OER & Textbook Affordability Initiatives:
Note: this document was originally assembled as background and reference materials for a University Academic Senate Task Force on Open Educational Resources and Affordable Course Materials, at Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Michigan).
It was compiled by Janelle Yahne, Jackie Rander, and Matt Ruen (University Libraries), and was originally intended to be illustrative, rather than exhaustive. The document focuses most on the Michigan context.
This version of the document is made available for edits, additions, and comments from anyone involved with OER. Click here to view in the Google Docs editing interface. (To the extent that any of the original annotations are copyrightable, they are released with a CC Attribution - Noncommercial license.)
1. Models of OER and Textbook Affordability Initiatives 2
General Resources 2
Model Programs: 2
California State University 2
Dartmouth College 2
Ferris State University 3
Kansas State University 3
Maricopa Community Colleges 3
Miami University 3
Minnesota State Colleges & Universities - Central Lakes College 4
Oregon State University 4
Penn State 4
Portland State University 4
Rutgers University 5
The State University of New York (SUNY) 5
Temple University 5
Texas A&M 5
Texas Woman’s University 6
Tidewater Community College 6
University of Alberta 6
University of Arkansas 6
University of Arkansas – Little Rock 7
University at Buffalo (SUNY) 7
University of British Columbia 7
University of California – Los Angeles 7
University of Houston 8
University of Minnesota 8
University of Oklahoma 8
University of Saskatchewan Medical University 8
University System of Georgia / Affordable Learning Georgia 8
Virginia Tech 9
2. Relevant Organizations 9
Organizational Partnership Initiatives 9
Open Textbook Network 9
Rebus Foundation & Rebus Community 10
SPARC Open Education Leadership Program 10
Nonprofit & Higher Education Organizations 10
Service Providers & Commercial Initiatives 10
3. Conferences & Professional Development 11
4. Government Policies on OER and Affordability 11
5. Issues Related to OER & Affordability 12
Inclusive Access (or Mandatory Purchase) Programs 12
Open Pedagogy 12
Textbook Costs & OER Savings 12
6. Additional Selected Readings 13
OER on OER (and Affordable Content) 13
Community Resources 13
Blogs & Commentary 14
Selected Scholarly Literature 15
1. Models of OER and Textbook Affordability Initiatives
Note: this list features examples of OER and affordability programs which demonstrate a range of different approaches, goals, and scales. It is not exhaustive.
- a directory of OER programming at SPARC member institutions across North America.
- Collection of resources and case studies of initiatives at Association of Research Libraries member institutions. Includes several listed below.
- A peer-reviewed volume of case studies, best practices, and descriptions of affordable content initiatives across higher education institutions.
- A collection of strategies and ideas for OER (and affordability) initiatives.
California State University
- Grant program provides funding for expenses associated with OER creation (up to $2,000) or OER adoption/adaptation (up to $1,000). Does not include faculty salary or stipend.
- Openly licensed presentations and program documentation developed by Katie Harding via SPARC Open Education Leadership Program: https://osf.io/pbd6a/
Ferris State University
Kansas State University
- Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative provides faculty with up to $5,000 for redesigning a course to use OER or library-licensed materials.
- Initial funding from library. Second round support from President’s Office. Ongoing work with university Foundation/Development office to locate underwriting.
- Current funding through student fees ($10 per student).
- A significant proportion of the student fee is directed to the department to reward department and administration buy-in and support.
- Further reading:
Maricopa Community Colleges
Minnesota State Colleges & Universities - Central Lakes College
- OER Learning Circles. Participants are paid a stipend for their work, depending on pathway: OER textbook review, $200– $500; course redesign and authoring pathways, $1500.
Oregon State University
- Affordable Learning Ohio incorporates multiple approaches to lowering textbook cost, including OER, ambassadors at each participating institution, and discounts on inclusive access programs.
Pennsylvania State University
Portland State University
- In the PDXOpen initiative, the library works with faculty authors to publish high-quality open access textbooks designed specifically for their courses. Support includes a $2,500 stipend and assistance arranging peer review. Faculty often use the stipend to hire graduate students from PSU’s publishing program to enable the students to gain publishing experience.
- Further reading: 2017 presentation on initiative.
The State University of New York (SUNY)
- SUNY OER Services provides mentoring, technical support, and access to a broad catalog of curated OER courses to help incorporate OER into the classroom, lower costs, and empower faculty.
- Incentives include $3,000 for authors, and an additional $1000 to authors using student assessment in the creation/editing process. $1,000 for peer reviewers in first round, $300 second round.
- Supported in part by funding allocated by the governor of New York for statewide OER initiatives.
- Textbook Affordability Project provides awards of $500 to $1500 for faculty implementing OER or library-provided resources, and for OER creators.
- North Broad Press is a new imprint of Temple University Press in collaboration with the Temple University Libraries, publishing OER produced by Temple faculty. In addition to the Press’ editorial and peer review support, participating authors in the inaugural round received a $5,000 stipend.
- Student government and university library partnership where two annual awards recognize faculty OER achievements. One is awarded to the Open Educators that show “exemplary use of open access materials in their own classroom” and the other is awarded to the Open Education Champions that are “compelling and significant positive impact related to OER”
- Since awards are student-nominated and distributed by the student government, they have high value as evidence for tenure/promotion processes.
Texas Woman’s University
- Departmental Award for Textbook Savings recognizes departments with high impact on student savings and on high participation in transitioning courses to zero- or low-cost materials.
- Highest projected student savings from course transformations: $5,000, unrestricted.
- Highest percentage of faculty participation in course transformations: $5,000, only for travel.
- Collaboration between library, technology centers, and faculty excellence center.
Tidewater Community College
University of Alberta
University of Arkansas
- Uses a monetary incentive from University Libraries and Global Campus to encourage OER engagement. UA grant program provides tiers of funding (adoption, adaptation, creation), with increasing funds for increasing original work by recipient. Additionally, funds are disbursed in stages as each portion of outlined process is completed, encouraging consistent progress.
- Course redesign workshops draw on same funding for projects converting a course to use open/affordable materials, but supports solutions other than textbook-like content.
University at Buffalo (SUNY)
- Newly-launched (Fall 2019) OER Studio will combine regular OER programming, a fellowship program for faculty developing OER courses, and dedicated librarian support.
- Developed by Christopher Hollister through 2018-2019 SPARC Open Education Leadership Program, and Hollister’s final capstone report provides a framework and description of the studio model. Initial funding for the Studio ($50,000) was provided by SUNY OER Services.
- The Studio will collaborate closely with the university’s Open Education Research Lab, based in the Graduate School of Education, to carry out OER and Open Education research projects.
University of British Columbia
- Successful adaptation and reformatting of a Physics 100 textbook and creation of a “question database and test bank”. Two faculty, one IT, and four paid graduate physics interns developed it over a summer. The University gave a grant of $CAD 20,000 to pay the physics interns.
- OER can be considered for tenure and promotion for some faculty.
- OER Rapid Innovation Grants fund activities increasing engagement with OER, including development sprints, assessment of OER use/impact, and promotional events.
- Further reading: The Adoption of an Open Textbook in a Large Physics Course: An Analysis of Cost, Outcomes, Use, and Perceptions (2017, International Review of Research in Open & Distributed Learning)
University of California – Los Angeles
University of Houston
- Alternative Textbook Incentive Program provides awards, $500 - $2500, for faculty who implement OER or other free and library-provided resources in a course, replacing a commercial textbook. Funding provided by UH Libraries and Provost, and can be used for any purpose.
- As part of the the 2018-19 SPARC Open Education Leadership Program, Ariana E. Santiago developed and shared resources to support faculty participation in ATIP, including an OER adoption workflow, environmental scan template, and model for evaluating existing OER options.
University of Minnesota
- Partnership for Affordable Content grants- small incentive grants for faculty plus support from Libraries staff to transition to alternative affordable content options.
- University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing - Open Textbooks - locally produced and published textbooks and re-published versions of heavily used open textbooks - with some licensed content/images updated/replaced.
- UofM Libraries/Bookstores Project provides multi-user ebooks for required course content where possible.
University of Oklahoma
- Alternative Textbook Grants support faculty members in the adoption, modification, or creation of openly licensed course content. All University of Oklahoma-Norman full-time faculty and teaching staff are eligible to apply for awards of up to $2,500+ in funding and support.
- Some OU colleges, including the college of business, contribute matching or additional funds.
University of Saskatchewan
University System of Georgia / Affordable Learning Georgia
- Affordable Learning Georgia is an initiative from the University System of Georgia.
- Program includes designated coordinators and champions at each participating institution, focusing on support and advocacy respectively.
- Textbook Transformation Grants - includes mini-grants and large multi-recipient grants for creating materials and redesigning courses to use OER and low-cost materials. Grants can cover course release, overload pay, and project expenses, though specific details are determined by each participating institution.
- 2018 RFP (pdf) has extensive criteria and process information.
2. Relevant Organizations
Organizational Partnership Initiatives
- Competitive, fully-funded program focused on aggressively boosting OER adoption.
- Planning support, consultations, campus visits, community of practice, and outreach materials.
- OpenStax also shares some data from surveys on OER programs, not limited to partner institutions:
Open Textbook Network
- Open Textbook Network Institutional Membership
- Initial year of membership includes campus visit, workshops, and covered travel for campus representative to attend annual OTN training institute.
- Campus visit workshops typically ask faculty to produce a detailed review of an OER from the Open Textbook Library. Roughly 40% of those reviews lead to OER adoption.
- Community of practice, resource sharing, discounts on OER-related services and technologies.
Rebus Foundation & Rebus Community
- Textbook Success Program
- Professional development program for OER development teams with institutional funding. Includes 12-week course and monthly check-ins, and participating teams form a cohort for shared support, accountability, and collaboration. Rebus Community also provides publishing and hosting platform for resulting project(s). $2500 - $3500 per team.
SPARC Open Education Leadership Program
- Year-long intensive professional development program. Participants build skills, collaborate with a mentor and a cohort of other program Fellows, and develop a capstone resource for their institution and the broader OER community.
- Community resources include presentations, initiative planning documents, educational guides, and more. Resources can be found by viewing Fellow profiles from the 2017-2018 & 2018-2019 cohorts.
Nonprofit & Higher Education Organizations
Service Providers & Commercial Initiatives
See also: Inclusive Access (or Mandatory Purchase) Programs
3. Conferences & Professional Development
These events frequently include sessions or tracks on OER, and some are entirely dedicated to OER. Many professional and disciplinary conferences also discuss OER and textbook affordability.
4. Government Policies on OER and Affordability
SPARC is tracking state-level policies on OER, a growing trend. Many involve grant funding or mandatory OER marking in online course catalogs. Some establish or expand state-wide educational consortia to work on OER. In Michigan, the 2018 educational appropriations act directed Michigan Virtual University to support OER creation, but this appears primarily focused on K-12 OER.
SPARC also has excellent background information on the new federal-level Open Textbook Grant pilot program, which is aimed at large consortial efforts in collaboration with workforce partners. There are significant critiques of the way this pilot has been implemented, but the program’s existence is a major victory. It is quite possible that an improved version of the 2018 grant will be part of the next federal appropriations bill.
5. Issues Related to OER & Affordability
Inclusive Access (or Mandatory Purchase) Programs
Many commercial publishers are beginning to offer what they call “inclusive access” programs, and what critics have described as “mandatory purchase” programs. The basic idea is that the publisher works directly with the university and/or bookstore to integrate with an existing student fee system. Students in a course using an “inclusive access” resource pay the fee along with tuition and other student fees. This approach can be easier to handle via student loans, and which guarantees that every registered student has online access from the beginning of a course to the end. Currently, these programs are significantly less expensive than traditional textbook purchasing, because publishers are able to guarantee that every student pays for online access.
Critiques of this model center on the loss of agency for students, challenging opt-out processes, the temporary nature of the course materials, and the possibility of higher prices once a course or institution is an established customer. After all, traditional print textbooks used to be a lot more affordable, too.
The CARE Framework describes 4 principles of good stewardship by OER programs (contribute, attribute, release, empower) for a sustainable open education ecosystem.
The Open Pedagogy Notebook – a community and collection of resources for educators exploring what can be done with OER and open approaches to teaching.
Textbook Costs & OER Savings
How much does one OER adoption really save?
A lot of discussions about OER use a rough metric of $100 saved per student in a course that adopts OER, an estimate popularized by OpenStax. Calculating a useful universal metric is a messy and imprecise task, since many students report not buying a required text, many share with a friend, others buy used or rent from a variety of services.
- Some OER advocates note that the data behind this downgrade may actually reflect greater OER adoption, not lower textbook costs.
- The difference between this and the NACS data likely reflects different survey scopes as well as different data sources.
6. Additional Selected Readings
OER on OER (and Affordable Content)
- Chronicle of Higher Education
Blogs & Commentary
- Student PIRGs - “Make Textbooks Affordable” campaign
Selected Scholarly Literature
- Important critical discussion of OER advocacy.
- Identifies and explores social patterns through which OER are adopted.
- Large-scale study indicating significant improvements in grades and drop/fail/withdraw rates for students in courses using OER, especially underserved and at-risk groups.
- Challenges and tensions experienced by educators as they considered adopting OER.
- Case study: enlisting students to evaluate textbook quality.
- Analyzes business models of four Open Education/OER organizations in the context of financial sustainability.
Copyrightable elements of this work are released under a CC Attribution - Noncommercial license. Please credit either “Grand Valley State University Libraries” or “Janelle Yahne, Jackie Rander, and Matt Ruen, Grand Valley State University Libraries.”