Would you believe that since 2006 the cost of textbooks for college students has risen an astronomical 73 percent? For some students, this equates to a yearly bill of up to $1,200 just for books! What do they do? Many students lasso some of their financial aid, which is really meant for tuition as well as room and board – the things that enable an education in the first place. Others take time away from studies and work! It’s estimated that a student must work 28 hours to buy just one textbook. (Ethan Senack, advocate at Public Interest Research Groups as told to NBC). And some take their chances and don’t get the book at all.
So, what’s with the high cost of these books? First, the academic publishing industry is run by just five publishers who control 80 percent of the market. Second, in most cases, professors decide what textbook is required for their courses, which means students have no choice but to pay whatever those books cost. There are two issues regarding professor choice. One is that some professors do not know the cost of their chosen text and second, some professors know and simply do not care: not an acceptable approach in today’s high-pressure, exorbitant academic expense (let’s not even begin to talk about tuition!) world.
Is there a solution to this dilemma? The answer is a resounding yes. Enter Open Education Resource, a rapidly emerging approach of incorporating academically sound, free digital materials into instruction. I volunteered to take my class materials online when an opportunity arose and after my first go-round, the course received the highest student evaluations of any time I have taught it using traditional texts. Of course, part of the rave reviews was the fact that the students didn’t have to pay $125 for the book I had been using. But I think the main reason was the true fun associated with exploring new and varied resources to support the learnings in class.
So, if learning is more effective and the students actually have fun, why isn’t OER more widespread? Here’s why: it’s hard! Putting together an array of materials that matches your teaching goals and objectives is just plain arduous whereas teaching from a textbook is comparatively easy.
When I volunteered to convert my course, a cadre of librarians joined with me in the hunt. The process was enjoyable – like a treasure hunt, seeking the perfect resource for a given objective or activity. We discovered, we discussed and we designed, using some things, and discarding others. The bottom line: all the resources were free and were easily either transported into or linked to our learning management system. Voila! Free, quality resources.
What are the real benefits of OER? According to William Blick and Sandra Marcus of Queensborough Community College, they are as follows:
- They lessen the college cost burden for students
- For faculty, there is far more freedom in choosing sources than if texts are mandated
- The assembly of materials adds to the greater academic pool of knowledge on a given topic
As I look towards my fourth semester of using OER, I am excited because based on changes in business communications methods and technologies, it’s time to engage in another hunt for the exactly right resource for the topic at hand. Let the hunt (and fun) begin!