When it comes to OER, don’t be afraid to start small


For many years, the high cost of textbooks has negatively affected college students. For example, in a recent survey of students at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, roughly 20 percent of students said they regularly spend $400 each semester on required textbooks. 

In addition, more than 70 percent of students in the survey said they did not register for a course because of the cost of the textbook. Approximately 60 percent said they completed a class without actually purchasing the text, which creates academic challenges for the students and their instructors. 

As we continue to face the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, students at colleges and universities across the country will look for ways to save dollars wherever they can. By implementing open educational resources (OER), higher education institutions can lessen the financial burden for students. That said, faculty and administrators who are new to OER should not be afraid to start small. 

Small investment, big returns

OER are “teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others,” as defined by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. OER provide equal learning opportunities for all students and promote student success.

At HACC, we worked as co-chairs in establishing a committee and developing an OER initiative that grew quickly. In fall 2019, 22 HACC faculty members submitted applications for $36,000 in funding to develop open source textbooks and other course materials for students at HACC but also to be shared through OER networks around the world. The amount is a relatively small investment at the institutional level but represents immense hope for thousands of students.  

With the college’s $36,000 investment, nearly 2,300 students will benefit in the first semester these OER are implemented. This number is roughly 13 percent of the student population and will save a collective $196,000 in textbook costs for students. Instructors who assign these OER to a second semester of students will double the impact of this small investment. 

Serving in different circumstances

As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt lives, it can be daunting for faculty to take on “extras.” Face-to-face faculty had to overcome a steep learning curve to teach courses remotely for months. The demands of both onsite and online students have changed, and ensuring everyone remains engaged presents unexpected challenges. OER can reduce very real financial struggles and provide access to open resources for flexible learning.

Additionally, an OER project can be a creative outlet that allows faculty to re-engage with the course content and material that drives them to do what they do – teach. 

In a time of so much turmoil and uncertainty, OER are one small way to create stability for students – not just at HACC but around the country. This small step has the potential to help level the academic playing field. It can ensure education is more accessible to those who want to pursue a credential and make better lives for themselves. 

About the Author

Tamara Girardi / Andrea Hartranft
Tamara Girardi is an associate professor of English and Andrea Hartranft is an assistant professor of information science, both at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, in Harrisburg.
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