On April 13, the student activist group, UConnPIRG, held a panel in appreciation of open educational resources (OERs) and the UConn professors who utilize them. OERs are free learning materials. They are free either because they are in the public domain or due to intellectual property license. This panel, hosted by UConnPIRG, showcased 20 professors of various disciplines, ranging from Chemistry to English, who have implemented these resources into their classes. This panel is important both as an effort of UConnPIRG and in the movement to include more affordable and diverse materials in classes.
UConnPIRG’s efforts to promote the utilization of OERs aim to improve students’ class experiences in many ways. Professors on the panel, including economics professor Emma Bojinova, discussed talking to students who could not afford to buy their textbooks. These resources provide a way for the students who cannot afford their textbooks to still keep up in class. Bojinova pointed out that these free textbooks might not be perfect, but the system allows them to pull from various textbooks rather than utilizing only one. A professor of sociology, Caner Hazar, stated that his classroom is more engaged with the utilization of OERs. With these resources, Hazar tries to apply the knowledge more now instead of simply reading and discussing the textbook. His utilization of these resources made his classroom more interactive. In these ways, UConnPIRG and the professors’ support of these resources is improving students’ experiences as well as their ability to learn.
But there are materials that still do not have inexpensive or free alternatives. Online computer programs are utilized in many different disciplines, from online language workbooks to Aleks, a learning system utilized by the chemistry department. Aleks currently costs $40, and other online programs, such as Connect Italian, could cost students over $100. It is important that professors and the university continue to seek out alternative options that provide students the same skills. It is simply not right for students’ grades to suffer or to have limited class options because they cannot afford the materials.
This panel and the professors it featured are taking important steps to improve the university for its students. These highlighted successes with OERs should encourage other professors to try incorporating these resources for some of their classes. The university must support this movement as well. It is important that the university continually strive to make higher education less expensive, while bettering the overall university experience. Open educational resources do both.