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PCCC Introduces Open Educational Resources:
A Revolutionary Solution to the Rising Cost of Textbooks


Posted November 1, 2017
Honors class using OER employs online and other resources in place of traditional textbooks.


A PCCC education just became more affordable!  Thanks to the College’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiative, textbook costs for many courses have been considerably reduced, if not eliminated entirely. On average, full-time PCCC students have grown accustomed to paying $1,000 per year for their textbooks. Well, relief is now in sight; those days may be over.

For over a year, PCCC faculty have been taking steps to integrate OER materials into their courses as a replacement for traditional textbooks. As of this semester, fall 2017, 48 distinct courses have been developed using OER materials, including 15 honors-level courses. Remarkably, the College now offers a Z-degree (the “Z” means zero textbook costs) in liberal arts—specifically, an A.A. in liberal arts, generalist-humanities option.

“Too many of our students have been struggling in their courses, because they haven’t been able to afford to buy the textbooks required,” said Gregory Fallon, Dean of Learning Resources at PCCC.  “Last year, a PCCC survey of 551 students revealed that 81% of students had at times not purchased the main textbook for a class because of cost, with 89% feeling that the cost of textbooks was an obstacle to their academic success, and 77% feeling that cost impacted their continued enrollment.”

One advantage to low or zero textbook costs is that students possess the class materials they need right at the outset of a semester, instead of having to scramble, day-in and day-out, to gain access to the commercial textbook readings they cannot afford. Moreover, they are bound to do better in class—achieve greater success—as a result of being able to do the readings.  Also, because of reduced textbooks costs, students will have more money in their pockets, which will enable them to take more credits, if they choose, thereby accelerating their progress to a degree.

Open educational resources come in many forms:  digital textbooks, videos, simulations, study aids, problem sets, and more. The instructional materials are typically developed by faculty, often in collaboration with instructional designers, librarians, and other faculty. After the OER content is developed, it is peer-reviewed to ensure accuracy and quality, and then uploaded to an open platform, such as OER Commons. Once they reside in these digital repositories, any faculty member can make use of the content. Importantly, what makes content open is that it can be “reused, revised, remixed, redistributed, and retained” through the Creative Commons attribution licensing.

OpenStax, one of the most popular and widely used publishers of OER materials, was launched in 2012 by Rice University. Today, OpenStax offers 25 online textbooks in chemistry, sociology, algebra, American government, calculus, and other subjects, with more in development. OpenStax offers an easy way for faculty to begin using OER materials, because it just requires the adoption of a peer-reviewed textbook.

Colleges that have used OER for several years report that learning outcomes for students whose classes used OER were equal to those of students using commercial textbooks. In addition, they found that the use of OER generated more collaborative learning and innovative teaching.

Though OER content is free, colleges that choose to participate in an OER initiative will incur costs, usually in the form of stipends to compensate faculty members who take on the task of redesigning courses. Fortunately for PCCC, the College received a Title V grant, which was specifically intended for course redesign, so much of the College’s effort was underwritten by the grant.

Over the past 15 months, the PCCC team, which was composed of 25 faculty members, who represented a wide range of disciplines, along with librarians and instructional designers, succeeded in finding, evaluating, and integrating OER content into 48 distinct courses. This fall, honors courses in Western Civilization and English Composition were offered, while next spring 7 additional honors courses will be introduced.

Last spring, a survey of the first PCCC students to take classes using OER resources was conducted.  The response was encouraging. When asked to describe their OER experience, students remarked:

“I loved the fact that we used scanned documents instead of purchasing a textbook,” wrote one respondent. “The fact that this class substituted a textbook with OER was very helpful for students with low income. I would definitely take a class with OER because the material was good and easy to follow.”

Another respondent said, “The OER allows easy and free access to information and resources that would have otherwise been a costly investment... If it is offered in my future courses, I will without a doubt make use of it again.”