what they are doing correctly and what they need to work on, he added.

The textbooks the two had found for courses similar to these weren’t made with undergraduates in mind and were targeted toward professionals who aren’t familiar with Spanish, Zimotti said.

“This is a more advanced course that didn’t exist before,” Zimotti said. “This is another huge advantage for students that [the textbook] has a lot of authentic material, and a lot of interactive activities.”

Christine Wingate, a faculty member in the UI’s English as a Second Language program, received a $7,730 grant to work on an online resource for students to practice pronunciation of English words on their own.

Wingate’s resource was complete when she received the grant, but she has used the funding to improve the activities, videos, and audio on the website.

She saw a need for resources over the past several years because pronunciation is not taught as a separate class so there is a limited amount of time spent on this subject, and this is something that sometimes needs a lot of practice, Wingate said.

“I hope it will really give [students] the means to be autonomous learners, to not be restricted to whatever we have time for in class, or whatever the teacher chooses to give them, but they can choose what they want to work on,” Wingate said.

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