Open educational resources receive support from several UConn groups

Used and new textbooks available for purchase in the UConn bookstore. There have been controversies with used books being more expensive in store than they are online. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Open educational resources, including open textbooks, are becoming increasingly prevalent at the University of Connecticut thanks to several groups’ efforts over the past few years to improve their availability.

Undergraduate Student Government has worked extensively to expand access to open educational resources as well, according to Student Body President Daniel Byrd. USG financially supported the development of an open access chemistry textbook, he said.

“USG paid and got credit for it in the book,” Byrd said. “About 2,000 students between last semester and this semester have used it.”

Byrd estimated that these students have saved about $600,000, and that as more chemistry sections begin to use the textbook over the course of the next academic year, the savings might reach the millions by the end of the spring 2018 semester. Open educational resources offer a “huge return on investment,” he said.

UConn encourages faculty to become acquainted with open educational resources – which are essentially collaborative scholarly content, including full textbooks – through initiatives such as offering mini-awards of $250 to faculty who review them, UConn library vice provost Martha Bedard said.

“About a year ago, we were awarded $99,000 from the Davis Educational Foundation. It went to mini-awards,” Bedard said.

The provost’s office is also invested in spurring the advancement of open educational resources at UConn, Bedard said, having set aside $100,000 to provide awards of up to $10,000 to faculty who apply with a plan to incorporate open educational resources into their courses. Award winners will be announced soon, she said.

Bedard said that “it’s interesting to see the breadth” of faculty members across the disciplines, from English to math, who applied for an award.

The UConn Co-op donated $300,000 in support of open educational resources when Barnes and Noble began to operate the bookstore, Bedard said.

“The Co-op money will continue funding the mini-grants after the provost’s money is gone,” Bedard said. “It’s great, grassroots and from the students.”

Dr. Edward Neth, a lecturer in UConn’s chemistry department who developed the textbook supported by USG, said that his students have responded well to it.

“As far as I can tell, I haven’t heard complaints. On average, when I looked at student evaluations from last semester, students enjoyed it being free,” Neth said. “You don’t have to have students come say, ‘The bookstore ran out’ or ‘My student loan didn’t come in yet.’”

Student activist group UConnPIRG has also been involved in the push to increase open educational resources’ presence, according to ConnPIRG student board chair Saman Azimi.

“We’re continuing to put pressure on textbook companies,” Azimi said. “We can continue to show that there is so much student support for this, and that it’s something the state should continue.”

Azimi, Bedard and Byrd were members of a task force composed of representatives from colleges and universities throughout Connecticut that submitted an open source textbook legislative report to the General Assembly’s Committee on Higher Education on Jan. 5, 2017, after conducting research from February to October 2016.

The task force’s report can be found here.

The task force conducted a survey about open educational resources to which close to 1,000 faculty members across Connecticut responded, Azimi said.

“All but 8 percent of respondents said they’d at least consider using OER,” Azimi said. “We’re hoping there will be steps taken in the future to continue to incentivize professors to consider OER.”

Bedard said she has talked to state Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, about an open educational resources-related bill on which he is currently working.

“This bill, if it is crafted and goes to hearing, would call for funding. It divides what we’d like to do into three parts: a statewide coordinator for OER…a statewide advisory group to oversee the work of the coordinator and work with institutions and fee money for faculty stipends to continue the adoption of OER,” Bedard said.

Open-source textbooks can be corrected more efficiently than commercially published textbooks which makes them more innovative, Neth said.

“Look at the way research is done. You collect ideas from around the world and the best get published. It’s the same with open access,” Neth said.

Further information about open educational resources at UConn may be found on the university’s open educational resources website.


Alexandra Retter is staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.retter@uconn.edu.