If you were to go and checkout at the grocery store, the textbook checkout line, or your amazon order and it gave you a notification that said ‘congratulations, your order today is free,’ I bet you would get pretty excited. At least, I know I would, as would any other reasonable person who likes to save money. This is essentially what happens when you use OER. Schools, faculty, and students get to walk out of the textbook line for free! That in and of itself is exciting, but what if there was something more exciting? Well, there is something that’s more exciting than free, and it’s open.
The reason that open is even better than getting something for free is because you have permissions to alter that material to best fit your needs. Whether you are a faculty member who wants to tailor the text of the course so it is more applicable or a student that likes to mix resources together and share their remixes with fellow students, open means you get free resources and more!
In order for something to qualify as OER, you must have permission to alter the material to be able to use it most effectively. The key tenets, or 5 R’s, that qualify a material as OER are the ability to:
This is what gets me excited about OER. It’s the adaptability, customizability, and ability to improve quality of resource use and instruction. Pawlyshyn, Braddlee, Casper, and Miller (2013) conducted a cross-institutional case study and asserted that ‘creative use of OER offers tangible benefits in student success and retention, resulting in measurable performance increases.’ Why wouldn’t faculty be using resources that not only lift financial burden from students but also could result in improved learning outcomes? I think that we can talk about cost until we are blue in the face and as much as faculty should care, and do care about burdensome costs for students, they don’t really care. I understand, and I know faculty that would never sacrifice quality for a few bucks saved, but I think it’s more than that. If we discussed with faculty the ability that OER have to improve teaching and learning, I think it would be a completely different discussion that would garner the attention of those that select the resources at their institution, those that could be the champions of OER.
I recently heard of open textbooks referred to as a potential thousand dollar scholarship for every student. I thought this was the perfect analogy for OER. Of course it’s not always going to be a thousand dollars, it may be six hundred a year, or even less, but it could be equated to a small stipend for each student. It’s easy to say free things save us money, and it’s even harder to try to write a blog post for class about how free things save money (it’s pretty obvious), but putting this money into the context of something we understand and using language that shares the impact of money saved is much more powerful.
Wouldn’t providing scholarships for every student and college be incredibly impactful? I can’t think of a university president, dean, leader, that if asked the question ‘would you like to offer a scholarship to every student that attends your school a scholarship’ would answer with a no. Thinking of the savings at one institution, mine of almost 30,000 students, is astounding.
What’s most important about the money saved is what students do with the savings. I was recently reading through survey data that I am helping analyze and students used money saved due to OER to buy groceries, pay for rent, pay for their transportation to internships, make payments on their loans, save for future education, take more classes, replace shoes with holes in them, buy diapers for their children, etc. There are students who funnel the money straight back to their education, and students who expressed not having to choose between rent and textbooks. The value of what in the grand scheme is a small amount of money, a small scholarship, often enables students to pursue an education and maintain reasonable quality of life. It’s not that free things save students money, it’s the impact that the money saved can have that’s the real topic of discussion.
While I’m normally someone who is proud to have surpassed the national average, I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled to spend $700 on one semester of used textbooks. When I showed up at the bookstore to pickup my online order, the bookstore employee told me that my order had garnered some attention due to the astounding volume of books. I had added the classes that totaled to the greatest amount of books of any other student. I laughed, and said something stupid like, ‘well that’s the life of a history major!’ Now, I’m not going to pretend to know the burden of a student who is barely going to make a rent payment and finds out they have textbook cost that exceeds the tuition payments they had very carefully budgeted for.
Sophomore year, textbook sellback preparation
The most ethical problem textbooks carry, whether they cost students $600 or $1200 a year is the unanticipated cost. Why are colleges not communicating with students actual textbook costs, and why do colleges not regulate or consider textbook costs? I loved this recent study by Jeff Denning (BYU) that showed how reducing community college tuition by $1000 can increase enrollment by 5.1 percentage points. If only there was a way to reduce costs by one thousand dollars!!!!!! 😉 All joking aside, this is how students become forsaken by the education system. I can complain abut student debt, or wanting to buy nicer things, but nothing is more integral than providing access to education to those in our communities.
Another issue is the utility that the textbooks serve for the consumers of the textbook. I have been in many a classroom where I comply and buy my textbooks at the beginning of the semester but it’s function as a supplementary material is weak at best. Some professors only have you use a couple of pages of a full text! If a text is useless to me, and to all of the other students, why are we even spending $200 on it? In my opinion, if I can be expected to read 5 different textbooks a semester, a faculty member can skim an open textbook. All that, and students can save money that can be used to alleviate financial stress from students. Whether it’s a matter of access or making education a little bit less less financially overwhelming for students, the barrier of cost of textbooks needs some attention.