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Open Educational Resources (OER) & Textbook Equity

How do I even start if I'm thinking about textbook equity/affordability?

Who actually uses open textbooks?

You get what you pay for, right? These open resources can't be any good.

In some cases, open textbooks have undergone a rigorous peer review process (OpenStax textbooks, for example); often this review process includes many more subject experts than a typical editorial process for commercial texts. Other open textbooks have been reviewed by faculty, such as many listed in the Open Textbook Library.

As with any course material, it is up to faculty to ascertain quality prior to selecting materials. Evaluation tips and rubrics are available.

Research shows that students do as well or better in courses using OER compared with traditional textbooks (Fischer et al., 2015). And because OER can be modified, you can change the things you want to! Work with the Textbook Equity Librarian if you are interested in exploring options for modifying existing OER or creating your own!

Free textbooks don't have homework systems, right? I need that.

Open textbooks with ancillaries are available; for some texts, this includes homework systems, slides, syllabus language, test banks, entire Blackboard course shells, and more! For example, OpenStax texts have ample instructor and student resources which are free, along with inexpensive homework system add-ons ($10-40). In addition, many instructors who use open texts share their resources for others to use. For assistance identifying free/affordable resources for your course, please request a Course Materials Affordability Review.

Redoing my entire course? This sounds like a ton of work!

Transitioning toward OER doesn't have to be "all or nothing". Faculty might consider adding an open textbook chapter here and there to do a test run and get student feedback. This also allows for gathering and modifying resources over time.

We are serious about supporting the faculty time and labor required to transition to open resources. This includes seeking external grant funds for faculty projects as well as advocating for institutional funds. Currently the Textbook Equity initiative does not have an ongoing budget but we are hopeful UNI will make a consistent institutional commitment so we can reap the student success & pedagogical benefits of OER in more courses and disciplines.

Is UNI telling me what textbooks to use?

No. We value academic freedom, and instructors have autonomy to make selections of course materials, sometimes in consultation with departments or other instructors. UNI's Textbook Equity initiative simply provides additional options that support student cost savings, and been demonstrated to reduce course withdrawals and support inclusion, and provide the potential for creative, engaging, inclusive pedagogies. This is about leveling the playing field because students can't learn from materials they can't access.

Automatically billing students for textbooks solves the problem, right?

Publisher and bookstore programs to automatically bill students for textbooks (often called "Inclusive Access" or "Equitable Access") may provide discounts for some students. However, these models are primarily rental-based and may actually cause more problems than they solve.
See more:

How have open textbooks worked for other faculty?

One faculty member shared: "The open access book format allows me as an instructor more flexibility in my course.  In the past, I felt pressured to cover material from the textbook so the student got their money's worth.  I don't feel the pressure if I only use a small fraction of an open access textbook. In contrast to previous semesters, I did not have any complaints about not having the funds to purchase the textbook or delays in book orders."

I worked my way through college. Can't students just do that?

Textbook costs alone increased 88% from 2006-2016, faster than tuition and 4 times the rate of inflation. And student debt continues to mount while tuition increases. Working through college now usually requires both 30-40+ work hours per week and taking out loans. Faculty cannot control textbook publishers or tuition, but we can influence the cost of educational materials for our students.

What about students who don't always have internet access?

Most OER are designed for offline use and provided in multiple formats. That way students can download when they are on campus (or elsewhere with internet access) and use when they need to be offline.

Can I use & adapt this resource?

Textbook Equity Librarian Anne Marie Gruber and your liaison librarian are always happy to answer questions about copyright and fair use. Most openly-licensed materials do allow for adaptation. For more information about licenses commonly used for OER and what they allow you to do with materials, see the Creative Commons/Licensing tab.

I selected some free materials. Now what?

What about intellectual property?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are one important way for faculty to share knowledge freely, returning to the public purposes of higher education. Faculty and other authors who create OER intend for them to be modified, shared, and used.

If you choose to create and share course resources, you can determine the usage rights you prefer using Creative Commons license options ("some rights reserved" as opposed to traditional "all rights reserved" copyright). If you need assistance determining where and how to license/share course resources for use by faculty and students beyond your own courses, see author resources or contact the Textbook Equity Librarian or your liaison librarian.

Does any of this matter for promotion, tenure, and faculty evaluation?

Yes. Faculty are encouraged to address work with OER (using, adapting, authoring, etc.) in annual narratives and provide evidence of impact. For example, Anne Marie Gruber can provide cost savings estimates for any course that has transitioned to OER.

OER supports UNI's Strategic Plan and adopting, modifying, or authoring OER should be explicitly included and considered OER work in promotion and tenure processes. Awareness and adoption of OER tends to move faster at institutions with teaching-centred tenure and promotion policies (McKenzie, 2017).

For faculty authors, UNI has an existing mechanism for considering scholarship of tenured faculty that hasn’t undergone traditional peer-review. Section 3.1c Scholarship of the University Faculty Handbook indicates: “Departments may include other forms of peer review (see Subdivision 3.7d) in their Departmental Standards and Criteria Document.” Departments may choose to include explicit guidance on OER-related work in their own standards for faculty and evaluators.

UNI campus conversations are just beginning regarding how OER work should "count" and there are existing models available for adaptation. The Iowa OER Action Team has prepared documents to assist faculty and other stakeholders in advocating for the inclusion of OER work in faculty promotion, tenure, and evaluation. The statewide OER initiative in Oregon provides examples of faculty narratives related to OER work. Case studies are available in Valuing OER in the Tenure, Promotion, and Reppointment Process.

If this topic is of interest to you, please contact your liaison librarian or Anne Marie Gruber.