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Open educational resources lighten financial burden for students

Published on January 07, 2021

Open educational resources lighten financial burden for students


In the face of soaring costs for textbooks and the financial burdens caused by COVID-19, a number of Eastern Connecticut State University faculty and staff are providing a more economical and equitable means for accessing course curriculum. In lieu of traditional, high-cost textbooks, they are utilizing open educational resources (OER).

According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the price of college textbooks has skyrocketed, increasing by 73 percent — four times the rate of inflation — over the past decade. Many textbooks cost more than $200, some as high as $400. The PIRG says nearly 5.2 million undergraduate students spend $3 billion of financial aid on textbooks each year.

OER are free educational materials that are openly licensed to enable reuse and redistribution by users. OER makes learning a collaborative effort by tailoring existing resources to the specific content of a professor’s course. OER materials include digital learning materials, modules, lectures, games, simulations, course syllabi, homework assignments and quizzes. Studies show that professors use these open resources in a similar manner to traditional textbooks.

Sociology Professor Nicholas Simon was awarded three grants — a $1,000 Supplemental Material Grant this past fall to create supplemental material for his textbook, “Introduction to Sociology, 2nd edition” by OpenStax; a $500 Review Grant, which allowed him to review the textbook “Classical Sociological Theory and Foundations of American Sociology” by Allison Hurst; and a $500 Review Grant, to review “Sociology of Education” created by Cyrille Mihanisty.

To help his students during COVID-19, Simon found numerous YouTube videos covering topics he teaches. “I received much positive feedback, especially from students who were visual learners.” A 2020 grant resulted in him finding additional educational videos to supplement the textbook.

Simon loved the work by Hurst, noting she “did amazing pedagogical work that truly added a great value to these texts.” He said the Mihanisty OER, created for future teachers in Africa, is very different from the curriculum offered in North American colleges and universities.

Simon said in addition to OER materials helping students, especially students from low-income families, open access materials offer faculty the opportunity to share work with numerous others.  

“Our intellectual creation can be transformed and improved to become a part of collective knowledge,” explained Simon. “It is a gift to humanity, instead of being a cultural product reserved for the person who can afford it. This gift can be transformed to include more examples representing the social locations possessing different experiences. For example, the experiences of individuals and groups in China, Kenya, France or America may be different. OER offer the opportunity for all to add and make this intellectual creation better.”

Mathematics Professor Kim Ward, who began exploring OER in 2008 as coordinator of the Math Foundations Program at Eastern, says the high cost of math textbooks, coupled with the speed at which math is taught, is a “recipe for failure.” She employs OER strategies and materials in several of her classes. “This is important to me. I may not be able to reduce tuition, but using and promoting the use of OER has provided students with much needed financial relief.”

Librarian Angela Walker said affordable higher education is an important piece in making society more equitable. Free textbooks and other no-cost/low-cost educational resources complement library resources. She and O’Donnell help professors find other no-cost/low-cost educational resources and learning materials for students.

They provide library support for OER by organizing annual presentations and workshops; sending out promotional emails to encourage instructors to use OER; sending out grant information; and creating guides and tutorials. Walker also created the “Eastern OER Network” to keep track of OER users on campus, and facilitated sessions for the annual OER Connecticut Summit, an event for faculty and student government leaders to learn about the benefits of OER.

“Open educational resources are free educational materials that are openly licensed to enable reuse and redistribution by users. They are instantly available online but can also be purchased in print format for usually less than $40,” said Walker. “Instructors can use an entire textbook or course, or only part of the content, edit, change, combine with other open resources, and reuse without asking for permission. Professors can tailor materials to the needs of their course instead of working with one rigid textbook.”

Walker and Ward are also members of the CSCU-wide OER Advisory Council. This council is a network of librarians and faculty to support the use of OER in the CSCU system, which meets regularly to discuss strategies for advocacy of OER.

Student Tara Nguyen was delighted to present at the Connecticut OER Conference this past October. She presented her thesis work on the Asian-American achievement gap and highlighted how open educational resources are financially invaluable.

“I am involved in the cause of OER because it is extremely important to have accessible resources to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background. As a student who is interested in research, the ability to use OER has allowed me to access the background information I need in order to progress with my own research endeavors. Without OER, I wouldn't be able to do the research I have done as an undergraduate student.”

Written by Dwight Bachman