BY RICH REZLER
Kelli Gilbert had a tough decision to make. If she spent $360 on the four textbooks she needed for classes at Washtenaw Community College, she wouldn’t have enough money left to pay the car insurance bill that had come due.
“I lost either way,” said the 21-year-old from Pinckney who is working three part-time jobs to support herself and pay for Criminal Justice classes. “I had to choose either not being able to get to class, or get to class but not be able to do the work.”
The scenario Gilbert faced is not unusual. That’s why she was asked to share her story as part of a student panel at a day-long WCC professional development event that promoted using more Open Education Resources (OERs), free, open-source educational resources that cover the same classroom material found in expensive textbooks.
During the Fall 2017 semester, WCC faculty members used OERs in 21 different classes, generating an estimated savings of more than $858,000 if students had purchased new textbooks for those classes.
That semester’s savings brings the college’s cumulative total to $1.79 million since the first OER was introduced on campus in 2014.
“We’ve had some very good early adopters, but it’s time for us to take it up a notch. We’re entering OER 2.0,” said Vice President of Instruction Dr. Kimberly Hurns. “OERs can provide tremendous cost savings for students, as well as impact student success and completion rates. They allow every student equal access to learning resources on the first day of class and allow students to stay on track to completion.”
At the professional development event, 16 faculty members signed up to join WCC’s first OER Cohort, a college-wide effort that offers the support of professional librarians from Bailey Library and staff from the Center for interactive Teaching and Learning (CiTL) to instructors interested in using an OER starting in Fall 2018.
Librarians will help faculty research and discover OER content while also helping with copyright and attribution requirements. CiTL assists with instructional design, creating mobile-friendly content and formatting content for use on the college’s virtual learning and course management system.
OERs are made available electronically, but students who prefer a printed version can have one made for a nominal price at the college’s copy center.
Hurns noted that although the OER market is growing rapidly with high-quality, peer-reviewed textbook alternatives available through a variety of repositories, there are many classes that simply don’t have an off-the-shelf OER option.
That’s why some WCC faculty are getting creative. Humanities department instructors Bonnie Tew and Claire Sparklin are among the WCC faculty who created their own OERs from scratch and continue to advocate their use on campus.
“After finding out what a big difference it made in students’ lives, I couldn’t turn my back on OERs,” Sparklin said.
Several instructors are finding their niche somewhere between the off-the-shelf and build-your-own OER models.
Business & Computer Technologies faculty member Douglas Waters recently introduced a new hybrid “Intro to Business Law at WCC” OER to his class, replacing a $150 textbook.
Waters took portions of several existing OERs and customized them to fit his class syllabus.
That process not only allowed him to organize the text as he prefers to cover lessons in class, but he was also able to align content with that being taught at Eastern Michigan University, where many of WCC’s business students transfer to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
“It makes so much sense not only for our students, but also as an instructor,” Waters said. “Unlike a textbook, my OER is now a living, breathing resource that I can continually update and improve.”