Open Educational Resources are media, books, and text used for teaching in any classroom that is accessible at little to no cost to the consumer. OERs have seen a significant uptick in utilization over the past decade due to further reliance on technology, and though the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t caused any further increase in their use, the knowledge of their presence has become more well-known than ever.
“Part of the responsibility of being a student is learning and being aware of these open resources to eventually become their biggest advocates,” explained Becky Evans, Chair of the English Department at Muskegon Community College. “If you were a student who had just paid $125 for a new textbook just to find out there was a free version of the same book online that your teacher could use, wouldn’t that upset you?”
It surprised many who believed the pandemic would cause a significant increase in their use. In light of their lack of usage over the past year, advocates for OERs at MCC have high hopes for their future implications within the classroom.
“Switching course materials takes time,” said Lisa Anderson, MCC’s Librarian, Archivist, and OER Coordinator. “Time to investigate, adopt, and adapt all course materials to match the texts and readings. OER takes a little bit longer because the readings do not necessarily come from one textbook.”
OERs have saved students at MCC a collective $99,700 for the current winter semester for 997 students and $65,500 for 655 students in the fall of 2020. With 20 members of MCC’s overall faculty adopting OERs for their classes, they have made it their priority to save students as much money as possible while still providing dependable resources.
“In lots of colleges, the issue is ‘Would we be reimbursed for the work to develop these?’. Because it is to the benefit of the college and its students,” said Evans. “To [MCC]’s credit, we were able to be reimbursed for our effort to help contribute to their development.”
Anderson, along with eight other faculty members, created a cohort to find, adapt, and adopt OERs for their students back in the academic year of 2019-2020. The instructors involved received stipends for their efforts. Unfortunately for them, the pandemic forced the stipends to be directed towards other services. As it currently stands, there are 10 members of the “OER Task Force” as Anderson had described it, at MCC, but without the incentive, they had been provided before the pandemic hit.
“We still work through initiatives and brainstorm ways to increase adoptions,” said Anderson. “As well as discuss any issues with OER. Overall, this small body helps promote OER campus-wide and gives its members a support system if they need it.”
MCC is a member of the Michigan Colleges Online initiative, a project headed by the Michigan Community College Association, which continues to develop over 400 OERs for the 28 community colleges within the state of Michigan.
“I think the pandemic has helped highlight issues with copyright and the online classroom,” said Anderson. “So, there is room for growth, and I’ll be doing various copyright and OER training sessions. We’re also seeing growth of OER creation and adoption at four-year universities. Statewide OER network is growing which will also help with visibility of available materials and hopefully, help faculty from all institutions have easier ways to network with each other.”