Paving way for the growth of advanced manufacturing through the creation of Open Educational Resources, A major Clemson University Initiative


By Anand Gramopadhye, Professor & Dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, Principal Investigator, Director of Technology, Clemson University Center for Workforce Development

Kapil Madathil, Wilfred P. Tiencken Professor of Industrial and Civil Engineering
Graduate Program Coordinator, Director of Technology, Clemson University Center for Workforce Development

An ambitious project between Clemson Libraries and the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences (CECAS) to develop Open Educational Resource (OER) textbooks in a critical area of engineering for South Carolina and the nation is close to reaching fruition.

South Carolina faces a critical challenge in its economic development. The state is currently in a transition to manufacturing, which now accounts for the largest part of its GDP. Advanced manufacturing industries have also become a key driver of manufacturing growth in recent years. However, South Carolina needs a larger educated workforce with skills to take up jobs generated in advanced manufacturing industries. Although institutions of higher learning in the state have tried to address the problem by creating specialized degree and certificate programs in engineering focusing on advanced manufacturing skills, a major impediment to their efforts to build an educated workforce has been the high cost of learning materials in the subject and the lack of appropriate education materials for certain levels of education, such as the technical college level.

Seeking to address this situation, and to foster statewide economic growth, CECAS has actively engaged in the development of openly licensed learning materials to support workforce educational capacity in STEM fields in South Carolina in recent years. In 2011, the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development (CUCWD), an organization affiliated with CECAS was founded. Approved by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, the CUCWD works to develop high quality digital learning tools related to advanced manufacturing for 2-year technical colleges and industry. It specializes in the development of openly licensed animations, virtual reality simulations and online course modules demonstrating advanced manufacturing principles and practices and their application to the workplace, which are available to students and educators for free through the CUCWD’s EducateWorkforce platform. CUCWD works with CECAS faculty, industry stakeholders and other partners in the development of these resources and is the recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation and other federal funding bodies.

In the fall of 2020 Yang Wu, Open Resources Librarian for Clemson Libraries, approached us with an idea to expand the range of learning materials produced by CUCWD and to support broader levels of education related to advanced manufacturing. Working with the Libraries, CECAS and CUCWD would develop nine OER textbooks on three engineering topics related to advanced manufacturing, robotics, mechatronics, and advanced manufacturing processes. Three of these textbooks are for the technical college level, three are for four-year undergraduate programs, and another three for graduate programs. The OER textbooks incorporate some simulations and animations developed by the CUCWD, along with new interactive materials, and are available in online format through EducateWorkforce and in print through Clemson University Press, a department of Clemson Libraries. We were fascinated at the idea of developing full textbooks related to advanced manufacturing and lent our full support to the proposal.

With Wu serving as principal investigator, our initiative, called Collaborative Development of Robotics Education and Advanced Manufacturing Open Educational Resources (Co-DREAM OER), applied for $2 million from the Department of Education’s Open Textbook Pilot grant in 2020 to fund the development of the nine textbooks. A group of faculty and staff from CECAS, CUCWD and the Libraries wrote the application under Wu’s leadership, and we also expanded our project team to include two other institutions in South Carolina, along with BMW; ABB Robotics; the South Carolina Department of Commerce; the South Carolina Technical College System; and PASCAL, the state’s academic library consortium, as stakeholders. Thanks to the hard work of our project members, and Wu’s organizational and writing skills, we were awarded an initial $759,629 by the Department of Education in 2021 to develop three of the proposed OER robotics textbooks. We also received another $1.24 million to create the other six textbooks in early 2023 based on the good work we had produced.

The project attracted growing attention from institutions of higher learning from across South Carolina and across the country due to the innovativeness of its idea. It also produces materials that fill an important gap in OER, and can be used to support workforce training in the Southeast and several other parts of the country with expanding advanced manufacturing industries. The project team now includes 20 faculty, staff and graduate students from CECAS, CUCWD, and the Libraries, along with faculty from Tuskegee University, a historically Black university in Alabama; Trident Technical College in Charleston; the University of Illinois, Chicago; Michigan State University; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We have now completed one of the nine textbooks for undergraduate robotics with over 220 pages of content, dozens of animations and simulations illustrating robotics concepts and how they are applied in advanced manufacturing work settings, and instructional videos related to robotics Python programming. The completed textbook is currently undergoing editing and peer review through Clemson University Press, and will be published in the spring 2024 semester. We are also close to finishing the undergraduate textbook for advanced manufacturing and have started writing on four other textbooks. We will complete all textbooks by August 2026.

For an example of what the completed textbook will look like on EducateWorkforce, please click on this link.