By Sarah Pfeffer
Sacred Heart has launched a University-wide Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative with three goals in mind—reduce the cost of textbooks for students, increase access to course materials and strengthen pedagogical effectiveness.
Rupendra Paliwal, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, has entrusted the staffs of the Office of Digital Learning and Ryan Matura Library, as well as faculty leaders, to develop and implement strategic mechanisms for effective OER integration in teaching and learning.
Open educational resources are educational resources available at little or no cost that can be used for teaching, learning, and research. These OER materials could be textbooks, course readings, learning content, simulations, games, learning applications, syllabi, quizzes, assessment tools and any material that can be used for educational purposes.
Sacred Heart is among many higher-education institutions that has joined the OER national movement. Increase in the cost of textbooks has become a barrier to higher education access. For students of public universities, the cost of textbooks can be as high as 15 percent of the overall cost of education. This can prove detrimental to college completion and success. “The OER strategic framework that we have been developing is aiming for lowering the textbook cost for students without diluting the quality of educational delivery at SHU,” explains Jaya Kannan, OER coordination team member and director of Digital Learning. “Current research indicates that OER integration could enhance the teaching and learning experience. Our goal now, in the first stage of the planning, is to improve awareness about OER among faculty, provide support for selection and evaluation of OER resources and collaborate with faculty in terms of instructional design, where applicable.”
The OER coordination team is working closely with its newly created OER task force, which has faculty representatives from each college within Sacred Heart. The initiative is in the pilot phase with select faculty members in math, biology and sociology reviewing OER textbooks and providing feedback to ensure classes use the highest-quality resources. These subject areas have the potential for the maximum impact by many students.
“The use of OER makes sense in courses that many students take, such as college algebra, probability and statistics and pre-calculus. While reviewing texts, we found excellent examples, nicely drawn diagrams and mathematical rigor that was equivalent to and even better than expensive texts used prior, says Andrew Lazowski, associate professor of mathematics. “While reviewing OER, we discovered a more affordable alternative [60 percent price reduction] that has benefits over what we used before.” Textbooks that are evaluated favorably will be used in classrooms in the next school year, he notes.
Stephen Lilley, sociology chair and task force member, and Colleen Butler-Sweet, assistant professor of sociology, compared the Introduction to Sociology OER text with current textbooks used in the sociological imagination course. “We assessed comprehensiveness, accuracy, clarity, organization and whether the information was up-to-date and the text was free of social biases. No textbook is perfect, and we concluded that it is a good resource for student learning but could be more current, more engaging and go deeper into social theory,” Lilley says. However, since the OER textbook is under Creative Commons, it can be improved. “We can use revisions made and shared by sociologists at other colleges and universities, and we plan to incorporate our own. Our goal is to offer a high-quality textbook that would be accessible to all regardless of means,” he says.
A list of OER textbooks based on discipline can be found on SHU’s Digital Commons site. Thanks to the library staff, Zach Claybaugh and Chelsea Stone, who painstakingly compiled, published and shared it globally on the University’s Digital Commons site. In the short span of six months between July 2016 and January 2017, this list has been downloaded 778 times by users from 46 countries, including the USA. In addition to the textbook review process, several workshops are taking place to build awareness among the faculty, and there is growing interest in the adoption of OER. The coordination team and task force continue to conduct expansive research to keep up with the latest in the OER movement.
“This is only the first step in the institutional plan to select and adopt meaningful OER materials in teaching and learning,” Paliwal says. “We hope that this will not only lower cost and improve student access, but also enhance digital pedagogical approaches for faculty.” The University’s plan of action has an approximate timeline of three years, with the goal of piloting OER in more courses in 2017-18 and collecting and analyzing data from the pilot in 2018-19. We expect additional academic disciplines and faculty members will participate in this initiative beyond 2018-19.
This decisive step for Sacred Heart is also a positive move forward in connecting technology and education, says Lazowski. “In an era where you can find free news and entertainment on the Internet, I’m glad that such powerful educational tools can be found just as easily,” he says.