Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) Symposium Presenter Profiles

Digital Learning Initiatives and Innovation Throughout the UNC System

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Jessica Ganao
Tracy Barley








Dr. Ganao is an Associate Professor in Criminal Justice at North Carolina Central University. She has been a member of the faculty for 15 years. Her research interests include factors that impact student success, barriers to female faculty tenure, and the intersection of race, class and gender and delinquency.  You can contact her at 919.530.5197,

Attorney Barley is the Director of Office of E-Learning at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where she is responsible for leading the university’s distance education and online programs. Prior to joining the staff at Southern University, she was a Clinical Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Distance Education Programs in the Department of Criminal Justice at North Carolina Central University. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Leadership Studies with a focus on Higher Education, and Women and Leadership. Her research interests include women’s executive leadership, and education access and affordability. For more information, you can contact her at


Open Education Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research materials to include digital content in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution with no or limited restrictions . Using OER offers institutions the ability to reach the underserved, to create transformational instructional delivery and create a scalable model for faculty adoption of OER.

In the 2015-16 academic year, the UNC System ranked among the top 10 public university systems in the country in low-income student access. Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the system, have higher percentages of students who are Pell recipients. The cost of higher education includes not only tuition, but ongoing costs related to housing, fees, and books. Research shows most students, regardless of economic status, have concerns related to the cost of textbooks. In fact, nearly half of all students surveyed said the cost of textbooks affected which or how many classes they took each semester, notwithstanding the negative impact on course outcomes.

Utilizing OER makes a college education accessible and affordable. However, there are barriers to using OER. Although research shows that faculty are increasingly aware of OER, there are barriers to faculty adopting these materials. A yearlong mixed methods project conducted at NC Central University indicates faculty barriers relate to finding relevant resources, the time to redevelop courses, and supportive services. However, the findings also show these barriers can be overcome by providing stipends, creating a learning community, and providing physical space & expertise from campus experts. Faculty in the study indicate they would recommend OER:

  • “It allows students to get the same or better experiences in the classroom for reduce or no costs. The time and effort it takes to switch the class over is worth it when you get the positive comments from students.”

This study represents a scalable model to increase access, improve outcomes and reduce time to graduation:

  • “Course materials were ready Day 1”
  • “I was also more thoughtful about building more exercises into each module to make the course more engaging for the students”

The project findings show when barriers to faculty adoption of OER are addressed, they are more willing to use OER materials, which increases access, student interaction, and improved outcomes.


  1. William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (2019). Open educational resources. Retrieved from
  2. University of North Carolina: A System of Higher Learning. University of North Carolina System taking “aims” at innovation. Academic innovations for affordability (February 14, 2017). Retrieved from
  3. The Student PIRGS (2014). Open textbooks: The billion-dollar solution.
  4. The Campus Computing Project (2016). Going digital: Faculty perspectives on digital and OER course materials. Retrieved from

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