[dropcap]It[/dropcap] is no secret that the cost of textbooks has skyrocketed over the past years, with students spending on average around a thousand dollars a year on textbooks (Meyer, 2016). It should thus come as no surprise that the majority of students have opted out of buying a textbook at one time or another due to cost.
This, by itself, should lead faculty to look into Open Educational Resources (OER) as an alternative to pricey textbooks. Yet a survey found that only 30 percent of faculty are aware or very aware of open resources, and only 9 percent actually use open resources in their courses (Seaman and Seaman, 2017). Moreover, nearly half of faculty do not use open resources because they believe that the resources are too hard to find or that there are not enough available in their field.
There is clearly a wide gap in faculty understanding of OER that is hampering their adoption. Not only does this result in unnecessary costs for students, but with many students opting out of buying their required textbooks, it likely results in poorer student learning as well. Faculty assumptions about OER are often wrong, and so the first order of business is to address misconceptions. Then faculty should be given guidance on where to find and how to use OER.
How to address misconceptions
Many faculty assume that there are not many, if any, resources in their field. But in reality, there are a large number of OERs in nearly every academic field. A quick search of the Open Textbook Library yielded results in areas such as arts, sciences, business, engineering, law, medicine, education, journalism, and so on. The same is true of most other repositories. Thus, the first order of business is to identify the best OER repositories and guide faculty through them. Most faculty are surprised at how many resources are available in their field.
A second misconception is that OER only pertains to textbooks. While there are a large number of OER textbooks, there are also open resources in basically every type of educational media, from videos, to podcasts, assignments, assessments, syllabi, and multimedia learning modules that combine a variety of types of content into one lesson. In fact, there are entire open courses that can be cherry-picked for helpful content.
Many faculty also believe that open resources will be less reliable than traditional textbooks. But in reality, open resources are usually developed by educators and educational institutions, such as those at MIT’s Open Courseware
program, the Open University, OpenStax
at Rice University, and the Commonwealth of Learning Oasis
. There are also many states and provinces in the US and Canada that have invested in producing open resources through their institutions of higher education, including British Columbia, Ontario, California, and Oregon (Contact North, 2018).
In fact, OER can be better learning resources than traditional textbooks, because they often come with multimedia applications, such as self-tests. These applications can help harden the knowledge in the student’s mind over simply reading a textbook. As noted, these can be entire lessons with a variety of resources that heighten learning.
Finally, many faculty believe that they just do not have the time to find OER. The College of the Canyons solved this problem by using work study students to find and curate open resources (Lieberman, 2018). Students are tech savvy enough to scour various sources to find content that faculty might have missed, and the process of identifying, summarizing, and evaluating resources is itself a valuable information literacy exercise for students.
Best sources of OER
Once faculty understand that there are a world of OERs out there, they will need to know where to find them. Here it is helpful to point them to a few good repository of resources.
is a good starting point for finding open educational resources. It has over 32,000 resources presented in an easy to search and review format. It also provides simple steps for download and attribution of the resource.
is probably the oldest and best-known repository, and includes resources in a variety of forms, from digital textbooks to simulations, animation, presentations, and entire courses. Plus, each resource has both a peer rating from fellow teachers and a user rating from one to five stars.
Open Textbook Library
and OpenStax both offer digital textbooks that cover a broad range of topics. While the number of selections in any particular topic can be limited, they are good places to find introductory textbooks from academics.
Wikimedia, which produces Wikipedia, also hosts many open resources. Wikimedia Commons
hosts a mind-boggling 47 million images, videos, and sounds. WikiNews
has many thousands of open news articles in a variety of languages. A language teacher could use the site to get articles for students to practice reading and summarizing in the course language.
One thing that institutions will need to teach faculty is how to understand the various attribution licenses. This means understanding the distinction between free and open. Free resources like YouTube can be used by sending students links to videos, but it is not open because those videos cannot be downloaded and put into the course.
Most, though not all, open resources use the Creative Commons licensing system
, which allows authors to choose from a variety of licensing options, such as free to use but not modify, or free to use only for a non-profit organization. Find a quick tutorial on the categories here.
Contact North. (2018). Ten Facts About Open Educational Resources (OERs). https://contactnorth.ca
Lieberman, Mark. (2018). Trial and Error: Students and Alumni Lead OER Factory. Inside Higher Education, June 20, 2018.
Meyer, L., (2016). Report: Students Shun New Textbooks to Reduce Education Expenses, Campus Technology
, July 24, 2016. https://campustechnology.com/articles/2016/08/24/report-students-shun-new-textbooks-to-reduce-education-expenses.aspx
Seaman, J, and Seaman, J., (2017). Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2017, Babson Survey Research Group. http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/oer.html