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Chattanooga State Community College

Surge in Student Success: Impact of Open Education Resources on Equity Learning

  • 5 Min Read

The mathematics department at Chattanooga State Community College sought to tackle low student success within its Introductory Statistics course and create a curriculum to better equip students for success. A pilot course was created using D2L Brightspace and Open Education Resources. The school’s efforts resulted in increased student success, advancing equity and removing financial barriers. Chattanooga State is a recipient of a 2024 D2L Excellence Award based on its innovations.


Chattanooga State Community College



  • Brightspace Core
  • External Learning Tools
  • Assignment Dropbox
  • Classlist


  • April Crenshaw, Associate Professor of Mathematics
  • Anita Polk-Conley, Professor of mathematics
  • Harsh Patel, Associate Professor of Mathematics



  • In the semester of the pilot, the success rate for OER pilot sections was 14 percentage points higher than comparable sections not in the pilot, with notable growth for marginalized, first generation, and Pell eligible learners
  • The highest student success growth was observed among students who are Hispanic and Black with 45 and 34 percentage point increases, respectively
  • Costly external content outside of Brightspace was eliminated, saving each student in the OER pilot sections approximately $175, an estimated total of $12,000 in savings and $250,000 for full-scale adoption across all sections


Addressing Equity Gaps in Math

Chattanooga State’s exploration into pedagogical innovation began by identifying alarmingly low success rates of its highest-enrolled general education mathematics course, Introductory Statistics. Despite its popularity, nearly 40% of students failed each semester, disproportionately affecting marginalized, Pell-eligible, and first-generation students.

“We saw students struggling to engage with the material and achieve success in Introductory Statistics,” explains April Crenshaw, associate professor. “It was evident that traditional approaches were not meeting the diverse needs of our math students.”

Recognizing the urgent need for change, the mathematics department embarked on a journey to transform the course, aiming to enhance outcomes and promote equity in education.


Breaking Barriers Through Open-Source Education

To address the Introductory Statistics course challenges, the team at Chattanooga State worked on developing a solution that encompassed a multifaceted approach, blending Brightspace’s interactive platform with OER.

With Brightspace’s ability to incorporate external learning tools, Chattanooga State was able to simplify the learner experience and leverage free resources, such as MyOpenMath and OpenStax’s Introductory Statistics textbook, directly in the course.

We wanted to create a learning experience that was not only engaging but also accessible to all students. By integrating OER into our curriculum, we were able to provide high-quality resources at no cost to students, removing financial barriers to education

Dr. Anita Polk-Conley, professor

Authentic Assessment Strategy for Real-World Application

In order to create a single-source learning environment for students and further reduce confusion, the team leveraged Brightspace’s Assignment Dropbox tool for experiential learning projects and peer evaluations.

“Incorporating custom Excel templates into Brightspace course modules fostered an interactive experience and active engagement with statistics in health, social issues and business,” explains Harsh Patel, associate professor. “This encouraged students to conduct hands-on data analysis using real-world datasets relevant to their future careers and lives.”

This enriched learning environment is complemented by the inclusion of real-world projects instead of traditional exams. Students engage in team projects, analyzing societal issues through statistical lenses. This authentic assessment strategy encourages a comprehensive application of statistical knowledge and teamwork skills, addressing challenges such as social loafing with peer evaluations.

Beyond Content Delivery

With the goal of a holistic redesign of its Introductory Statistics course, the team introduced Embedded Learning Assistants (ELAs) in the classroom. These ELAs acted as in-class tutors and were introduced to the classroom to provide continuous support to students throughout the semester. Utilizing Brightspace’s Classlists and communication tools, ELAs opened lines of communication and expanded assistance availability for students.

“The incorporation of ELAs transformed the classroom dynamic. Students felt supported and were encouraged to seek help when needed, leading to greater confidence and academic success,” notes Crenshaw.


Empowering Learners, Advancing Equity

The new Introductory Statistics curriculum debuted less than a year ago, but the impact across seven pilot sections has surpassed expectations, with tangible improvements in student success rates and perceptions of learning. Feedback from students and institutional leaders alike underscores the transformative nature of the approach.

Notably, success rate data from the Fall 2023 semester demonstrated an 83% pass rate in OER sections, significantly higher than the 69% rate in non-OER sections. Improvements in student success rates were most prominent among historically marginalized populations, first-generation students and Pell-eligible.

  • Black student success rate increased from 33% to 67%
  • Hispanic student success rate increased from 33% to 78%
  • Academically underprepared student success rate increased from 63% to 77%
  • Pell-eligible student success rate increased from 50% to 72%
  • First-generation student success rate increased from 45% to 75%

I commend our faculty for their innovative approach to redesigning Introductory Statistics. By leveraging Brightspace and OER, they have empowered our students to succeed academically and to thrive in their educational journeys.

Rebecca Ashford, Ed.D., president of Chattanooga State

Reducing Barriers

The introduction of OER has helped students overcome economic barriers and alleviate financial burdens.

“We eliminated the need for materials and external content, saving each student approximately $175 or roughly $12,000 total savings for our pilot. A full-scale adoption of our new course curriculum on Brightspace will potentially save stats students a total of $250,000 each year,” added Polk-Conley.

Beyond the immediate financial relief for individual students, the impact of reducing financial barriers extends to broader aspects of student life and academic success. By removing the financial burden associated with purchasing textbooks and course materials, Chattanooga State has ensured that all students have equal access to essential learning resources, regardless of their socioeconomic background. This not only promotes academic equity but also fosters a more inclusive learning environment where every student can thrive.

Fostering Collaboration Among Educators

The course redesign project has fostered a spirit of collaboration and innovation among educators within both Chattanooga State and the larger education community. The success of the project has led to the team working with additional instructors to redesign and develop other courses at the school. The team has also begun to open the dialogue on open education through participation in multiple educational forums and facilitating conversations with other higher education institutions.

Through strategic integration of pedagogical innovations, such as OER, and providing a centralized source for all course content through Brightspace, Chattanooga State is making meaningful progress in increasing student success. The school’s commitment to equity and innovation serves as a beacon for educators seeking to enhance learning experiences and promote inclusivity in higher education.

“Our comprehensive approach has not only transformed outcomes for targeted groups but led to increased success rates across the board,” concludes Crenshaw. “This affirms a vital tenet of equity in education: Centering students at the margins with intention and care leads to inclusive practices which serve as a rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s a powerful testament to how equitable approaches can enhance the academic journey for every student.”

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