UConnPIRG highlights professors implementing open educational resources

ConnPIRG hosts panelists who discuss with students the value of open source textbooks, how to make students more aware of cheaper forms of textbooks they are buying as well as how professors and the university could help lessen the burden that students face when purchasing books for classes. (Ginikachi Anosike/The Daily Campus)

Student activist group UConnPIRG hosted an open educational resources appreciation panel Thursday afternoon at the Student Union to recognize faculty who have brought these resources to their classes.

The event highlighted around 20 professors who have instituted open educational resources in their classes. These resources are essentially learning materials in the public domain or freely available under intellectual property license.

The noted faculty represented numerous disciplines, from physics to English.

The event also featured a panel of three professors who use open educational resources in their classes. The faculty answered questions about their experiences with these resources.

Emma Bojinova, a panel member and agriculture and resource economics professor, said she implemented open educational resources to provide her students with a less expensive option than traditional textbooks.

“My main reason I wanted to adopt OER is when I talked to some of my students, they said they can’t afford the textbook. They try to succeed with the lectures and what they hear, but some of them decide to drop the course because they can’t succeed without the textbook,” Bojinova said. “Faculty should research for affordable options that will help students do well. The (open educational) textbooks may not be the perfect ones, but faculty can supplement and decide to pull things from various textbooks; they’re not stuck to one textbook only.”

Panel member and sociology instructor Caner Hazar that open educational resources have improved students’ engagement with his course.

“It actually made my class more interactive. I brought in more materials from outside the class,” Hazar said. “Rather than just reading and discussing a textbook, we’re trying to apply that knowledge more. I tell my students, ‘Rather than spending money on a textbook, use it to just go hang out with your friends.’”

Edward Neth, a panel member and chemistry professor, said that open educational resources allow educators to make learning materials available to students on a broader scale.

“The role of a faculty member is to make information more accessible, so if you make course resources more accessible from an economic standpoint, that is one extension of what you do in front of a classroom,” Neth said. “Sometimes it’s hard for students to believe that someone who teaches chemistry is trying to make life easier for them, but I do try to, and this is one extension of that…so affordability is one part of teaching philosophy or classroom management.”

Bojinova said that she works to make her students aware of open educational resource options for her course.

“On the first day of class, I show the bookstore option and the OER alternatives. I post that on HuskyCT,” Bojinova said. “I can’t say the percent, but some do say they bought from the bookstore. Others do research, send me a link and ask ‘Is this the right book?’ I try to show them there’s a better option price-wise.”

In regard to the costs of access codes for online learning programs such as Aleks, Neth said that there are still efforts to be made to move these programs toward being open educational resources.

“We (the chemistry department) haven’t sacrificed the Aleks component. We’re still using it. That system does not yet have competition,” Neth said. “There is in the works some competition …Aleks costs about 40 dollars per semester, and I would hope to undercut that to 20 or 30. You’re not going to make it free, as there is a cost to maintain servers, etc. The difference in cost is still significant.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) appeared in a short video played at the event in which he voiced support for initiatives to expand open educational resources’ prevalence at the University of Connecticut. He also noted that he is now at work on a piece of legislation that would bring affordability oversight to higher education.

“I want to thank everyone who’s been part of the effort to bring OER to the University of Connecticut. I want to thank UConnPIRG for organizing this appreciation event and all the faculty and staff that have been a part of it,” Murphy said. “There is nothing more critical than talking about the barriers to higher education today.”


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