Mythbusting Open Educational Materials

ASCCC Secretary
ASCCC Open Educational Resources Task Force

The desire to reduce the costs of course materials for students in our colleges has resulted in various parallel efforts to decrease costs and incentivize cost reductions. Pressures to offer courses with no associated text costs have also resulted in concerns among faculty who can’t envision teaching with materials that are free. The various efforts and concerns have resulted in some measure of confusion. What efforts to reduce costs are underway and what legislation may be creating pressure to consider no-cost resources?

Current efforts include the development of Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) degrees and the use of Open Educational Resources (OER). A number of our colleges are in the process of developing ZTC certificates or degrees, with the goal of developing programs that have no textbook cost to the student. Moreover, while ZTC grants are not system-wide, ZTC efforts often employ the use of OER that are often free and modifiable. To this end, an infrastructure to promote OER use across our colleges has been developed, and the ASCCC OER Task Force is engaged in efforts to identify and address barriers to OER adoption.

Further, efforts to advise colleges on the identification of both no-cost and low-cost resources are underway. As of January 1, 2018, pressure to adopt no-cost resources increased as a result of SB 1359 (Block, 2016). This legislation requires colleges to “clearly highlight, by means that may include a symbol or logo in a conspicuous place on the online campus course schedule, the courses that exclusively use digital course materials that are free of charge to students and may have a low-cost option for print versions.” However, the identification of no-cost resources presents a challenge for some disciplines. To this end, Resolution 13.01 was presented for consideration at the fall 2017 plenary to “encourage colleges to implement a mechanism for identifying course sections that employ low-cost course materials.” This resolution includes direction for colleges who desire a means of identifying course sections that employ low-cost resources. As SB 1359 mandates recognition of no-cost resources, lower cost materials do not meet the criteria of the law and therefore cannot be indicated by the same symbol. Additional information regarding this legislation and related cost-reduction efforts can be found at….

One obstacle to a wider use of OER materials seems to be common misconceptions about OER materials, including their use and implementation. The faculty in the CCC system are not alone in their confusion and uncertainty about using OER: the 2017 Babson report on OER demonstrated that only 30% of faculty surveyed nationwide were “very aware” or “aware” of open educational resources. Within our system, in a recent survey of selected disciplines, almost 40% of respondents indicated that they did not know enough about OER to consider its use. There are quite a few myths around OER, and it is our hope that this article clarifies some of them.

Myth #1: Using OER will jeopardize our articulation agreements with our University of California and California State University partners.

Answer: This is not true. Both the University of California Office of the President and the California State University Chancellor’s Office have issued statements that allow for the use of OER materials, provided the materials are “stable and publicly available as published textbooks (and not a list of links)”[1]. While articulation to private or out-of-state colleges might be impacted, given the increasingly widespread use of OER, it is becoming more likely that the use of OER will not impact articulation regardless of the college. OER also does not impact C-ID designated courses, provided that the materials used meet the above requirement. It should also be noted that the California State University is subject to the same mandate as the CCCs regarding identification of sections using no-cost resources.

Myth #2: There aren’t OER materials available for my discipline/courses.

Answer: While this lack of materials is true in some areas, it is becoming increasingly less of an issue. While not all courses may have a dedicated text(s) available, more materials are becoming available every month. The change in the availability of textequivalents and ancillaries over the past few years is staggering in many disciplines.

Myth #3: OER materials are inferior to publisher materials.

Answer: As with the selection of textbooks, the responsibility for determining rigor and quality of OER materials rests with the faculty member. It is true that there are materials touted as OER that lack sufficient rigor, including vanity pieces, self-published materials that have never been peer reviewed, or agendadriven corporate materials. However, there are many more available materials of high quality worth the consideration of discipline faculty. One such resource is the COOL4Ed page, the result of the work of the California Open Educational Resources Council (COERC) which includes OER resources which have been peer reviewed by faculty in at least two of the public systems of higher education in California. The COOL4Ed page provides not only information about the texts, but reviews and peer evaluations of each of the materials evaluated. The website is a good starting point for faculty interested in integrating OER materials into their courses. In addition, if an OER resource is lacking in some way, faculty can typically modify or supplement the materials to address any deficiencies.

Myth #4: OER materials do not have the ancillaries and other materials that I need to teach my classes.

Answer: Again, while this is true in some disciplines, it is more common than ever to find ancillaries where one would normally find them from a traditional publisher. The Open Stax statistics text, for example, includes a test bank of over 1000 test questions, which can be freely used by the instructor who has adopted the text.

Myth #5: The structure of the OER materials available is not to my liking/does not match up with the way I teach/does not cover information I feel should be covered.

Answer: As with picking a traditional published textbook, OER materials may have gaps that need to be supplemented with additional readings, projects, or the like. Other than self-authored materials, it is unlikely that any faculty member has ever been 100% satisfied with an adopted text.

Myth #6: Using OER materials does not really make that big of a difference for our students.

Answer: With most texts costing the same or more than the cost of registering for a course, it is easy to see that OER materials may benefit more students than one might think. The Babson Report indicates that the majority of faculty surveyed had students who did not purchase traditional textbooks based on cost, with an average textbook cost of $97.00 per course. Texts for many disciplines, particularly in the STEM fields, can run significantly more. Cost savings could (and perhaps should) be factored into a faculty member’s decision regarding adoptions of OER materials.

Ultimately, the decision of textbook adoption is a curriculum issue, and therefore the purview of the faculty per Ed Code and the 10+1. No administrator should be forcing a faculty member to adopt OER materials. However, given that courses with zero costs for textbooks will now be identified in the online course schedule, it is possible that students will vote with their feet, and it might behoove faculty to examine OER options moving forward. Faculty who considered OER in the past and found the available resources lacking are encouraged to explore the available options once again.

[1]; quote from email from Nancy Purcille, Transfer Articulation Coordinator, UC Office of the President.