Opening Doors with Open Educational Resources

stack of books
Rebecca A. Eckland

How much did you spend on textbooks this semester? For many students, textbooks are a considerable cost of higher education, right up there with tuition and fees. At TMCC, though, both students and faculty are working on a solution to make higher education more affordable—and therefore, accessible—for everybody.

Last year, former SGA President Alexandra Patri wanted to save TMCC students money. After meeting with President Hilgersom and Learning Commons Librarian Neil Siegal, Patri decided to find solutions to expensive textbooks by getting the word out about Open Educational Resources (OER). “One of the most expensive purchases a college student has to make to get their degree are their college textbooks,” she said. 

It’s the story every college student knows: you sign up for classes, pay your tuition and fees and then you brace yourself for the trip to the bookstore where one textbook for one of your classes typically costs around $120—that is, if you’re lucky. In fact, the average college student spends more than $1,200 on books and materials each year.

Patri discovered that textbook costs have risen four times faster than the inflation rate over the past decade. That has caused 65% of students to not buy the required textbook(s) for their class simply because they couldn’t afford the expense. Students often scramble for workarounds: buying outdated editions online, or sometimes not buying the textbook at all.  “Because of this, graduation rates drop,” she said. It’s easy enough to see why: without the textbook, how can you hope to do much but fail the class? 

Well, students, we have some good news for you: TMCC’s SGA has a $5,000 initiative to support the implementation of OER. Additionally, TMCC faculty are working on implementing OER in their classrooms to help their students succeed, too... but the work isn’t done yet. The good news is that you can be a part of this effort.

The Economics of OER

Management Professor Robert Kirchman started integrating OER materials in his four management classes and using OER exclusively in his “History and Comparison of Economic Systems” class. 

The History and Comparison of Economic Systems is really a type of class that many colleges and universities offer, but one for which he could not identify a definitive textbook. After looking for possibilities offered by mainstream textbook publishers, Kirchman decided to look into OER for this particular class. 

“I got a lot of support from John Fitzsimmons in the library in identifying, organizing, and delivering all that material to students. In the process of working with the Learning Commons staff, I saw materials that were really high-quality and that I could adopt for some of my other classes. So, the search for these materials began out of necessity, but it became serendipitous in terms of finding material for most of my classes,” he said.

The result? Students in Kirchman’s economics class don’t pay for their class materials. “It doesn’t cost them anything,” said Kirchman. “I used all open, available resources. Granted, it’s a labor of love because I have to create all my presentations, lectures, reference materials, test banks, everything.” 

Kirchman has been developing this class for two years and said that he will continue to develop it using these kinds of resources for his students. For a class where the textbook could cost over $100, that translates to substantial savings for his students. “It’s a shock to them that they don’t have to buy anything, and everything is delivered to them in Canvas,” said Kirchman.

Developing an OER economics course has impacted his management classes, too. Kirchman now uses the Lumen Learning platform, which also relies on OER materials. Students in those classes pay a $25 lab fee, which covers the cost of accessing the platform. Kirchman said that not having to go to the bookstore—or order additional course materials online—after paying tuition makes an impact on student morale. “My students pay that lab fee when they register for classes. It makes a difference not to have to pay something else after a student has already paid tuition and fees,” he said. Kirchman also explained that some OER sources allow students to order a print copy of the course materials for a minimal fee if they would like, but that is not required.

Instructors just have to remember the “OER Mantra”: adopt, adapt and create... and realize that integrating OER into their curriculum will probably require them to do all three at some point through the collection and curation of class materials. “The librarians at the Learning Commons are really there to help,” he said and encouraged faculty to make an appointment to explore options. “Talking to them doesn’t mean you’re making the commitment to move your entire class to OER, but it can help you to get a sense of what’s out there.” 

To students, Kirchman offers the following advice: “You can ask for these things,” he said. “I know that buying expensive textbooks seems like a part of the college experience, but it doesn’t have to be.” 

Students Advocating for Students

Even though Patri is no longer an SGA officer, she still continues to advocate for OER at TMCC. This semester, she is continuing her education at UNR, but she continues to work at TMCC as an administrative assistant for the SGA and as President of the National Society of Leadership and Success. “I have attended Board of Regents meetings, and I continue to give presentations with Neil Siegel, Danielle Harris and Brandy Scarnati, along with all the faculty who have implemented OER,” she said. 

OER is a cause she continues to be passionate about. Given that these resources are available, she hopes that instructors explore OER options before defaulting to traditional textbooks for their classes. “I’m advocating for this because as former President of the Student Government Association, I promised to serve and represent students’ best interests to TMCC and in the statewide system of higher education. And I plan to keep that promise,” she said. 

According to a 2017 survey of 845 TMCC students, only 20% of those students were not impacted by the cost of textbooks. Survey respondents used scholarships, veterans’ benefits, and financial aid to cover these costs. It goes without saying that these students were not exactly thrilled to cover that expense. 

Patri, who will graduate from UNR with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and a minor in Business Analytics at the end of this semester, said she still asks about OER, even in her classes at UNR. “It doesn’t hurt to ask your teacher about OER and to inform them about it,” she said.  “The more people we have asking their professors about it, the more we’ll see professors using those kinds of resources. After all—if we have the ability to offer these resources to students, why not try?”

Even asking your instructor about OER in class could end up saving you more than just an extra trip to the bookstore. For more information about Open Educational Resources, contact TMCC Learning Commons at 775-674-7600.