The Direct Network

How Can Open Source Materials Benefit Faculty?

Posted by Joe Clarkin on May 5, 2015 9:14:00 AM
Topics: Higher Ed, OER, custom course materials
The cost of course materials frequently resurfaces as part of a larger debate about the cost of higher education as a whole. Whether the expense quoted is the College Board's estimate of $1200 a year per student for textbooks and supplies, or a more realistic, data-based figure of about $600 per year, the associated costs of education are a hot-button issue. So what are some of the ways to help reduce these expenses? A possible solution may be a strategic incorporation of open resources or custom course materials. To elaborate on the topic, we've selected this excerpt from an article by Leslie Corbly for the Deseret News.


Faculty contributions
"Open resources allow faculty to involve students in learning in a more engaging way. When I teach now, I have students involved in picking readings. They participate more in class and are more engaged in the learning process," said Christine Fierro, a communications instructor at Tacoma Community College in Washington State .

Brian Lindshield, associate professor in the department of nutrition at Kansas State University, said the open source program aims to give flexibility to teachers. "We give instructors the flexibility to set up courses the way they see fit. We are open to innovative ways of learning and teaching," he said.

Andy Bennett, professor and head of the department of mathematics, said he rarely encounters faculty hostile to open textbooks. "A lot more are cautiously optimistic, but the faculty senate did vote in favor of this program," he said. "The biggest barrier to adoption of open textbooks was a misunderstanding of the purpose and advantages of open resources."

He said the use of open source textbooks is voluntary.

David Ernst, chief information officer for the University of Minnesota's College of Human Development, contends open source textbooks go through a process of drafting and editing similar to traditional printed textbooks.

At Kansas State, professors interested in participating in writing an open source textbook can apply for grant money intended to compensate faculty for their contributions to the book. Open source textbook publishing companies also pay royalties to authors of open textbooks based on the distribution of their content.

Bennett said the application process is where materials for classes are reviewed, ensuring the quality of the content. He added that faculty can continually critique and update materials in the online textbooks for their courses.

"With (printed) textbooks, once they come out, it is four years before you can fix them. Under this system we can consistently resolve problems with the material much faster," he said.

The University of Minnesota was an early adopter of open resource learning and now maintains a library of roughly 175 open-source textbooks. In an effort to expand that library, the university is reaching out to other universities to build a network of faculty and other experts who can create textbooks from every academic discipline.

Part of this process is holding workshops regarding open textbooks at universities across the country, educating faculty about what they are and how they can become involved in writing textbooks and open resource materials.

"The pattern is towards rapid growth, but there is still a lot of work to be done," said Ernst.



Another potential solution to reduce course material costs is for faculty to create and adopt custom course materials. Like open source materials, custom course packs can be tailored precisely to fit the needs of each class. Because the faculty member chooses each piece of content, they can be cost-effective, section specific and can even include links to websites, multimedia files and other open resources. MBS Direct's e-Text Builder makes it easy to compile, reorganize and even incorporate original items into a professionally- assembled digital or print course pack. Before the project is finalized, all relevant copyrights will be cleared for the length of the term, or for the designated duration.

Related: How OERs are Impacting Education

About Joe Clarkin

Joe Clarkin is a former copywriter at MBS. When he’s not working or studying, you’re most likely to find him reading a book or watching a game.

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