In today’s higher education landscape, university instructors increasingly seek innovative, flexible, and customizable ways to deliver course content to learners across a diverse range of programs and disciplines to boost student success. Meanwhile, students nation-wide continue to face the burdens of increasing tuition and textbook costs. At Ball State University, librarians are seeking to advance both pedagogical innovation and cost savings through an Open Educational Resources consultation program launched in the 2019-2020 academic year.
Open Educational Resources, often abbreviated as OER, are defined as “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” Examples of OER include openly-licensed textbooks, laboratory assignments, and digital learning modules and objects, to name a few.
Through Ball State University Libraries’ Office of Digital Research and Publishing, Micah Gjeltema, the University’s Open Content and Digital Publishing Librarian, has collaboratively led efforts to consult with faculty interested in incorporating OER into University courses. Beginning in 2019, Gjeltema and other Libraries colleagues worked with administrators and staff in the Office of the Provost and the Division of Online and Strategic Learning to develop a pilot project to advance dialogue about OER with University faculty.
These efforts yielded over 25 consultations with faculty during the 2019-2020 year to assess specific OER sources and referatories and to analyze information regarding licensing, permissions, hosting, and other important considerations related to these open assets. In 2020-2021, Ball State seeks to build upon this initial success by expanding consultative services to all faculty with an aim of increasing the presence of OER in curricula across campus.
When compared with traditional proprietary textbooks and learning materials, OER can reap numerous meaningful benefits for both students and faculty when used in the classroom. “Open Educational Resources provide students with low- or no-cost materials for learning, lowering the financial barrier for academic participation,” explains Gjeltema. “Students selecting courses and areas of study should not have to do so based on textbook costs.”
Additionally, OER have been shown to significantly boost student success. A 2018 study conducted by University of Georgia scholars showed that OER adoption improved students’ final grades and decreased the number of students who received a D or F or withdrew from the course. These effects were especially pronounced for Pell Grant recipients and students from other historically underserved populations.
OER also provide faculty with greater capacity to adapt and amend course texts to incorporate updated research and additional perspectives, a flexibility not granted with traditional texts. “For a faculty member, moving to OER means I can curate the best available materials for my students,” states Joel Whitesel, the Director of Faculty Engagement at Ball State University’s Division of Online and Strategic Learning. “I don’t have to pick the book I like best, I can pick the parts I like best from multiple books, or other resources, and can edit and add my own thoughts as well.”
“The flexibility, accessibility, and affordability of OER make them a win-win for students and faculty,” explains Kristen McCauliff, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Profession Development at Ball State University, who has served as a close collaborative partner in advancing OER outreach and awareness on campus. “Further, given the unique Student Learning Objectives of many of our programs–that are tied to BSU’s strategic plan–traditional textbooks often fall short. With just a bit of legwork at the start of a semester, faculty can work with experienced librarians to find more fitting educational resources.”
Instructors who embrace the accessible nature of OER can create dynamic resources with students, such as wikis and adaptable textbooks. These resources can supplement or replace traditional assignments which are turned in, graded, and forgotten, instead facilitating the creation of course materials that grow through student collaboration within and across courses.
Consultation appointments offered by the Libraries can take a wide variety of forms depending upon individual faculty needs and interests. Librarians can provide expertise and conduct research to address questions related to the OER discovery, peer-review status, OER edited and publishing, licensing and copyright, and many other relevant topics.
While questions pertaining to peer review are often raised, many OER platforms incorporate built-in peer review processes and mechanisms; University Libraries will provide meaningful guidance in identifying OER that are rigorously vetted and of the highest quality. “Often faculty don’t know where to look to find qualified OER,” McCauliff adds. “But we have experts on campus who would love to help!”
For many educators and information professionals, OER represent a vast potential for educational innovation at present and in the future. “While it is true that OER have a long way to go to fully replace the for-profit textbooks we are accustomed to,” Gjeltema explained “I find the most compelling argument to be very simple: ‘Why not?’”