Cochise College faculty members gathered together in the Horace Steele Conference Room last Friday on the Sierra Vista Campus with one thing on the brain, textbooks.
With the recent rise in textbook prices, up 73 percent over the past decade according to edsurge.com, textbook expenses have become overwhelming and for many students, burdensome.
According to Achieving the Dream, a national nonprofit dedicated to student success, “The annual costs of textbooks are about $1,300 per year for a full-time community college student and amount to about a third of the cost of an associate’s degree. This cost, research shows, is a significant barrier to college completion. Students who don’t complete college are over 50 percent more likely than those who graduated to cite textbook costs as a major financial barrier, according to a study by the research firm Public Agenda.”
It’s a matter that several faculty at Cochise College wish to address by replacing textbooks with Open Educational Resources (OER).
Open Educational Resources are teaching materials currently available on digital platforms, which are procured by external developers. These resources fall under specific types of copyright licenses, allowing instructors and students to use and reuse the content; subsequently dropping the cost of educational resources down to around $10 per class and eliminating the high expense of textbooks altogether.
Dr. J.D. Rottweiler, president of Cochise College, attended the discussion on textbooks in Horace Steele.
“Clearly the number one barrier today is access to educational resources. Today textbook costs are greater than tuition costs at Cochise College,” said Rottweiler during the meeting.
“I think there are a lot of exciting prospects for student learning and for departmental collaboration,” said Alexandra Felton, Emerging Technologies Librarian; adding that she thought the transition would be a slow process.
And Felton is right about that. Unfortunately, switching to OER will not be as simple as downloading free Wikipedia articles. The path to OER will most likely be a slow transition. Resources must provide relevant and sufficient content for each subject area; although OER texts are written and reviewed by experts, each college department will need to determine if OER will fit the needs of their students, and afterward, each instructor will need to learn how to use OER database systems. It’s a transition that instructors seem to want.
“I’m really in favor of the concept,” said English Instructor Kym Kennedy, during the meeting. “Anything that’s in favor of my students. It’s like I have to force them to buy a textbook. I teach English composition so, we’ll see. To me, it feels a little overwhelming, but I would like to try it out in the fall.”
Currently there are only a few courses using OER on a trial run. Edmond Priddis, a biology instructor at Cochise is one of the teachers piloting OER at the college. So far his feedback seems positive.
“I really like using OER because of the cost, the convenience and the way that it links to online resources,” Priddis said. “In fact, we have adopted OER texts for all of the Bio100, Bio181 and 182 courses that we teach in the sciences.”
Students of Edmond Priddis seem to favor the concept as well.
“I think the best part about OER is that it’s cheap, and if you use it online it’s free,” explained Maria Skaff, sophomore biology student at Cochise College.
Nick Massoni, a sophomore at Cochise, returned to college after serving ten years in the Army. Massoni explained that he doesn’t use OER. Although it is provided for his class, he mainly learns by listening to the lectures.
“…and I would add that, I know many students who’ve used OER and depend on it…” Massoni said.
Psychology, English, college success, sociology and administration of justice classes are among the many subjects expected to start using OER instead of textbooks in the fall of 2017, with the hope of integrating OER into additional subject areas in the future.
This project is said to save up to an estimated 4.1 million dollars over three years, once established.
The OER initiative was instigated by George Self, dean of extended learning, when he pursued a contract last year with Lumen Learning, a company that creates open educational resources and is dedicated to providing affordable teaching materials.
Self said, “My hope is that OER will simply become part and parcel for most of the classes offered at Cochise College. I like to think that at some point we won’t talk about OER as something special, it will simply be material that is used in our classes, like textbooks are today. To be honest, I would hope that five years from now somebody would look back on this article and wonder why adopting OER was such a big deal.”