Joann May Chang, PhD
Professor of Biology & Director for the Center for Instructional Excellence at Arizona Western College
I recently attended a training on Open Educational Resources (OER) and what it truly means to offer an OER course. What is an OER course? If you offer a course that uses an e-text with other content found on the web to supplement without costing the student any money, this would be defined as being free of costs and not truly an OER course. Why? That leads to the key question Matthew Bloom, OER Coordinator for Maricopa Community Colleges, posed to our group during the training: “How do you feel about sharing with the world?”
OER has become a prominent topic in higher education to save students on textbook costs, but also a movement in building high quality accessible teaching materials for educators without being tied to a publishing company. In a 2017 blog post by Chris Zook, he provided infographics of data associated with the increase in textbook prices that have outpaced inflation, medical services, and even new home costs. [attached graphic 1 & 2] As Chris Zook also noted, community college students are two times more likely to purchase textbooks with their financial aid than four-year college students which increases their financial burden to complete their degree. When faculty build OER courses, they can decrease this burden and share their course content with others who are working towards giving equal access to higher education.
OER is at the forefront of Arizona Western College because it is an integral part of our institution’s strategic planning goals to make higher education more accessible for our student population where the average yearly salary is only $38,237. We are a year into this goal with our first formal OER training taking place in June 2019. When Matthew first asked us if we share our teaching materials, most of us said “Sure! We share with our colleagues often.” But then he followed that up with “How willing are you to share your developed content with the world?” And that is the difference between a free versus an OER course. If a faculty member develops open course content and licenses it under the Creative Commons License, the material can be retained, reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed (known as the 5R activities) by others. The creator of the open content can control how their material is used with the different Creative Commons licenses. [Creative Commons License gif] With the shared content, the OER movement aims to provide quality teaching materials that can be used in an open creative and collaborative manner while benefitting students in reducing textbook costs.
I did not realize the importance of Matthew’s question until I started my search for OER content with Creative Commons Licensing for our OER transitioning Anatomy and Physiology courses. We will be using the OpenStax A & P textbook starting this Fall and even though Matthew gave us some good starting points to search for open resources that follow the 5R activities, it has been difficult finding pictures and diagrams that can be used in lecture and activities. I have been able to find various posts to labs, power point slides, videos, and open textbooks that can be used for A&P. The most common issue is the lack of quality science pictures or diagrams offered as open content, which I have also heard is a problem from other colleagues transitioning to OER.
So, here’s my challenge question for you: Are you willing to share your developed content, pictures, and diagrams with the world? If you are, please license them and share so that you can be a part of this OER movement and others can also collaborate and build that open content. Ultimately, this is about the ability to be inclusive and provide quality higher education for our students without burdening them with textbook costs.
If you are interested in this OER movement and are looking for information or content, please check out the following resources:
- Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER)
- Wikimedia Commons
- Google Images – Use Tools to filter by usage rights
This list is in no way inclusive. There are many other resources out there, they just take time to find and to search through. I hope more of the scientific community takes part in this OER movement and can provide more resources for everyone to use or collaborate on. It truly makes a difference to our students and their education.
Joann Chang, Ph.D. is a Professor of Biology and the Director for the Center for Instructional Excellence at Arizona Western College (AWC), a community college in Yuma, Arizona. She currently manages the professional development for AWC and teaches A&P and Introduction to Engineering Design. When she’s not teaching or directing, she is keeping up with her twin daughters, son, husband, three cats and one dog. On her spare time, she is baking delicious goodies for her friends and family.