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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

UM System establishes task force to promote use of open educational resources

Fair-use copyright policies enforce cost-saving alternatives in the classroom.

Oct. 11, 2017

In an effort to make classes more affordable and boost student success in the classroom, UM System President Mun Choi and other UM System officials assembled a taskforce with the goal of expanding and implementing the use of open educational resources in classrooms across all four UM System campuses.

OERs can be accessed free of charge due to fair-use copyright policies.

The surging cost of higher education across the country has led many universities to seek a similar solution. One huge source of this surge is the cost of class materials and textbooks.

Unlike textbooks, whose prices have been consistently rising, the cost of OERs have remained free. This is why many in the academic community see them as a viable solution.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to support higher education, defines OERs as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.”

OERs came to the attention of UM System officials when the campus OER Interest Group released results from a study it conducted last spring.

According to the study, titled “Moving Forward with OER at the University of Missouri,” of 690 MU students surveyed, 60.9 percent reported having not bought a required textbook, 17 percent reported that not having access to course materials negatively affected their grades and 13 percent had considered leaving the university due to the prices of textbooks.

The study also looked at instructors’ knowledge of course material costs. The study discovered that, of the 245 instructors surveyed, 14.9 percent did not know the exact price of their course’s required materials, 22.4 percent knew some of the time and only 11 percent could correctly estimate that over 50 percent of MU students chose not to buy some or all textbooks.

The study led to the formation of a task force known as the “System-Wide Taskforce on Affordable & Open Educational Resources,” according to Jana Moore, a member of the task force. This group, comprised of faculty and university officials nominated by their respective UM System campuses and Missouri Students Association members, is working to address the issue in several ways.

“There are a lot of different ways you have to approach this problem,” said Grace Atkins, outreach librarian at MU libraries and a member of the taskforce. “One is just general awareness building. So the taskforce is working on, across all four campuses, [the problem of] ‘How do we communicate this?’ Part of this taskforce is just raising awareness on these high costs and how they affect students.”

Beyond that, the group also hopes to increase the use of OERs in the classroom.

“There will be some form of incentive program for faculty who implement OERs into their courses,” Atkins said. “We’re figuring out, how do faculty want to be incentivized?”

Moore, the senior program/project support coordinator for the UM System, said the taskforce is currently working on the parameters of the program and more details will be announced in the coming weeks.

Because classroom affordability is always an ongoing problem, defining goals and a desired end result is difficult.

“Each stakeholder probably sees a slightly different end result,” Atkins said.

Moore said the overall goal of the taskforce is focused on five main priority areas. Those areas include providing more OERs to students, encouraging faculty to convert courses to OER-based ones, increasing support and resources for faculty using OERs, identifying possible partnerships that could help promote this initiative and developing a system-wide strategy to address high textbook prices.

“The end goal, generally speaking, is to have the most affordable course material that we can,” Atkins said.

Edited by Sarah Hallam | shallam@themaneater.com

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