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New Opportunity for Faculty to Create Inclusive Free Textbooks

Submitted by on April 26, 2022 – 7:51 pm

Haverhill, MA (April 25, 2022) – Child, Growth and Development is one of the most frequently-offered classes at Northern Essex Community College. And for good reason: it’s an integral part of the Early Childhood Education program and it’s required for attaining state credentials. Yet, there’s one potential roadblock for students. “We have taught this class dozens of times and yet our preferred textbook is expensive. We want to eliminate the textbook cost for this course- not only here at NECC but for institutions statewide and beyond,” said Professor Doris Buckley. four students walking on the Haverhill campus

Buckley and fellow professor Deirdre Budzyna are doing just that, by developing their own textbook for the course. Textbooks are one example of  Open Educational Resources (OER). OER are free, openly licensed educational materials that faculty can adopt in lieu of commercially published textbooks.

Buckley and Budzyna are among four faculty members currently working on OER projects through the Remixing Open Textbooks through an Equity Lens (ROTEL) grant-  a statewide project funded through the U.S. Department of Education. Now, due to updated guidelines, Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF I-III) are being utilized to build capacity around the statewide work and support 25 new OER projects at NECC.

One of the requirements for all participants is that they create culturally relevant and diverse materials. “This is giving us an opportunity to talk with students about cultural differences around different topics such as child birth, child rearing, etc.,” said Buckley. Faculty also take part in weekly professional development trainings on topics such as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “ROTEL’s training assists me in the design and structure of a textbook to empower students to learn – from its overall design and curricular content, which reflect diverse voices of the literary world, to providing options for students to access from different devices and platforms,” said Professor Lisette Espinoza. She’s developing an OER textbook for LIT 200: An Introduction to Literary Studies. The ROTEL grant has partnered with the Rebus Foundation, a leader in open publishing, to provide the professional development through their Textbook Success Program.

Working with students to develop these materials can improve student outcomes and lead to instructional transformation. A recent study from the non-profit Achieving the Dream found that students felt a greater sense of belonging in courses that use OER, in part, because instructors could be more responsive to student needs.

“Open Educational Resources are important for students by helping to keep educational costs within student reach,” indicated Dr. Paul Beaudin, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Northern Essex, “but they are equally important for faculty members.  Freely available learning resources and texts allow faculty to curate a variety of up-to-date material in one space for students.  Faculty choice of units of material that are best tailored for their students empowers faculty to truly become the curricular and instructional experts in their classrooms.  It is a very intentional way to meet student needs and individual faculty expertise.”

NECC was an early adopter of the use of OER. Sue Tashjian is NECC’s coordinator of instructional technology and co-chair of the Massachusetts OER Advisory Council. She and Jody Carson, Interim Dean of Business and Professional Studies, first introduced free OER to the college back in 2014 with a textbook task force. Since then, Tashjian estimates the use of free and low-cost course materials has saved more than 19,000 students $2 million on textbooks.

More opportunities are ahead to continue this work to develop OER at Northern Essex. ROTEL just opened up its second round of grant proposals. NECC currently offers 75 courses that use OER. Students can search specifically for these classes in the course search tool and select the check box for “Low-cost/No-cost textbooks” under Free Access. For more information about free and low cost textbooks or OER, please contact Sue Tashjian at 978-556-3686 or