Saturday, July 15, 2017

Equality in Higher Education: Initial Thoughts about OER

After reading Caswell, Henson, Jensen, & Wiley's article on Open Educational Resources, I thought back to how often I have heard that phrase in the past few months. At work, there have been several professors who are opting to use OER instead of pricey textbooks. We recently received a congratulatory email highlighting the amount of money that those changes save our students. On Facebook, a friend posted Walsh's "Why Open Educational Resources Matter" (video linked below) and commented that he, too, would be selecting only OER for his upcoming courses. And last month, while at a conference, a person I sat next to at lunch mentioned that her daughter, a freshman in college, hadn't been assigned a textbook for her chemistry course and that all of the materials were in the public domain.

I fully support the idea, but I wonder how this will play out in reality. I've been in meetings where I learned more than I ever wanted to know about textbook selections and the how the contracts work between institutions and education publishing houses. I have nothing but respect for those who write textbooks, and I know how much work goes into the creation and curation of those materials. But as someone who spent several years working with students from low-socioeconomic communities, it would sometimes make me queasy to see their bills for textbooks. The students who are most impacted by those costs are the ones who are, most often, already at a disadvantage. As we consider more ways to provide equality in education, we can't ignore the costs of textbooks. With OER, I think it's a step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing how many institutions find ways to support more cost effective means of acquiring student resources.

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