The academic landscape is growing more difficult with escalating financial pressures, yet colleges and universities must continue to provide excellent services and resources. Especially for private institutions, there is a need to be cost-sensitive in order to recruit and retain students. Current trends in college pricing find that students at private campuses need to budget over $50,000 a year for their full time undergraduate costs, and $1,220 of that is attributed to books and supplies alone.
The cost problem is not only significant, but growing at an alarming rate: student loan debt has doubled in the last decade, and the price of textbooks is increasing at a rate three times that of inflation. Moreover, costs of traditional educational materials is found to have a negative effect on student performance and retention.
Open Educational Resources (OER) are one solution to help alleviate this pressure. They are freely available materials, openly licensed for reuse, remixing, and redistribution at no cost to educators and students. Additionally, they are proven time and again to save money and put funds back into the pockets of students and parents. The leading provider of open textbooks, OpenStax out of Rice University, reports savings of $155 million and counting. Also, recent studies have found that courses that use OER result in positive student perceptions and increased retention, with equivalent or improved learning outcomes.
Unfortunately, the majority of faculty are not aware of open educational resources, or how to locate them for application in the classroom. These facts make evident the need for an affordable education materials initiative, and highlight an opportunity for the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI) to help. In addition to open materials, content obtained or licensed at a cost by the library or institution can be used in the classroom to reduce costs. As part of the plan outlined below, PALNI can provide a framework for faculty education as well as support for adoption of both open and affordable materials.
Work to Date
PALNI has been exploring the topic of affordable education since 2015, and is currently involved in a project to acquire ebooks with unlimited concurrent use that are suitable for course use to lower costs for students. Another project provides access to over 27,000 JSTOR ebooks through June 30, 2018 that are digital rights management free and also suitable for concurrent use.
In October of 2017, the newly formed PALNI Scholarly Communications and Instructional Technology Advisory Groups joined forces to create the Affordable Education Initiatives (AEI) Task Force to further PALNI’s efforts. The group was given the following charge: to assess needs related to open/affordable education, begin definition of a PALNI-wide AEI program, and determine ongoing support for such a program.
The AEI Task Force has completed extensive environmental scanning on this topic, started providing education to PALNI schools via workshops and webinars, and created web materials for OER. Furthermore, the group developed this comprehensive project plan in order to identify components for future work in the arena of affordable and open education.
Drawing on successful initiatives of our consortial peers, the structure of the PALNI affordable education program should include several overlapping components, as follows:
Membership in the Open Textbook Network (OTN) is a necessary step in establishing our Affordable Education Initiative. Selecting OTN as a partner and participating in the “train the trainer” programs they offer has proven effective for consortia to engage in this space. We also recommend membership in SPARC and the Open Education Consortium for community building and resource sharing. For additional expertise, another suggested area of focus is to partner with course providers such as Lumen Learning, and to look for other potential program partners state- and nationwide .
The PALNI Affordable Education Initiative needs designated program administration and support at the consortial level. Creation of an Affordable Education Admin Team is recommended at this time. Similar to the group that supports PALNI’s digital content management system PDAT, this should be ongoing and part of PALNI’s organizational structure. Led by the Scholarly Communications Director, the AEI Admin Team will facilitate this project from a central point, and be available for consultation and support to the PALNI supported institutions. This team would include the five system leaders and additional members as needed for program administration.
After an application process, five members of the PALNI community will be selected to serve as system leaders. PALNI’s selected system leaders will participate in intensive training over the weeklong Open Textbook Network Summer Institute (OTNSI). These leaders will retain shared administrative responsibility to serve as local-level project liaisons, review projects, and advocate for affordable education within PALNI. Additionally, as members of the AEI administration team at PALNI, they would have access to continuing professional development funds to further their knowledge and advance action items.
The AEI Admin Team will expand on existing efforts to maintain a web presence for the services and resources provided within the structure of the PALNI Affordable Education Initiative. This will include guides for getting started, student and faculty survey templates, suggested resources, training supplements, and more. Additionally, this web presence will serve as the hub for the project and all related background information.
In addition to the training provided to the System Leaders at the Open Textbook Network Summer Institute, staff from OTN will facilitate two regional “train-the-trainer” workshops to further establish campus leaders at the PALNI institutions. These leaders may include librarians, faculty, instructional designers, or administrators. Furthermore, the AEI Admin Team will create online training materials such as tutorials directed toward multiple stakeholders, such as faculty, librarians, and students. The team will also be on hand to offer further trainings when requested at the campus level.
The Affordable Education Initiative, like many of PALNI’s newest efforts, extends impact beyond libraries and out across campuses. This requires a communication stream that reaches a new audience. Work has already begun to gather information about appropriate channels of communication to best establish direct collaboration between PALNI groups and institutional offices and individual stakeholders. The AEI Admin Team will perform this outreach as well as coordinate with local liaisons to make these connections and invite active participation in the program. Local liaisons might include librarians, faculty, instructional designers, or administrators: any campus player who has interest and capacity to become involved. As recommended by experts in this field, the groups will employee direct communication strategies in order to engage the greatest number of participants. Other activities in this area will include a marketing plan and creation of advocacy materials directed toward multiple stakeholders, such as administrators, bookstores, faculty, and students.
In our coordinated outreach efforts, faculty at PALNI campuses will be encouraged to engage in this initiative. Their involvement will be active and extensive in order to realize the full benefits of the program. The faculty engagement and implementation plan will include opportunities to: attend trainings/workshops, review OER and receive a stipend, apply for tiered Adopt/Adapt/Create program funding, and receive direct implementation support from the AEI Admin Team and/or their local campus liaison. Faculty involvement will be invited and recruited through direct communication strategies, and proposals to receive funding to adopt, adapt, or create OER will be chosen by application process.
Individual campuses will need to provide some resources in order to implement this plan locally. Each participating PALNI campus should locate institutional ambassadors, who might include librarians, faculty, instructional designers, or administrators to guide the program at the campus level. These local liaisons would participate in the regional workshops delivered by OTN, provide support to program participants, be prepared to identify and communicate with other local stakeholders (bookstore, registrar, etc.) as needed, and implement outreach, buy-in, and implementation strategies as identified by the AEI Admin Team. These local liaisons would work directly with the AEI Admin Team to move affordable education forward on their campus.
This program will provision the time, personnel, and expertise required to devote to hands-on efforts at the consortial and local levels for this proposed work, and additionally mapping existing course content from bookstore lists to either OER or library-licensed content. The AEI Admin Team and local liaisons would work together to obtain these lists and work through the mapping process. Also to be addressed are integration strategies for open and licensed materials into each of the major learning management system in academic use. Methods to automate these processes will be explored and developed if feasible.
The “affordable” part of the AEI initiative includes pursuing content that is not traditionally open or free, but obtained at a cost by the library or institution. Leveraging that content for use in the classroom can be just as effective at saving students money as traditional OER. This effort will additionally address licensed content selection, acquisition, and implementation (e.g., LTI tool). It will also consider the will and options for inclusive licensing of textbooks, a space in which other consortia have recently succeeded.
Open Educational Resource adopters, adapters, and creators will need a platform on which to create, edit, remix, store, and discover their OER. This group will evaluate options for such a platform, including usability, costs, and both feasibility and adaptability for use in the consortial environment.
The AEI Admin Team will strive to prove return on investment, demonstrate student savings, and assess ongoing program effectiveness. With the help of Open Textbook Network’s commitment to assessment, the group will incorporate the analysis into all phases of work completed. These methodologies for efficacy assessment and cost savings calculations will enable the work of this group to have metrics to prove effectiveness and encourage growth.
A final component of this program entails the creation of in-person events, both informational and celebratory, to build upon the growing community of practice in the affordable education community. Assembling together to share ideas, experiences, and successes would invite continued momentum and facilitate collaboration.