According to a recent article in Forbes online, “Since 1978…college textbooks have risen 812 percent — more than twice as fast as the price of a new home”. The article goes on to state that the main cause for this increase is that the textbook industry is controlled by a small number of powerful publishers. While Community Colleges can already take pride in the fact that they offer students low-cost, high quality academic alternatives to 4-year colleges, there is now a similar alternative for expensive textbooks.
In recent years, a grassroots effort to promote Open Educational Resources (OERs) has really been picking up steam. Briefly described, OERs are free, electronic, publicly accessible materials that offer equivalent content to a traditional textbook. In addition to having no cost, these materials can be updated at any time due to their electronic format.
Two common questions related to OERs are how they are able to be free and, at the same time, retain a quality comparable to traditional textbooks. Regarding the cost (or lack thereof), publishers of OERs rely on generous support from donors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to compensate content creators. To ensure academic rigor, OERs are peer-reviewed, just like traditional textbooks.
Currently, there are four courses using OERs at SPCC: BIO 275, HIS 111, HIS 112, and SOC 210. Three of the instructors using these open source texts; Billy Dick, Steve Smith and David Wheeler, were recently interviewed on their experience using OERs. Below is an excerpt of their answers.
What prompted you to make the switch from a traditional textbook to an OER?
Billy Dick: “[My] former textbook (World Civ. I and II) [was] going out of print—I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make the change.”
David Wheeler: “[I] wanted to provide students with a lower cost version compared to the publisher offering.”
Steve Smith: “I wanted to find a way to make education more accessible/cheaper for the students we serve which largely come from a low socioeconomic background.”
How has your experience been so far?
Billy Dick: “It seems to be good so far; I have asked the students, and I hear no complaints. I have spoken to our adjunct, and he seems to be pleased with it as well.”
Steve Smith: “The students and I both love OER texts because they do not have to lug around heavy books and they can have access to my class materials long after they complete the class. In addition, and unlike paperback textbooks that information will remain up to date.”
David Wheeler: “Positive. The OER text is very similar to the book I was using. The web based platform that host’s the OER allows me to edit the text, incorporate reading questions and quizzes.”
What has been the most positive result(s) in switching to OER?
Billy Dick: “I am sure that students (and the school district, for Early College and CCP) are pleased with the savings; and I for one appreciate having one less book to lug around and/or misplace!”
Steve Smith: “My class saves our Early College schools on each campus thousands of dollars, and I know the materials are ADA compliant and vested/reviewed by other experts in the field. I can also assign chapters from many different textbooks online which gives me more freedom that extends past just relying on one text.”
David Wheeler: “Saving the students a couple hundred dollars and providing them with an equivalent text.”
What has been the biggest challenge(s) in switching to OER?
Billy Dick: “The resource that I chose (and frankly, there were not very many good choices in World History—another challenge in itself) consisted of over 160 individual links for two courses, so embedding them was time-intensive; it took a good chunk of the past summer to get this done the way I wanted it.”
Steve Smith: “Checking each and every link very often to make sure they work and are taking students to the content of interest.”
David Wheeler: “Rewriting all of my lecture notes, quizzes and tests to better match with the OER.”
How do you think the student experience has been so far? Any compliments or complaints by students on the new OER format?
Billy Dick: “No complaints that I have heard.”
Steve Smith: “My students love using OER’s because they…can study their work on their phones. Some of the sites also have videos and practice quizzes that allow students to ingest information in different ways.”
David Wheeler: “Mostly positive, the only minor downside is that if the students want a physical book, they have to be purchase one via amazon from openstax.org. The publisher version has more material than what I use in class.” [As a side note, students get $5 free printing each semester, which equals to 250 black and white copies. This could help defer the cost of a print copy of an OER]
Would you recommend that fellow faculty members consider using an OER instead of a traditional textbook? Why or why not?
Billy Dick: “If you can find an acceptable-quality OER, I certainly encourage experimenting with it—and at this point, that’s how I see my experience: it’s still an experiment.”
Steve Smith: “I highly recommend that more faculty look into partially or fully converting to OER dependent classes because it allows you to use information form a variety of vested texts instead of being limited by one text or forcing students to buy multiple books. OER’s also allow faculty to share assignments and teaching methodologies to be used as needed, which may prove to be useful to new faculty.”
David Wheeler: “Yes, especially if the OER is anywhere close to the existing book. The only downside is if the existing text has online homework or lab components. The OER has nothing like the publisher offered web based applications.”
Have you noticed any difference in overall academic performance since switching to OER?
Billy Dick: “Too early to tell. I think a couple semesters’ worth of data may be necessary to draw a conclusion.” [This is Billy’s first semester using OERs]
Steve Smith: Students turn in more work at the start of the course, and I get less questions from my online students. Their use of sources and references have also improved since I also use OER supplemental materials such as library databases, and OER based assignments/projects that were created by some of the leading faculty in my discipline. [This is Steve’s second semester using OERs]
David Wheeler: No [This is David’s 3rd year using an OER]
If you would like to find out more about adopting an OER for your course, please contact Grant LeFoe, Library Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 704-290-5269. Additionally, Billy, David and Steve would be happy to further discuss their OER experiences with any interested faculty member.