Wednesday, May 22, 2013

RLI No. 280 > Open Educational Resources as Learning Materials: Prospects and Strategies for University Libraries

Research Libraries Issues No. 280 

Marilyn S. Billings, Scholarly Communication and Special Initiatives Librarian, University of
Massachusetts Amherst
Sarah C. Hutton, Head, Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Services, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Jay Schafer, Director of Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Charles M. Schweik, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Conservation and Center for Public Policy and Administration, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Matt Sheridan, Digital Repository Resident Librarian, University of Massachusetts Amherst



Just as the high cost of commercial research journals has motivated the academic library community to advocate for open access publishing with faculty, the high cost of commercially published college textbooks is broadening the conversation to include open educational resources.

Many of the issues are similar—the concern for quality, the realization that publishing is not “free,” the understanding that authors should rightfully expect some level of recognition and/or remuneration for their work, and the fact that faculty can change the paradigm since they are almost totally responsible for the choice of textbooks they require. And, as with open access publishing, many faculty are not aware of the magnitude of the problem or the solutions available to them.

The Open Education Initiative at UMass Amherst has demonstrated there are several ways to address the concerns students and parents have as they face an average of $1,168 per year for books and supplies.

The University Libraries, in collaboration with the campus academic administration (the Provost’s
Office), faculty support groups (Center for Teaching and Faculty Development), and academic programs (the Information Technology minor), have led the effort to incentivize faculty to modify the traditional commercial textbook model with resources that are openly available or available to students at no additional charge. Among the alternatives now in place are:

  • True open access textbooks available through the libraries’ institutional repository, ScholarWork@ UMass Amherst, or other open textbook solutions
  • Hybrid open educational resources that utilize the learning management system to provide access to appropriate resources (articles, e-books, streaming media) already licensed by the libraries
  • Reducing the number of “required textbooks” by supplementing one core commercial textbook with either open access resources or resources already licensed by the libraries to reduce the overall cost to students.

OERs are not without issues to address. Faculty need to fully understand copyright and alternatives such as Creative Commons licensing. If faculty are assigning students to use existing licensed resources, being provided by the campus or the library, the materials must be fully accessible to all students. ARL has recently published two reports, the Report of the ARL Joint Task Force on Services to Patrons with Print Disabilities and “Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs]: Legal and Policy Issues for Research Libraries,” an ARL Issue Brief,15 that are very helpful in understanding the complexity of these issues.

While assessment of student and faculty satisfaction is still under way, preliminary indications are
that both groups are very satisfied with efforts to challenge the existing model of expensive commercial textbooks with a model using OERs. One-time savings to students of over $205,000 have resulted from an initial investment of $27,000—and these savings will multiply each time the course is taught. Working with faculty and commercial publishers to promote and facilitate the adoption of open educational resources and other hybrid models places the libraries in an excellent position to uphold their public land grant mission and to gain support from campus administration, parents, and students.

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