Six university faculty members received Open Educational Resources (OER) grants to revise their courses by using low-cost or free educational materials instead of traditional textbooks.
According to SRU’s OER Initiative page, OER are generally written or created by an individual or organization that chooses to keep or retain very few, if any, ownership rights and are largely part of the public domain. Because of this, OER can save students from hefty educational material costs without any negative impact.
“It can include anything that’s freely available, which could include YouTube videos or webpages for instructional material,” said Bradley Wilson, associate provost for Academic Affairs and integrated learning and chair of the OER Steering Committee. “It’s hard to create an entire course based on just those, so we’re really focused on non-commercial textbooks faculty could use in designing their courses.”
Wilson said the grant program began last year as an initiative to promote awareness of OER among faculty and encourage them to do their research and see if OER could work for the courses they teach.
“This grant program is sort of an effort to encourage faculty to look at [OER] as an alternative to commercial textbooks that students would have to buy,” Wilson said. “Faculty are free to choose what they think is best for their teaching, but we’re trying to get them to look at what else might be available.”
Wilson said in his experience as a professor of philosophy, he didn’t have to require his students to buy textbooks because it was relatively easy to find OER online, but that might not be the case for many other courses.
“Philosophy materials are a little bit easier to find because they’re older and out of copyright and available online,” Wilson said. “But when you’re doing something like a science or a business course and you have to have up-to-date and recent information, it’s sometimes harder to get away from commercial textbook publishers.”
Wilson added that the amount of grant money a professor receives is based on the size of the classes they’re teaching and what the savings would be, but that the grant is typically between $300 and $500. He also said the grant money isn’t paid directly to faculty — rather, it’s made available to them to use for professional development opportunities, such as conferences.
Jeffrey Roth, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice, will use his OER grant to help pay for travel expenses to attend the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences’ 2020 Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, where he will present research and attend workshops.
Kathleen Melago, associate professor of music, used the grant she earned to travel to Orlando, Florida with colleague Jonathon Helmick for the National Association for Music Education National Conference. Together, they presented their partnership with Karns City and Moniteau high schools and teaching music education with the use of iPads and the Coach’s Eye app.
“The high school students record a 30 second video of themselves playing their band music or whatever they need help with, and then they send it to our junior music education majors,” Melago said. “It’s kind of like ESPN; they can write on it and zoom in and out to show them where their hands should be or anything like that. Then they return the video.”
Melago said because of their Coach’s Eye music education presentation at the conference, a high school in Delaware has expressed interest in partnering with them.
“We see [the grant program] as a good, for lack of a better term, investment in faculty that’s going to result in significant savings for students,” Wilson said.
According to Wilson, the actual savings are difficult to calculate because, in any particular class, students can obtain their textbooks from different a variety of sellers like Amazon or Chegg, and they can purchase them at different price points depending on the condition of the textbook they’re buying.
“In the news release on [SRU’s] website, you probably saw that OER saved students $37 thousand,” Wilson said. “On average — and this is just based on a small number of courses — students probably saved about $50 to $75 each.”
Wilson added that if this becomes more significant and widespread, the OER grant program could have the potential to have a big, positive impact on students.
Top Hat, Wilson said, is a company SRU has partnered with to support the OER initiative. According to the OER Initiative webpage, Top Hat makes it easier for faculty to browse, choose, adopt and edit existing OER materials at no cost.
Faculty also have the ability to create their own OER materials for courses they teach, which is exactly what Melago did for her fall class of 150 students.
“The textbook I had been using for the past couple of years, I didn’t like very much, so I was interested in looking for something less expensive with more interesting topics,” Melago said. “The university wanted us to go through Top Hat, but the only book they had available ended in the Romantic Era, which was the 1910s, so there was over a hundred years of music history missing from the textbook.”
She said she decided to author an “e-text” of her own for her class. She said the process was difficult because she had a very short timeline. She said all she did every day over the summer was write this text so that she could have it ready for the semester.
“I signed the contract, I think it was July 3,” Melago said. “That was literally all I did — morning, noon and night — to have it ready for the start of the semester. It was kind of a sacrifice, but it was important to me to create something that would hopefully be more appealing to my students.”