By Torrey Feldman
Open Educational Resources (OER), as defined by the Hewlett Foundation, are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. These resources are high quality materials that include textbooks, teaching aids, assessments, etc. all for the benefit of affordably furthering academia in both the K-12 & higher education environments.
For far too long, teaching and learning aids that are both cost-effective and high quality have been hard to come by. There is a monopoly on textbook publishing that allows for fixing and ever-increasing prices. Even back in 2007, a report by Student PIRGs called out the steady rise of textbook costs that is students encountered at the time. But thanks to OER, solutions to this problem are surfacing.
Some colleges and universities in the country are on the forefront of embracing OER and seeing positive effects of their efforts.
In 2012, Rice University started OpenStax, a “high-quality educational tools give students access to the learning materials they need to succeed, at little to no cost,” via open textbooks with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (except where otherwise noted). Today OpenStax’s textbooks, “textbooks are being used in 48% of college and universities in the U.S. and over 100 countries.”
Many schools are embracing OER with open arms – and many individual professors are doing their part to help defray costs in their own courses. Tidewater Community College (TCC) offers a “Z-Degree” in which its students pay zero dollars for their books.The school reports up to a 25% decrease in student costs and an increase in the likelihood that students will not only finish the course, but do so well. University of Texas at Arlington is also a big proponent for OER through their Open Access research and publishing efforts. And how about Florida State University, which began offering Alternative Textbook Grants to professors who were willing to embrace OER in their courses. Additionally, the University of Hawaii at Mānoa Outreach College is the point campus for the UH system that emboldens members of its OER Steering Committee that exists to, “improve access to education and student success by reducing the cost of materials and exploring the pedagogical opportunities made possible by OER.”
Embracing OER doesn’t always start as a university-wide initiative. Right here at on our campus, the push for OER is happening on a smaller but just as meaningful scale. Christine Farley, an intellectual property law professor at the American University Washington College of Law, has reorganized all of her classes in order to incorporate exclusively openly licensed textbooks in an effort to provide students with a free learning option. Further, our main campus is home to Open American, an initiative that has helped transition nearly twenty courses into using OER. Through this initiative, “the Center for Teaching, Research & Learning offers logistical and technological support to AU faculty who make the switch from cost-bearing textbooks and other resources to freely available OERs.”
OER doesn’t only offer financial benefits to higher education students, but it positively impacts academics too. The University of Georgia conducted a study “which compared the final grades of 21,822 students enrolled in eight undergraduate courses between 2010 and 2016, found that students who were given OER early in the semester got significantly better grades, as a group, than those who were not,” according to edscoop.
The authors mentioned that this difference was likely because the students were prepared for the course on the first day – instead of waiting to buy the book or possibly trying to attempt the entire course without the required material.
The decision to pursue higher education can be very costly. Though there are various federal and private options for student loans, the interest associated with those debts are even worse. If grade schools, professors, and universities made the switch to OER textbooks, they would not only be assisting their students financially, but they could also be fostering a better scholastic environment. Affordable course materials would certainly defray the cost of higher education. And there’s nothing more affordable than free.