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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2015)

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It’s Time to Open Up

By Carolyn Speer Schmidt, Wichita State University 

It’s no secret that a college education is expensive.  According to the College Board, the average in-state student at a four-year public institution will pay $9,139 in tuition and fees in the 2014-2015 academic year and the average community college student will pay $3,347.  On top of that, students must contend with the cost of textbooks and materials, an additional $1,000+ annual cost according to the College Board.  
Although the typical classroom professor can do nothing about the cost of tuition, textbook costs are a different matter.  In fact, by adopting Open Educational Resources (OERs), professors can reduce the cost of materials to $0.  It’s hard to beat free.  

If you are like many college faculty in the United States, you might be a little fuzzy about OERs actually.  According to the Online Learning Consortium,  not quite 20% of U.S. faculty are aware of OERs even though well over 50% of U.S. academic leadership is “aware” or “very aware” of these resources.  What’s going on here?

OERs are free or very reduced cost educational resources that are available for use in face-to-face and/or online classrooms. They include such things as complete textbooks, presentations, simulations, and PowerPoints.  They began to become popular with the expansion of the Internet, and today there are international, national, and regional consortia along with non and not-for profit organizations that produce, disseminate, and curate these resources.  

It is not clear as to why there is such a disconnect between academic leadership and faculty on this issue, but I do understand the initial hesitation that any faculty member could have in adopting and OER.  First, this is a new technology, and not one many faculty likely used when they were students.  Second, the paid textbook model is very easy to access, vet, and adopt.  Finally, faculty have very little incentive to choose lower cost materials because they do not pay for them; the students do.  

So, what do you need to know to shift into the minority of faculty who understand what OERs are and how to adopt them?  First, it’s good to get to know some of the heavy hitters in the OER world.  Two to are MERLOT II and OER Commons.  MERLOT was started in 1997 by the California State University Center for Distributed Learning, and today it is a consortium of four university systems: University of Georgia System, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, University of North Carolina System, and the California State University System. OER Commons is a project of the non-profit Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education.  Both groups develop and curate high quality educational materials.
As you expand your investigation of OERs, branch out to the Kansas Department of Education and Kansas State University' useful indices of OER resources sites.  Also look at the free materials provided through iTunesU and YouTube #university.  While these materials are not curated, they are often high quality and allows you to add multimedia to your classroom.

Finally, as you move into the world of OERs, learn about Creative Commons (CC) licenses.  Many OERs are distributed under one of six CC licenses.  These licenses range from the least restrictive “attribution” license to the most restrictive “attribution, non-commercial, no derivs” license.  Don’t let those names scare you because the CC organization provides “plain language” explanations of these licenses HERE

Yes, a college education is expensive. Those of us who have dedicated our lives and careers to this world, clearly think it’s worth the cost.  But there is no reason for that cost to be any higher than absolutely necessary.  If you give OERs a chance, you may find you can drastically reduce your students’ out-of-pocket expenses while using materials that are as good as the paid publisher offerings … and maybe even better.

About the Author

Carolyn Speer Schmidt is the lead instructional designer for Wichita State University and works in the Instructional Design and Technology office.  She brings 15 years of online teaching and course design experience to her job.  Over the years she has taught and designed classes in a variety of LMS environments including Blackboard, ANGEL, WebCT, eCollege, and Canvas. She has also written four fully online textbooks for delivery Moodle. Dr. Schmidt may be reached at  The Instructional Design and Technology Blog to which Schmidt contributes may be accessed at the prior link.  
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