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Free Resources Replace Textbooks

Submitted by on March 13, 2019 – 6:29 pm

Northern Essex Community College student and Knights basketball player Ajani Phillip spent $170.00 on textbooks this semester. He hopes to save that and more next semester by using Open Educational Resources.

Since 2014 nearly 10,000 Northern Essex Community College students have realized close to a $1.5 million in textbook savings thanks to Open Educational Resources or OER as it is known on college campuses.

History books, as well as other expensive texts, are becoming…well history as faculty move toward creating courses using OER.

What is OER?

By definition, OER includes teaching, learning, and research resources that are available for free or low cost to anyone with access to a digital device such as a tablet, phone, or computer. The resources reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits free use and repurposing of the material.

By design, it is another initiative Northern Essex is using to create an affordable and accessible college education for its students. During last fall’s semester alone NECC had 53 courses for a total of 90 sections that included OER materials. Nearly 70 faculty members have replaced commercial texts with open educational resources.

Why OER?

Northern Essex has Early Childhood Education Professor Jody Carson and Sue Tashjian, coordinator of NECC’s instructional technology, to thank for making the college an early adopter of OER. They have trumpeted its merits since they introduced the free OER to the NECC campus back in 2014 with a textbook task force.

“The average college student typically spend $1,200 a year on textbooks,” said Tashjian.  “This program encourages faculty to use free, open educational resources (OER) in place of expensive textbooks.”

Sue Tashjian (left) and Jody Carson (right) spearheaded the initiative to encourage the use of OER by faculty members.

How OER Started

“NECC’s Textbook Task Force started as a way to save students money, but it has turned into so much more. OERs have changed the way faculty are teaching and the way students are learning,” Carson said.

That task force evolved into NECC’s “Adopt Open Program,” which in turn developed into a statewide initiative titled “The Massachusetts Community Colleges Go Open Project”. This was a finalist in 2018 for the prestigious Bellwether Award, sponsored by the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Florida. The award focuses on cutting-edge, trendsetting programs. It was one of 10 in the nation selected.

Go Open gave faculty across the state’s public higher education institutions an opportunity to embrace the concept of free or low-cost (under $40) course materials for their students. Faculty are taking advantage of professional development opportunities for implementing OER on a broader scale.

OER at NECC and Beyond

Carson and Tashjian, were recently appointed as members of the newly formed OER Working Group under the direction of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. The Working Group is charged with expanding the use of OER statewide to make public higher education affordable and accessible for all students.

“I am very excited to see the OER movement gain momentum and support in Massachusetts,” said Tashjian. “Having the resources from the Department of Higher Education will allow us to explore opportunities for implementing OER on a broader scale.”

Realizing Savings

What does the cost savings mean for the students? According to Tashjian and Carson they hear a variety of comments from grateful students. Some apply the savings to paying off their tuition and fees, while others are able to purchase other books necessary for other classes. Still others say they are able to enroll in additional classes and finally some say the money covers basics like the cost of food and transportation.

“We are all about student success and free access to educational resources translates into student success,” said Carson.

NECC is making it easier than ever for students to narrow their course options. They now have the ability to research which courses offer open educational resources instead of texts. The course search tool has a “free access: low-cost/no-cost textbooks” box that can be checked when a student is researching course options.