MSA hopes to encourage use of open educational resources on campus

An OER is any resource that professors can use in the classroom free of cost to students

The Missouri Students Association began efforts to increase the presence of open educational resources on campus in a meeting last Thursday.

According to an analysis by NBC News, the price of college textbooks has risen 1,041 percent, three times the level of inflation, from 1977 to 2015.

But the price of OERs has remained steady: free of charge.

The MSA Academic Affairs Committee met with the OER interest group as well as the Mizzou Store and various academic departments to discuss both short-term and long-term plans regarding OERs at the university. The interest group is composed of librarians, professors, students and other supporters of free educational resources.

The immediate goals for the interest group are defining what OERs are and increasing awareness of them.

“Librarians are really into open access [resources],” said Grace Atkins, user engagement librarian and coordinator of the OER interest group. “We think that everyone should have access to scholarly information as cheaply as possible, ideally free.”

MSA is currently in the process of creating two surveys they hope to implement by the end of the semester: one for the students, and one for faculty. By the end of the year, MSA plans to recognize the professors at MU who use OERs. Their long-term goal is to see the number of professors who use OERs rise to 15 percent in 10 years.

However, interim Academic Affairs Chair Taylor Tutin said the interest group is also looking to narrow down what is considered an open educational resource at MU. Because the current definition is fairly vague, MSA is working to clarify the definition to make it easier to recognize what an OER is.

To be considered an OER, the material must be intended for educational uses and have no trademarks, in addition to being free, Tutin said.

“After we get the definition down, we have to spread awareness,” Tutin said. “Free textbooks is a good bidline, but it doesn’t encompass everything OER-related.”

One of the biggest organizations that has content meeting that definition is an organization known as OpenStax. OpenStax, headquartered at Rice University, creates peer-edited textbooks for introductory classes and releases them for free with the help of financial sponsors.

Former MU psychology professor Ian Zimmerman used a Psychology textbook from OpenStax for his Psychology 1000 class last year. Dr. Zimmerman said changing over to the new textbook was relatively easy, and after a few lecture modifications, he was able to adapt the book into his curriculum.

“I really didn’t like how expensive most textbooks are,” Zimmerman said. “It was a good book. I saw no reason not to use it.”

Edited by Emily Gallion | egallion@themaneater.com

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