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Even before the extraordinary challenges posed by the recent Covid-19 outbreak, many of our students faced hurdles in navigating their educational experience. In order to remove at least some of the financial and logistical hurdles presented by the challenges students face in accessing educational materials, a number of scholars have made a wide range of resources available for free access and reuse — including textbooks, PowerPoint slides, test banks, or video lectures.

As recent experience has driven home, having access to materials that I can freely remix and repurpose to fit my own courses is an incredible boon to me. I’m happy that I, with support of an OER Implementation Grant from the Lafayette College OER and Affordability Initiative, will be able to give back to the open access movement by writing a chapter on the ‘Sociology of Scientific Knowledge’ for the Rebus Community (press.rebus.community). Not only will I be able to use the chapter in my own teaching, but hopefully it will be a resource for students and faculty throughout philosophy and other cognate fields.

– Joseph Shieber, Associate Professor, Philosophy


OER is an acronym now used commonly in higher education circles. Such open educational resources “are teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse at no cost, and without needing to ask permission. Unlike copyrighted resources, OER have been authored or created by an individual or organization that chooses to retain few, if any, ownership rights. In some cases, that means you can download a resource and share it with colleagues and students. In other cases, you may be able to download a resource, edit it in some way, and then re-post it as a remixed work” (OER Commons, 2020). Examples of OER include an online textbook downloaded at zero or minimum cost to students, a set of homework problems or quiz questions, an open-source software program, or an engaging lesson.

There are a number of benefits to using OER in college courses as they: are accessible and low-cost resources for faculty to utilize their courses, are more affordable for students, give faculty agency to refine course materials such as textbooks to align with course-specific learning goals, and provide an outlet for publication, among others. OER can be excellent additions in face-to-face courses, and in the move to remote learning they can be invaluable for faculty and students utilizing them.

The results of OER implementation on a national scale have been encouraging. “There is a pretty substantial literature that has looked at the move away from paid textbooks and the results are variable as you would expect but the general trend is positive. Most users report favorably on ease of use and access for OERs, and student performance with respect to grades and learning outcomes typically either improves using OER materials or remains unchanged compared to when the same course is taught with a traditional textbook,” Jahre indicates. Also, as Professor Shieber mentions in the quote above, students and faculty can both gain when faculty adapt OER materials for their own pedagogical purposes.

There are also a variety of measures in place to ensure the quality of OER with some undergoing traditional peer review (e.g. the Rebus Community, Lever Press), and others involved in more informal rating and commenting systems or other mechanisms (e.g. the OpenStax network).At Lafayette, the usage of OER aligns with institutional strategic plans of making the college “affordable for outstanding applicants, regardless of their financial means” (https://president.lafayette.edu/new-strategic-initiative/). Colleagues in Skillman Library saw the promise of OER and, in collaboration with ITS, are in year two of implementation of various initiatives. The OER and Textbook Affordability Initiative offers two opportunities for faculty to consider OER in their courses: investigation grants, supporting faculty who want to explore what OER is all about or may need time to consider potential open alternatives to their existing texts; and implementation grants, for those ready to replace expensive textbooks with OER materials in their courses.

Ben Jahre, Head of Electronic Resources, provides an update on the progress of OER initiatives at Lafayette:

We’ve funded courses in a variety of ways. In a few cases the instructor was able to just get rid of the textbook altogether, relying on a combination of notes and slides compiled over time and some reference material that the library owns or through websites or material that is freely available on the web. These faculty can give their students what they need without assigning an expensive textbook. There are other ways for students to learn, so we’ve funded those. 

And then we’ve had faculty who have crafted together a list of links to readings from journals that the library already subscribes to. In the case of an anthropology course we recently funded, the instructor replaced a reader for the class with an ethnography that is in the public domain. Things like that can help instructors achieve similar pedagogical goals while zeroing out costs for their students.

We’ve also funded courses where the course moved away from proprietary software to open source software. This saved each student the $40 fee for a personal license for the software. In addition, the proprietary software is something that the college licenses by site. If the open source alternative is viable, ITS might be able to save money on much less expensive licenses, which would have impacts on the budget which would be reflected in student tuitions. 

In less than two years of implementation of the OER and Textbook Affordability Initiative has saved Lafayette students over $15,000. Those interested in considering the possibilities of using OER in their courses can learn more through the link below or contact Ben Jahre.

For More Info 

Open Educational Resources and Affordability Initiative 

Reference

OER Commons. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.oercommons.org/about