Faculty members explore cost-saving benefits of Open Educational Resources

March 22, 2017

OER logoWhen students convene for LRCT-2010, College Success this fall, there will be one notable absence: A costly textbook.

For the first time in the course’s history, students will be able to use freely available Open Educational Resources, or OER, to complete the class. The average savings per student will be about $130. The switch demonstrates how CCRI is embracing OER to help make higher education more affordable for students, who typically spend about $1,200 annually on textbooks.

“Once I started taking a look at some of the open options, I really liked what I saw,” said James Salisbury, associate professor and reference librarian at CCRI. “The cost of the book was about the cost of a third of the course.”

Along with potentially high price tags, traditional textbooks carry restrictive licenses that prevent faculty members from taking innovative approaches to make material available to students. OER have been funded, published and licensed to be freely used, adapted and distributed for course use. CCRI’s work with OER comes on the heels of a 2015 challenge from Gov. Gina Raimondo for colleges to transition to openly licensed textbooks to cut $5 million in student education costs.

David Ernst, creator of the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library and a leader in the subject, visited the Knight Campus recently to discuss the program with about 15 faculty and staff members. Ernst oversees the largest collection of open textbook materials available, with almost 400 texts in a variety of subjects. Hundreds of colleges nationwide access the library for teaching resources, he said.

Students can download materials for no cost or print them at low cost, generally about 20 percent of the cost of a regular text. In many cases professors also have the opportunity to tailor the material to suit their classroom needs.

“This seemingly not-shiny, not-flashy technology, in my mind, has more potential to impact student success than any technology that I have worked with,” Ernst said.

At CCRI, some faculty members already are exploring alternatives to combat the increasing cost of textbooks.

“The books constantly have to be updated. The changes are continuous,” said Cecile Roberti, associate professor and Business Department chairwoman. Roberti said the department works continuously to keep textbooks and accompanying resources available.

“We try to work with publishers to make it a reasonable price point for students,” Roberti said.

The alternative, potentially, is students delaying the purchase, sharing books or deciding not to buy them at all.

Alfred Craig, professor of biology at CCRI, loans students copies of a 2009 edition of the same textbook that other sections are using.

“I bought 52 copies of the book and I give them to the students to use for the semester so they are all using the same book,” he said. He can use an older edition in his class because of the subject area – “Evolution doesn’t work at a pace that is changing that much” – but notes that doesn’t work for constantly changing fields such as computer science.

Craig also has explored finding open texts in biology, which usually carry a heavy text book price tag for students.

Michael Kelly, chairman of the Computer Studies and Information Processing Department, is using open materials for COMP-123, Systems Analysis and Design.

“I found one [open text] that covers the core material I need and it is both free and downloadable as a PDF,” he said. Students can reference the text from any device that reads PDFs, and he fills in any gaps with supplemental material.

“The students will end up with the same content they always got. It’s the same as switching to any other text; this one is just free and portable,” he said.

While CCRI professors are under no obligation to explore open textbooks, Salisbury will lead a presentation on OER during Professional Development Day on Friday, March 31.

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Last Updated: 9/6/19