Open source teaching materials could lower textbook costs, faculty at Oswego say

Faculty at Oswego State are pushing to make educational materials more cost effective by encouraging the use of open source materials that could be freely used for little to no cost.

The initiative is being pursued thanks to an $8 million grant given by the state of New York to SUNY and CUNY schools to encourage the use of open educational resources. These resources include textbooks among other kinds of educational materials, such as ebooks, lesson plans and infographics.

Laura Harris, the online learning librarian at Penfield Library, is leading the charge to get faculty to adopt OERs for their curricula, as well as getting them to create their own. Her goal is to make OERs more widespread across academic departments at Oswego State.

“We know that textbooks are super expensive,” Harris said. “What we’re trying to do is encourage instructors here at least to investigate and see what’s out there for them to use.”

The $8 million that has been given to SUNY and CUNY schools, according to Harris, goes toward grants awarded to professors who integrate OERs into their teaching.

“We have ve grants that were awarded last summer,” Harris said. “Some of them are still in progress.”

One of the grants was awarded to Mya Brown, a professor in the theatre department. Brown is using the resources to create an online database for Shakespearean monologues.

“We wanted to take it a step further than a typical monologue database,” Brown said in an interview with the SUNY Oswego News and Events page. “We didn’t find any that were just right for us.”

Harris said she is really excited about Brown’s project.

“She and I have been planning it [the database] out on my whiteboard,” Harris said. “I’m really excited about this one.”

Students are very excited for this initiative to be implemented in more classes. One student in particular is Matthew Danielsson, a sophomore computer science major.

“It’s almost too good to be true; there has to be some kind of catch,” Danielsson said. “If there is none, I think it’s a great idea.”

Danielsson believes that it would benefit students greatly in today’s age of technology.

“With this new generation of students, they’d be more inclined to look for textbooks online anyway,” Danielsson said.

Among colleges that have received state funds for OER grants, community colleges are the most active, according to Harris. Although some schools are further ahead in their initiatives than others, Harris feels that every SUNY and CUNY school is “in this together” in trying to provide cheaper class materials for students.

“Each campus that’s involved with this has a campus lead,” Harris said. “The campus leads meet every other week through a webinar; it is definitely, in my mind, a joint effort.”

Harris explains that OERs could put burden on professors, making it a lot of work and effort to integrate them into their curriculum, but she hopes that they become more widespread and more adopted as time goes on.

“We have a bunch of different tools that bridge to OER use,” Harris said. “I would encourage all faculty to at least consider this.”

Harris considers this a social justice issue, as some families, she says, could use the $100 or $200 needed for a student’s textbooks and use it for food or other essentials.

“There are people who say, ‘I can’t buy this textbook because I have to feed myself, have to feed my kid,’” Harris said. “Nobody should have to choose between the textbook and basic needs.”

Harris is hopeful that OERs will be used more and wants students to be aware that they are available.

“I want students to know that these things exist,” Harris said. “I think if instructors hear more about it from the people they’re teaching, then maybe they’ll give more attention to it.”

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