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Open Educational Resources

OTL 681: Creating Digital Media for Online Instruction

Jim Thomas's Open Educational Resources Adoption Portrait

Abstract: These open course materials are being utilized in an Online Teaching and Learning course for graduate students by Jim Thomas at Cal State East Bay. These resources provide students with a variety of ways to engage with a variety of free materials that are available through websites, instructor created content and our library databases . The main motivation to adopt free resources is to increase student success. The learning outcomes of the course are not be covered in any single textbook and this subject matter changes rapidly. Most student access these materials through our learning management system, Blackboard Ultra.

COOLforED is a service of the California State University-MERLOT program.
Partial funding provided by the State of California, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundationand the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Questions? Email cool4ed@cdl.edu

About the Resources


Description: My motivation was to lower the net costs of courses makes them accessible to much greater numbers of students. During this process materials were chosen from a variety of sources such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, Nielsen Norman Group, and the US Government. These resources help to keep content current and relevant to the course topics.

Formats: Most content was designed to be viewed via the web. Much of the academic content is available as PDF. Links to web-based PDFs were used for copyright compliance purposes.

Supplemental resources:N/A

Cost savings: This course is zero cost to students and has saved an average of $50 per student.

Accessibility and diversity statement: All resources were checked for accessibility. Videos captions were at 85% accurate; human -generated captions were generated for those videos that did not meet this standard. All websites and PDF documents are ADA compliant.

About the Course


Course Number: OTL 681: Creating Digital Media for Online Instruction

Description: Making multimedia materials available in the online classroom with texts, images, sounds, videos, and animations. Focus on needs of students with accessibility challenges.

Prerequisites: OTL 601, OTL 602, OTL 603, OTL 604.

GE credit: This is a graduate level course

Syllabus available here: Here is a link to the course syllabus.

Learning outcomes:

1.Create a high quality, interactive online course in their discipline that demonstrates knowledge of learning theory and instructional design.

2. Applies understanding of recent technologies.

3. Incorporates recommendations of recent research in online teaching and learning.

4. Applies knowledge of learning differences and disabilities.

5. Describe a rationale for the design features of the online course created, citing specific supporting research and best practices based on a comprehensive review of the literature related to online teaching and learning

in their disciplines.

Curricular changes: I was able to find course materials to support the course objectives.

Teaching and learning impacts:
Collaborate more with other faculty : Yes, I was able to work with other instructors and designers in the M.S. in eLearning program.


Use wider range of teaching materials: Yes, I was able to integrate various types of media and support content. 


Student learning improved : Yes


Student retention improved : Unsure


Any unexpected results: N/A

Sample assignment: Here is a  sample assignment and rubric. 

OER Adoption

OER Adoption Process

Textbooks are notoriously expensive and obviously increase the barrier to disadvantaged populations. Eliminating this barrier is a very simple and straightforward method of increasing access for everyone, especially in a topic (User Interfaces) in which the best information is provided for free by the companies impacting the industry most, like Google, Apple, and Microsoft.


Student access: All content is checked each semester to ensure students have access to all links, PDFs, videos, etc. and that all content is still accessible.

Student Feedback: Students are highly supportive of free materials. I’ve only had one or two students out of hundreds complain about the lack of textbooks (I’ve never used textbooks in courses I've designed).


Jim Thomas

I am an Online Teaching and Learning professor at the Cal State East Bay. I teach Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning, Technology Tools for Online Instruction, Educational Planning and Development for Online Programs, Building the Online Environment, Creating Digital Media for Online Instruction, Designing and Implementing User Interfaces for Online Instruction,  and Content Development for Online Learning.

Teaching Philosophy: My great satisfaction in life is building things, particularly systems of things. People are systems of attitudes, beliefs, learning, experiences, and more. A system of students, each with their own needs, prior knowledge, personal traits, goals, and other attributes combine to form a rich tapestry as a class. It’s important to me that my classes are available and useful to all students, regardless of our many differences. I’ve had students from many parts of the world in my classes. This diversity has always proven to be a significant asset. Understanding and nurturing each of these systems makes teaching rewarding. My goal is not an “A” for everyone; I want students to master the skills and knowledge the course is designed to provide. 

Memorization of individual facts is mooted by the almost infinite quantity of data constantly generated and the ability to access this information just-in-time. I am a committed constructivist, providing students the skills they need to access information, but more importantly, to synthesize it into usable, applicable knowledge. This requires nurturing of an oft-neglected asset: creativity. I encourage my students to flex their creativity by taking unorthodox approaches to achieve desired learning outcomes.

I find that students learn most usefully by collaborating rather than being siloed in textbooks, lectures, and formulaic assessment. Group projects are often unpopular and not optimally constructed. I provide groups with structure and grade individually, which are the keys to successful collaboration. When groups work effectively, their commonalities form an initial bond, but their diversity is what sparks imagination and progress. A recognition of competencies is a key factor in a successful collaboration between students and teacher. With carefully designed scaffolding, students use their existing knowledge to build new skills and earn the confidence to accompany those skills.

Communication between instructor and students is key is my courses. Questions won’t always arise during a face-to-face lecture, so I employ a learning management system such as Canvas or Blackboard. Students can request help both from myself and others in the class, who often provide extremely timely answers. I will offer other discussions, both on- and off-topic, to aid in transforming a student roster into a learning community and to foster a sense of connection. Socratic method is a key component in most of the online courses I’ve designed.

My research interests are generally two-fold. My primary area of interest has been the use of technology to aid in the remote instruction of musical instruments. However, I have increasingly been working on issues of student satisfaction in online learning course design.