Open Education Week (March 27-31) is a celebration of the global Open Education Movement. Its goal is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide. SMU Libraries are helping to celebrate this week with three brief interviews with as many Open Education experts. Today’s Expert is Nicole Finkbeiner.

Nicole is the Associate Director for Institutional Relations at Rice University’s OpenStax, an Open Educational Resource (OER) initiative. One of Nicole’s major roles at OpenStax is to provide advice and support in relation to the implementation of OER programs at colleges and universities.

1. What immediate benefits have you seen at colleges and universities that implement and actively use OER textual resources?

The biggest immediate benefit is that each student has immediate and unlimited access to the text! No waiting for aid funding to come in, no logging-in issues, no limited weeks of access to the text, the student can click and access and keep a copy of the book forever.

There’s also been studies  showing students taking more courses because of OER (since they can afford to take more courses) and withdraw less from courses who use OER.

Long-term, the biggest benefit we see is faculty starting to really change their course in ways they couldn’t with content that is limited by copyright restrictions. This is really exciting! For example, University of Connecticut took our General Chemistry text and modified it to be an Atom’s First Chemistry text.  Another group took our Concepts of Biology book and translated it to create a Spanish version of Concepts of Biology. We’ve also seen the rise of flipped classrooms and youtube videos  with copyrighted content (a traditional text), this would be illegal.

2. What challenges have you and your on-campus collaborators encountered the most when attempting to implement and sustain an OER program?

A large number of faculty are still unaware of OER and are especially unaware of high-quality OER.  We spend a great deal of time here at OpenStax talking about how all of our books are expert-written, peer-reviewed, aligned with standard scope and sequence, put through a rigorous editorial process, and regularly updated. We find that, once faculty look at the content, they comment on how high quality the materials are and then are very likely to adopt.

At the institutional level, the colleges and universities that have been most successful in their OER efforts are those where the OER initiative is seen as a institution-wide priority. If we walk into a school and they say “The library has an OER initiative” or “The Center for Teaching and Learning has an OER initiative,” those schools have a harder time gaining adoptions when compared to a school where the school representatives say “The [school name] has an OER initiative and it’s supported & run by a team including senior administration, faculty, faculty senate, the library, the teaching & learning center, disability services, the bookstore, etc.”

3. Ultimately, why OER and why now?

For most introductory courses, there are now high-quality OER options available. OpenStax alone has 28 books and is in 10% of introductory courses in the U.S.  serving 900,000 students per year at over 3,600 schools. Because these resources meet standard scope and sequence and match the quality of publisher texts, faculty can very quickly adopt them.

With so many resources available from OER providers and the removal of copyright restrictions (via Creative Commons licenses), faculty can finally teach the courses the way they think is best for them and their students. This greatly increases academic freedom for faculty! As Jim Luke at Lansing Community College says, this changes the conversation from “Here’s what you can do with the copyrighted content” to “What would you like to do? How would you like to teach your course?  We can make that happen.”

OER also removes so many barriers for students. Not only does it remove an important cost barrier, which often prevents students from taking courses or staying in courses, but it allows the students to have access to their materials on DAY ONE and FOREVER. Once a student downloads the .pdf of an OpenStax text or another OER text, they will always have that content since it never expires. This can be exceptionally helpful to students who need to refer back to the material for more advanced courses, take multiple semesters of a course, study for higher ed and industry entrance exams (GRE, GMAT, MCAT as examples), etc.


Thank you, Nicole!