Making Education Affordable: Reducing Textbook Costs, and Increasing College Access, with OER

Key Takeaways:

  • State agencies and college administrators can encourage OER adoption, and therefore textbook affordability, by offering support, guidance, and resources for faculty seeking OER.
  • Oregon community colleges use Saylor Academy resources in 29 different courses spanning such subjects as marketing, public speaking, and chemistry.
  • Open Educational Resources, including Saylor Academy OER, have been effective in supporting courses toward  Z-Degree (zero textbook cost) programs.

Bio of Amy Hofer, Statewide Coordinator, Open Oregon Educational Resources

Amy Hofer is the Statewide Coordinator at Open Oregon Educational Resources. Her work is funded by the Community College and Workforce Development office of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.  Open Oregon supports textbook affordability initiatives in Oregon’s seventeen community colleges. Ms. Hofer interviewed with us to discuss supporting faculty OER adoption, offline usage of OER, and the challenges of textbook affordability for students and colleges.

Jacqueline Arnold: Tell me about your role as Statewide Coordinator of Open Oregon Educational Resources.

Amy Hofer: I am a librarian [by background] and I coordinate the effort at the colleges. Oregon does not have a system, meaning there is not a central agency overseeing the community colleges and they operate as 17 separate entities. It is important to have someone in a coordinator role who can match resources with faculty needs across colleges. The openoregeon.org website shows what is happening in Oregon’s community colleges, showcases the work faculty are doing, and celebrates the success [of OER adoption] at different colleges. [It’s important to have] someone that can take a top level view. It really takes a lot of effort to try to figure out what is happening at each college and to be able to share information. Being very persistent is also a part of my job, especially in trying to figure out who is using what resources and what are the savings potentially, and how can we get some reporting at the state level for what we are doing with OER in the colleges.

JA: How does Open Oregon’s work contribute to textbook savings?

AH: The main thing is faculty development and providing support for adopting OER. We are spending program money to pay faculty a stipend to write a review of some of the textbooks, we are giving them grants to adopt OER in some of their classes, or if there is really nothing out there, to create something new.

[Faculty support is] where I can demonstrate savings. It has tended to be about $3-$5 of student savings for every program dollar spent. I can’t [provide] more certain numbers since there are so many variables, but it really makes a big difference to students.

JA: You have also created a map/framework for OER available to support a  Z-degree program for the Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree or AAOT (Zero Textbook cost, OER course resources based). How successful has OER adoption been for this degree program?  

AH: The point of the interactive graphic was to show at the state level that we are actually closer [to a textbook free program] than we think. There are very few transfer degree courses that someone hasn’t adopted an OER for somewhere. In terms of the students being able to stitch together a zero-textbook-cost degree at one college, some colleges are closer and some are further from that goal.

[The purpose of the graphic] is to demonstrate the possibility of a Z-degree to administrators so they can go back to their colleges and say “Hey can we do this? What would it take to do this? How close or how far are we?”  At the state level, I feel like it’s a pretty optimistic picture because there is so much good work being done at the community colleges.

 

Saylor content supporting  AAOT courses

Section Course Name Saylor Resource
Foundational Course Public Speaking (COMM 111) Stand Up, Speak Out: The Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking
Social Science Sociology in Everyday Life (SOC 204) Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World
Elective Introduction to Business (BA 101) Exploring Business
Elective Psychology and Human Relations (PSY 101) Principles of Social Psychology
Elective College Survival and Success (CG 100) College Success

 

JA: How have Saylor Academy resources helped the colleges in Open Oregon’s network?

AH: The Saylor (resources) are great in terms of hitting some very high enrollment course areas. Especially the business and management resources. There are also some Saylor books which have been repackaged by the University of Minnesota into Pressbooks which are a very attractive way to read a book online, for those who use different formats which takes care of some of the usability issues that have to do with different user interfaces.

I really appreciate having access to the Saylor content, either free online or print at cost. It has been pretty popular at Oregon community colleges to adopt those books. I think that the main takeaway is that faculty are finding content that is relevant through Saylor.

JA: In an ideal world, what additional features and subject areas would you see within OER content that might make it more compelling to professors who are hesitant to adopt it now?

AH: I’m not going to surprise you with this answer, but the biggest thing is that it’s not just about the textbook. It is about ancillaries as well, such as homework questions, quiz questions, lecture slides, all of these features need to be available [within OER] to encourage wider adoption among faculty.

David Wiley just did a very interesting blog post about how faculty are used to having [ancillary content] from publishers and how they are not going back. I think it is totally understandable, and for Open Oregon’s next round of grants, I’m going to offer a category of grants for faculty to create ancillaries for existing OER to try to fill some of those gaps.

JA: It seems that Oregon’s size and geography necessitate the presence of online programs. Does the presence of online programs [at a college] make it easier or more difficult to incorporate OER?

AH: Yes, Oregon is a big state, geographically large. The eastern side of the state is much less populous and we have colleges that are serving a very large area. I have not asked around to determine that sort of perception though I do know that people tend to assume that the “O” in “OER’ stands for “online” [only], instead of “open.”

Print [resources] continue to be really important. You may have people that do not have internet access at home or do not have a computer at home and they need to have that print copy or for whatever reason they need to be able to view it offline. What’s interesting is when you start to talk to people about OER they really want to know [if offline resources are available], and I try to make it clear that OER is agnostic, content can occur in any format.

JA: The challenge for areas without internet access is sometimes forgotten. For communities that don’t have access to broadband, what is the mobile usage for students?

AH: Anecdotally, I hear faculty say their students do their entire course on their phones. We have to accept that this is one way students are accessing their course material.

JA: Where would you like to see more support for OER adoption in colleges?  How do different stakeholders (students, faculty, administrators, etc.) react to OER adoption?

AH: Well, I’ve never heard of a student objecting to having a lower cost textbook!

Faculty are concerned about quality so Open Oregon focuses on creating opportunities for faculty to review the book themselves and assess if it meets their standards for quality. Another impediment for faculty, of course, is they need support so being able to offer stipends and grants is really helpful.  

Administrators are concerned about college revenue streams, because textbook costs affect a source of revenue that was coming from students, from students’ financial aid, since students buy the textbooks from the bookstore and the bookstore makes a contribution to [the college’s] general fund. If bookstore revenue goes down, it upsets that particular “apple cart”.

The bookstore directors, however, are very supportive of textbook affordability measures, because they are on the front lines [interacting with the students].

I’ve heard from some administrators “now you are just shifting this particular cost from students’ pockets onto the general fund” [that supports faculty in doing the work], however, they’ve already seen plentiful evidence that the current model does not work for students. It does not work for students to have high costs for textbooks, they just don’t buy them.

 

 

Open Oregon colleges primarily use OER textbooks adapted by Saylor Academy, however, our open resources include a variety of resource types, such videos and assessment resources. Our courses can be used as teaching resources as well as for learning. Please see our course catalog for content. If you work for an organization or an educational institution that you think could benefit from a partnership with Saylor Academy then we would love to hear from you. For partnership information, please contact Jeff Davidson (Director, Strategic Relationships) or Jacqueline Arnold (Strategic Relationships Associate).

 

Mt Hood Community College students with signs for a board meeting. Photo CC-BY Heather White.

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