The University of Connecticut is promoting the usage of open educational resources (OER), such as textbooks and videos in the public domain, with various campaigns and by encouraging professors to implement them in their curriculum to lower course material costs for students.
“The goal is to continue to educate faculty and students on the importance of using OER in the classroom and to work to help faculty find and review the high quality resources available to them,” said Jean Nelson, head of communications and engagement of UConn’s library, in an email. “UConn’s OER initiative began a little over two years ago and we estimate that it has saved our undergraduates over $500,000 in textbook expense.”
UConn secured a grant in the past few years for approximately $100,000 from the Davis Educational Foundation to help increase open textbooks on campus, said Kharl Reynado, fifth- semester economics and human rights major and UConnPIRG Affordable Textbooks campaign coordinator, in an email.
Chemistry lecturer Dr. Edward Neth said in an email that he was the initial professor to begin using OER in his “Fundamentals of General Chemistry” classes. With student government assistance, he helped write a textbook entitled “Atoms First.”
“[I decided to use OER] because of the escalating cost of commercial texts, and the availability of equal or better quality alternatives at this point,” Neth said. “Students respond very positively when they they realize the book is free or very low cost versus the cost of a conventional text.”
In addition to professors, UConn students have been working to further the usage of OER across campus. Both UConnPIRG and USG are currently running campaigns.
According to Reynado, UConnPIRG began their Affordable Textbooks campaign in 2015. Students, administrations, academic staff, faculty and librarians created a separate task force to find more affordable resources for students, Reynado said.
“In the future, I hope to have all introductory level courses (economics, pre-calculus, physics, biology, etc.) using open educational resources. Most, if not all, students take at least one large lecture course with an insanely expensive textbook,” Reyando said. “We'll continue to plan for this and continue the work that we do. In the future, I plan to incorporate some efforts around student loan debt. We are also planning to publish a report based off of the survey results from last semester that the campaign worked on.”
According to email correspondence with Irma Valverde, USG president, USG helped UConn create an OER committee in the past few years. Last year’s USG president, Dan Byrd, helped write the legislation that continued to provide funds for Professor Neth’s open source textbook.
Valverde said she plans for USG to work to continue to expand OER into more classes.
“In the past we have focused on high-volume classes with high-cost textbooks and have had a lot of success, but we have not finished,” Valverde said. “ I would want to explore the possibilities of getting open-source textbooks in other intro classes that have more than 150 people.”
With OER, students will not have to forego buying a textbook for a class to lower course material costs, according to Nelson.
“I want students to have access to textbooks for free because grades will improve and students will save money,” Valverde said. “Professors are given flexibility that privately published textbooks don’t give them and allows for customization. I hope every class has an open source textbook to allow students the opportunity to access of the required materials that they need.”
Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.