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Open Educational Resources: What Are They?

A Beginner’s Guide to Saving Money, Part One

By Justin Siewierski; Editor-in-Chief
On December 2, 2016

Open Educational Resources: What Are They?

A Beginner’s Guide to Saving Money, Part One 

Justin Siewierski



If you were to search ‘open educational resources’ on Plymouth State’s website, you’d find a definition on what it was. If you read that definition, you’d be surprised as to why you haven’t heard about it before. And if you wanted to save money when buying textbooks next semester, this is something you should talk to your professor about.

According to EDUCAUSE, a non-profit higher education association, open educational resources (OER) are any resources available at little to no cost that can be used for teaching, learning, or research. So, while you pay nearly $400 for your next textbook, there’s a chance the same material is published in an OER repository website. What makes OER special is that it’s openly licensed. This means that it could be edited and tailored to student and course needs.

Christin Wixson, Scholarly Communication Librarian in PSU’s Lamson Library, is an enthusiastic proponent of OER. “It’s something I have a great interest in, and there’s definitely an increase in the library community’s participation in the topic.”

Wixson described herself as more of a contact person, someone who you’d get in touch with to find out more about the topic itself as well as where to access specific sectors of OER. “As a whole, there’s so much material out there that can be obtained, from lecture notes to textbooks.”

So, what exactly does this mean? Is it possible to look up ‘OER textbooks?’ And if so, what does this mean for the future of textbooks?

Well, one can search for open educational resources and find thousands and thousands of resul ts, ranging from topics across the grid. Anyone can search for textbooks by subject, and find specific works that specialize in each and every major. The problem is implementing them, and using them for a purpose. A professor that’s been using the same textbook for years, for example, may not want to change their syllabus in order for students to save a couple hundred dollars.

Al though there are some issues with OER, one of the biggest positives is that it’s easy to update. Textbooks can take years to complete, edit, and print. Because OER is primarily online, it’s easy to go in and make changes when needed. This helps keep relevancy within the content as well as limits the cost of production.

According to Inside Higher Ed, OER was deemed more effective. Over half of faculty (57.2 percent) believed that open resources offered the same quality content, compared to the 26.6 percent who deemed OER inferior.

Two of the biggest issues with OER are that it isn’t easily attainable or searchable yet, and faculty doesn’t really know about OER yet.

“One of the easiest ways to get OER to both faculty and students is through the web,” said Wixson. “Much of the cost for a printed textbook is given directly to the publisher, with whatever money left going to the textbook production.”

One of the big questions with OER is ‘who funds the material?’ and as crazy as it sounds, the researchers and authors do. Wixson was eager to respond.

“While professors bear the burden of creating these resources they can also benefit by publishing their work as an OER. If they send their material to a subscription-based journal or publishing company, the audience then shrinks to those who pay for the material.”

Robin DeRosa, Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at PSU, jumped on the open education train in 2014: a hopeful trendsetter in the topic. Her textbook “The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature” wasn’t just written and organized by herself, but was implemented in her American Literature classroom in the fall of 2015.

“I got really inspired by how open textbooks can save students significant money, and by how more open sharing in universities can increase both access to higher education and interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration,” she said after attending a technology institute sponsored by the University System of New Hampshire.

DeRosa’s anthology was not only used by her class, but was also edited by the students within the course. Authors within the text such as Anne Bradstreet, Prince Hall, and Edgar Allan Poe were researched, and a student in the course wrote introductions for every published work. Not only did this anthology save students money, but was also able to teach them the required material by researching the authors and editing their works.

The book is now in use at multiple universities in US and is being expanded as part of a pilot program with Rebus Publishing.

“Plymouth State students pay hundreds of thousands of dollars PER YEAR for access to subscription based databases and journals,” said DeRosa. “If we slowly transition to OERs, we can save students money on textbooks and on the fees they pay to fund these subscriptions, and we can repurpose a smaller amount of this money to fund the creation of OERs.”

“OER is definitely something to talk about,” said Wixson. “I think that open education as a whole can have a significant impact in the future of course material.”

The following installment will focus on Robin DeRosa’s future in open education, and how she intends to continue to build upon her research within the topic. 


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