COVID-19 Coincides with OER Push on College Campuses

April 24, 2020 | Volume 51, Number 9

The first week in March was Open Education Week and institutions across the U.S. touted their initiatives at using or developing open educational resources to save students money. As the COVID-19 virus spread across campuses, college officials realized OER fit neatly into the online reality of remote learning.

All universities in New Jersey are required by May 1 this year to submit their OER plan to the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, as a result of a legislation in 2019 that requires a survey of each university's vision, detailed plans, anticipated challenges, efforts already under way and intentions to collaborate with other colleges.

New Jersey Institute of Technology librarians are developing a five-year plan to communicate better with faculty, identify which courses are best suited to open books, develop metrics for evaluating their use and get more faculty to contribute their own works.

A study of the impact of Achieving the Dream's Open Educational Resources Degree Initiative released in February found that community colleges that introduced OER courses across degree programs saw an explosion of OER courses on campus. The three-year initiative enabled 38 colleges in 13 states to offer 6,600 OER course sections over two and a half years, reaching nearly 160,000 students, the study said.

Approximately 2,000 instructors participated in the development and delivery of these courses, substantially expanding the number of faculty with OER experience at participating colleges. Nearly 600 courses were redesigned, contributing to the availability of OER content.

The study conducted by SRI Education and rpk GROUP found that students enrolled in OER courses earned more credits than non-participating peers and that the effort was cost-effective not just for students but for institutions. Students at the participating colleges saved $10.7 million on the cost of learning materials.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education in April opened a comment period ahead of new rule-making for its Open Textbook Pilot program, designed to support and expand OER projects at individual campuses. Comments are being accepted through April 30 on: award size (assuming a 48-month project period and $6 million available for new awards), matching contribution requirements, broadening the definition of high-enrollment courses, revising the definition of open textbook to address supporting digital resources.

At the University of Iowa, a three-year grant program to support faculty efforts to replace Current textbooks with OER is in its first year. Fifteen grants were awarded to create OER projects that are expected to save university students an estimated $100,000 next year. At the end of the three-year pilot, UI students are expected to save at least $225,000.

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