The fall semester is upon us, and college students are making their annual pilgrimage back to the classroom. There’s a certain jittery excitement that accompanies the beginning of a new semester–a chance to start over, begin again with a clean slate. Possibilities are endless for students looking out over the expanse of a not-yet-experienced school year, and while this excited flutter is often felt in many students’ hearts, it is also usually accompanied by a certain nauseous feeling that can only be one thing–sticker shock.
While the current presidential administration continues to work toward reducing the staggering pressure of student loans, a college education isn’t getting any cheaper. In fact, a recent study by the Education Data Initiative shows that universities have increased tuition costs by 9.4 percent from 2010 to 2022, making the average U.S. tuition price twenty three times higher than it was in 1963. Add your standard fees and textbook costs on top of that, and no wonder students may be feeling a little queasy walking the halls this week.
Textbook prices may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of overall education costs, but the added burden can greatly impact students coming from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Pavritha Rajesh, a correspondent with The Huntington News, notes, “according to a 2014 U.S. Public Interest Research Group Survey, 65 percent of college students refused to buy their required textbooks due to high prices, and 94 percent of those students were concerned that their grades would suffer as a result.” So, the question becomes, how do we ensure a level educational playing field for all students across our college campuses. The short answer: OERs.
What are OERs?
Open Educational Resources (OERs) are free learning materials open for faculty and/or student use. In its purest form, an OER allows users to freely use, share, and modify or adapt its content for tailored educational experiences. The best of these open resources are like conversations, started by the original contributor(s) and evolved and shared over time by the instructors and students who need them. Ideally, this process is an organic evolution of continuous improvement that anyone who needs the resource can use anytime, at no charge. OERs can be open textbooks, articles, student projects, podcasts, websites, study guides, learning templates, teaching materials, and more.
How do you identify an OER?
To determine if a certain piece of educational content is an OER, look at its copyright license. OERs use specific Creative Commons copyright licenses that categorize their material as “open source,” for anyone to use. Our previous article, “What is Open Education?” provides additional information on open resource licensing and open pedagogy for instructors.
What’s the benefit of using an open textbook?
Besides the low to no-cost price tag of an open textbook, these titles are also usually more accessible to an incredibly wide range of students. For example, the University of North Georgia Press partners with Affordable Learning Georgia (ALG) and has created over eighteen open textbooks over the past ten years. Through our work with ALG, these titles are not only available as free, downloadable files–they are also housed on the ALG Manifold App. This platform allows students to view their virtual textbook on any device, be it a TV, tablet, laptop, or cell phone. Built-in annotation tools give students freedom to bookmark sections, highlight content, take notes, or comment on their book. Manifold also gives students the ability to share notes in real time, so they can see each other’s annotations and work together on projects remotely or in-person while “sharing” their textbook with ease. As for the print version of open textbooks, the UNG Press only charges for printing and shipping costs–we never make a profit off our open titles, and we intend to keep it that way.
How do I know if my class is using an open textbook?
Students and faculty can check a text’s front matter to find the copyright license and see if it falls under Creative Commons. For students wondering if their class is using an open textbook, check the syllabus–professors usually include information regarding what type of textbook they are requiring for a class. Another easy way to check a book’s status for an upcoming or current class is to select the “0 Materials Cost” as an Attribute Type when searching courses from your university’s Courses and Registration web page. If it’s still unclear, reach out to your professor and ask them directly. You might end up teaching them a thing or two if they’re unfamiliar with OERs.
What can I do to get more OERs in my classes?
Advocate, advocate, advocate. The OER movement is very grassroots, so while some organizations like ALG function to empower institutions to adopt more open resources, the environment is still very niche and unknown to students and instructors alike. If you’re an instructor looking to incorporate OERs into your department, bring them up in your next department meeting, or contact us for a consultation on how you could help develop a new open textbook for your area of study. If you’re a student, talk about OERs and creative ways to help ease the financial pressure with your friends and professors. Form advocacy groups on campus and spread information to fellow students while educating and challenging the faculty, too.
Regardless of today’s remote education opportunities, learning is still a communal activity where everyone should have the opportunity to share ideas, discover new information, and seek improvement. If we can accomplish these goals while making educational resources accessible to all, without factoring in a financial cost, students will be able to walk a little taller when they return to class each fall.