Equity inspires 66 colleges to expand the reach of open educational resources

Newly launched Institute on Open Educational Resources will support institutions and faculty in adopting OER
By: | September 1, 2021
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Excitement has been building around open educational resources at Framingham State University as a handful of faculty are creating their own textbooks with instructional designers enhancing the final product.

Now administrators are working to entrench them across the Massachusetts institution by joining a new national network, the Institute on Open Educational Resources, launched by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“The use of open textbooks at Framingham State is pretty much siloed,” says Millie González, the interim library dean. “Some departments are using them and there’s a lot of buzz. But in terms of any structures in place to know how many faculty are using them, that’s something we’re striving toward.”

While Framingham State faculty are participating in OER training provided by the state of Massachusetts, providers such as Open Stax and the Open Education Network have over the last several years scaled up the quality of peer-reviewed—mostly online—open educational resources, González adds. The library also sends out a newsletter to faculty covering the latest trends in OER.

“We’re at that tipping point where there’s a lot of interest, whereas before there were a lot of questions in terms of the quality,” González says. “Right now, the materials that are available are so rich, we want to pass that tipping point by providing support.”

Some 66 institutions have joined the Institute on Open Educational Resources that will support educators in launching, expanding or hastening campus adoption of free and affordable instructional materials.

Open educational resources, which range from single lessons to complete textbooks, vastly improve access to course materials by removing the barrier of cost. This ensures more students will be ready with their textbooks when the semester begins, says C. Edward Watson, the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ CIO and associate vice president for curricular and pedagogical innovation. “If you give all students all course materials on the first day of class, if you give them free OER on first day of class, it tends to level the academic playing field and students do better,” Watson says.

The institute will help colleges and universities build OER portfolios that will add to each school’s affordability and equity efforts. This will occur through developing a process for adopting open textbooks and by faculty creating their own OER, he says.

Initially, most OER were produced for general education and lower-level courses. But in recent years, more OER have been created for specialized courses and disciplines, he adds.

At Framingham State, Patricia Thomas, the dean of the College of Business, says becoming an eager adopter of OER is the result of approaching all aspects of higher ed with an equity lens. “We don’t want to disenfranchise students who don’t have money for textbooks,” Thomas says. “We want to be able to promote student success more intentionally.”

Framingham State has also received a $441,367 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Remixing Open Textbooks through an Equity Lens project to boost the number of courses in which OER are used.

The university has introduced OER to various faculty members by asking them to first review an open textbook and then research the resources that exist in their disciplines. They can then adopt and adjust the materials with the support of instructors who are more experienced with OER, González says.