The Office of Digital Learning, as a means of promoting excellence and engagement in the online classroom, is turning to open educational resources to broaden opportunties for students of UA Online. Open Educational Resources (OER) are materials that are made freely available to students for use in their courses as an alternative to at-cost learning materials. OER can take the form of textbooks, lectures, videos, interactive learning objects and research articles. The steady increase in quality OER available, along with the benefits to faculty and students alike have led to a sharp increase in OER adoption in the past decade. As a means of helping faculty collect, curate and distribute OER to their students, the university has named Research and Learning Librarian, Cheryl Cuillier, the library's OER Coordinator. Her work in helping faculty to utilize OER in their classrooms has contributed to thousands of dollars in savings for the students. In the case of one ODL course that utilized a $200+ textbook, replacing this text with an OER book translated to approximately $360,000 in savings per semester, all without compromising quality or academic rigor. Here, we ask Cheryl a few questions about OER and their usage here at the UA.
What are some of the chief benefits of utilizing OER in courses?
Using open educational resources in place of expensive commercial textbooks improves student success. Since open educational resources are free to access, every student can use the required course materials from Day 1 of a course. Students don't fall behind because they can't afford to buy the textbook or because the textbook order hasn't arrived in the mail yet. Another advantage of OER is perpetual access. Some students try to save money by renting textbooks or selling their books back at the end of the semester, but what if they need the books for other classes, licensing tests, or future reference on the job? Students can download OER and keep the materials as long as they want. A big advantage for instrutors is that OER can be customized (revised, remixed, translated into other languages, etc.) to meet a course's specific learning objectives. Instructors can mix and match OER chapters and integrate content they've created.
Tell us about some of the initiatives you are leading as OER Coordinator for the UA?
I've worked with Garry Forger of the Office of Instruction & Assessment to develop an OER website. It has tips for finding and using OER, resources, and contact information. The library is hosting OER Day at the UA on May 1. We’re bringing in two OER experts from the University of Minnesota: David Ernst, creator of the Open Textbook Library, and Sarah Cohen, Managing Director of the Open Textbook Network. They’ll be leading an Open Textbook Adoption workshop for UA faculty and three open sessions (on campus OER collaboration, liaison librarians, and instructional design). We’ll offer additional OER workshops during the year.
Share some of your success stories with OER at the UA?
In the Spring 2014 eContent Pilot Project at the UA, two courses used open textbooks in place of commercial textbooks. We estimate that using open textbooks saved students in those two courses more than $11,000. One of those courses was SBE 202, Professional Communication & Presentation, taught by Janice Cervelli, Dean of the College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture, and Ladd Keith. They're using the public-speaking book again in Spring 2015, saving those students close to $5,000. The savings add up fast.
What are some of the misconceptions or myths about OER?
I think the biggest misconception is that if a textbook is free, it can't be very good. The Introductory Statistics textbook from OpenStax is high-quality, peer-reviewed, and based on the authors' commercial edition. It's over 800 pages! Philanthropic organizations such as the Gates and Hewlett foundations have contributed a lot of money to fund the creation of OpenStax books. The books come in a variety of formats, including an accessible version for those with visually impairments. Students who prefer print can buy low-cost hardcover copies via Amazon. I just ordered a print copy of the OpenStax statistics textbook and it's fabulous. With Amazon Prime, I got it in 2 days.
How can UA faculty get started selecting OER for their courses?
[UA faculty] can contact me and I'll search for OER for their courses. Since there's no single central repository for OER yet, it can sometimes be challenging to track down OER across the web. I'm happy to help with that step and give instructors a range of options. They can choose what works best for them.