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Open Educational Resources (OER)

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

Request a Course Materials Affordability Review by completing this short form & attaching your syllabus. Rod Library faculty will review your course concepts and share some free and/or affordable resources that may have potential for your course. Allow about 2 weeks. Faculty have ultimate responsibility for reviewing course material quality as well as academic freedom to select the best course materials. 

How have open textbooks worked for other faculty?

This March 1, 2021 panel discussion, "Cutting Costs for Students: Moving to a Free Online Textbook," hosted by UNI Scholarly Communication Committee and CETL. Facilitator: Jim Demastes (Biology). Panelists: Jonathan Chenoweth (School of Music); Deb Young (Languages & Literatures); and Robert Earle (Philosophy & World Religions).

Who actually uses open textbooks?

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

In many 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 review process. 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.

And research shows that students do as well or better in courses using OER compared with traditional textbooks (Fischer et al., 2015).

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 building supplemental resources over time.

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 affordability initiative simply provides additional options that support student cost savings and the potential for creative, engaging pedagogies.

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 we have seen the data about tuition increases, which continue. 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 to our students.

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.

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 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.

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

Inclusive access programs through publishers solve the textbook problem, right?

Many "inclusive access" contracts:

  • lack limits on price increases.
  • have confusing opt-out options.
  • cap the number of students who can select print options, which costs extra & shrinks the used textbook market.
  • limit copying/pasting/downloading of text, potentially impeding student studying.
  • fail to fully disclose discount structures.
  • include content expiration dates, meaning access to materials is cut off at the end of the course, leading to less connection among courses.

Privacy of student data may also be a concern, and inclusive access doesn't allow reselling or sharing.

Note that 3 companies control 80% of the textbook market. A better name for inclusive access programs might be "automatic billing". Transitioning to an opt-out model might provide students more choice. 

There is a spectrum of course material affordability, with OER being least expensive to students, library-licensed materials next, and inclusive access/traditional textbooks as typically most expensive. 

The bottom line: Faculty are encouraged to consider OER as a first option. OER allow education to be on educators' terms, not publishers'.

More on "inclusive access"