Open Educational Resources at Western
In order to ensure that students have access to course materials, many WWU faculty have begun to embrace open educational resources (OERs). OERs include a variety of text and media materials that are free and openly accessible to students. Even with the advent of used textbooks, e-textbooks, and rental textbooks, in the 2021-22 school year, the average college student spent $389 on textbooks (NACS). While this figure has continued to decline for the past 15 years or so, it is likely that the increasing prevalence of OERs, free online resources, and financial needs of students are factors.
Some professors have already designed their courses using free publications and media--instead of publisher textbooks--to ensure their students have access to course materials. But for others, the prospect of transforming their course materials can be overwhelming. Western has been offering faculty professional development opportunities to help them adopt alternate learning resources outside traditional published textbooks.
The payoff isn’t just reduced cost to students; OERs also offer professors the opportunity to use the most relevant, up-to-date materials and research--often allowing for a more broad and inclusive take on the materials. In terms of access, professors using OERs can provide all their students with equal access to the materials, regardless of affordability, and can have control over making the content fully accessible.
For several years, Western has gained momentum in supporting OERs:
In 2016, 2017, and 2018, the Student Technology Fee funded a program to support faculty course transformations utilizing free course content.
In 2019, Western received a $36K grant from Washington State supporting faculty course transformations utilizing free course content.
With the adoption of these free and low-cost materials, it is estimated that students have saved $1.36 million from 2016-2019 in textbook fees. This number has the potential to increase exponentially as courses continue in this format and additional courses transition to using open educational resources.
In 2022-23, WWU’s Teaching & Learning Cooperative earmarked one-third of professional development stipends for faculty to take a workshop focused on OER, equity, access, and inclusion.
Several initiatives at Western are in motion. See the Timeline for details.
On this Page
What is OER?
Open educational resources are a variety of electronic text and media that are published with a Creative Commons or public domain license and allow for free access to the user. Creators of OER can choose from different Creative Commons licenses when publishing their work with unique permissions. Depending on the license that they attribute to the resource, it can then be reused, remixed, revised, retained, or redistributed. Public domain licensing refers to texts that were published in the U.S. before 1924 and can be freely used.
Open educational resources are not just textbooks. OER encompass Ted Talks, podcasts, interactive learning tools, open journals, textbooks, ebooks, images, data, code, and more. Using OER allows courses to be transformed by using newer and alternative forms of learning media that work for all kinds of learners.
How is OER impacting Western students?
To address textbook accessibility issues and rising costs for students, the Center for Instructional Innovation & Assessment (CIIA) at WWU has facilitated several initiatives over the years. Many WWU instructors are working independently for this same goal. CIIA initiatives from 2016-2019 involved faculty teaching 18 courses that they transformed to use open educational resources instead of costly textbooks, creating courses that are low-cost or free. Since the adoption of these free and low-cost materials, it is estimated that students in those courses saved $1.36 million in textbook fees from 2016-2019. This number is predicted to have a cumulative impact as more courses transition to using open educational resources and as additional courses transition to using open educational resources. The CIIA estimated that in just the 2019-20 school year alone, over 5,000 Western students would take a course that is free or low-cost, saving students over $700,000 in textbooks costs (CIIA, 2019).* To find this kind of data moving forward, the CIIA hopes to survey the faculty and work with the Campus Bookstore.
However, using OER in classes isn’t just saving students money--it is also transforming the way that they come to class and think about what they are learning. In the recent Innovative Teaching Showcase (2019), Professor Ferreras-Stone described her transition to using podcasts:
“When I was using textbooks... students weren't really coming to class ready to talk about anything, they were showing up as your regular student sittin' in the back of the room, casually saying, ‘Teacher, it's your job, tell me what was important about this reading…’ [Then] I inserted podcasts that were readily available on the internet, that were created for the average person, not for academia… and instead students were talking to each other about the podcasts before I even logged onto the [classroom] computer. And, on occasion, the discussion got so good that I would pause before beginning my class. I thought, ‘Why should I interrupt?’”
How are faculty at Western using OER?
Faculty are using OER to make classes more affordable for students, but also because they are able to have more control over the content in their courses. Using OER allows faculty to present the most up-to-date research and create educational resources relevant to their content area and to their students.
In the recent Innovative Teaching Showcase (2019), WWU Professor Mark Staton described how essential OERs are for his class--since digital marketing is dependent on current marketing strategies. “Digital marketing is constantly changing and if [students] want to have successful careers, they must be lifelong learners.”
Faculty are also working within departments to share resources created for a particular course that is taught by several colleagues. This allows their colleagues to easily transition to OER materials and further increases the savings for students in those classes.
Course Transformations in 2019
MGMT 311: Professors Meg Warren and Jason Kanov worked together to gather freely available readings for the management classes they teach, customizing the textbooks to their individual classrooms and content.
MUS 105: Instructor Todd Smith wrote his own music textbook, incorporating videos and soundbites of himself explaining different music theory concepts while giving students the socio-historical background in an online textbook.
ENG 302: Professor Jeremy Cushman curated an extensive, online, open-licensed repository of up-to-date technical writing materials for any of the Western English technical writing teachers to draw upon when designing their courses.
PLSC 261: Professors Shirin Deylami and Vicki Hsueh collaborated to curate a new textbook reader for their political theory course sourcing public domain and Creative Commons licensed readings.
CSCI 145: Professor Qiang Hao developed a digital interactive textbook for computer science students available on GitHub. Using the textbook, students will be able to read and develop code within the textbook, directly applying the skills they are learning in the reading
Why Open? OER as Inclusive Curriculum
Within the Open Movement is the simple philosophy that access to information and research is a human right and should not be linked to who can afford that access. Professors Rajiv Jhangiani and Robin DeRosa say it best when they write, “When faculty use OER, we aren’t just saving a student money on textbooks: we are directly impacting that student’s ability to enroll in, persist through, and successfully complete a course. In other words, we are directly impacting that student’s ability to attend, succeed in, and graduate from college” (Jhangiani & DeRosa, 2019).
Affordability was a central issue identified in Western’s 2018 Report: Council on Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice, especially for underrepresented students in Western’s community. In alignment with the President’s Council on Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice established by President Randhawa in 2017, Western is working to lower barriers like textbook costs so that all students can fully participate in information access and course completion.
OERs also allow for a more broad and inclusive take on the curricular materials than is typically available in published textbooks. In the recent Innovative Teaching Showcase (2019), WWU Instructor Kamarie Chapman shared how she set aside the traditional text for her large Intro to Cinema class in favor of weekly curated collections of articles and videos designed to represent a more diverse perspective of cinema, a more focused collection of materials, and a more inclusive set of “voices” in the field:
“I have been striving to achieve a balance of representation of creators for years. Exciting and rigorous study, diverse voices from various experts, and community connection is my hope in creating an open- sourced lecture class.”
Due to the many instructors at Western who see the value in OER, we are making progress toward affordable instructional materials that are relevant to Western’s students.
Timeline: The Evolution of OER at Western
2022 and Beyond
WWU is learning more about student and faculty perceptions of OER and how OER is being used across different departments.
WWU is working to make OER a valued part of instructional innovation, creating policies and continued support for this work.
WWU’s Teaching & Learning Cooperative earmarked one-third of professional development stipends for faculty to take a workshop focused on OER, equity, access, and inclusion.
Throughout the pandemic, faculty and instructional designers saw the growing need for and value of OER to address inequities in access to course materials.
WWU received a $36K grant from Washington State to fund a faculty development program aimed at transforming courses from using costly textbooks to OER materials.
WWU Bookstore implemented a method to display the cost of course materials for all classes so that students can budget for the often hidden costs of taking courses.
The Student Technology Fee funded 16 faculty to switch from costly textbooks to low or no cost materials, potentially saving students $1.3 million in the first year, a savings that grows over time as open textbooks continue to be offered.
Western Libraries created Western Cedar, a digital repository of scholarly materials by Western’s own faculty and staff.
Professional development grant programs for Western faculty began promoting curated collections of curricular materials which became known as Open Educational Resources (OER).
The CIIA applied a Creative Commons license to the Innovative Teaching Showcase.
Inspired by the open source movement, the Center for Instructional Innovation (CIIA) created the Innovative Teaching Showcase website to freely share great teaching ideas of WWU faculty.
We are grateful for everyone who is making higher education more affordable, equitable, and accessible, contributing their energy to the open movement. We commend all institutions who have inspired this work and are grateful to those at WWU who are taking on this challenge.
*CIIA (2019). Summer Grant OER Courses over Time at WWU. Unpublished data collection. Center for Instructional Innovation & Assessment, Academic Technology, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA.
Hilton J., Fischer L., Wiley D., & Williams, L. (2016). Maintaining Momentum Toward Graduation: OER and the Course Throughput Rate. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. 17(6).
Innovative Teaching Showcase. (2018-19). Open Educational Practices.
Jhangiani, R. & DeRosa, R. (2019). Open Pedagogy and Social Justice. Open Pedagogy Lab.
NACS (2022). National Association of College Stores. Retrieved from: https://www.nacs.org/nacs-student-watch-report-course-materials-spending-dropped
OnCampus Research (2022). Student Watch Report. Retrieved from: https://irp.cdn-website.com/badb3262/files/uploaded/OCR.2452.07.22_Student_Watch_2022_Infographic.pdf
Seaman, J.E. and Seaman, J. (2022). Turning Point for Digital Curricula: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2022. Bayview Analytics. Retrieved from:https://www.bayviewanalytics.com/reports/turningpointdigitalcurricula.pdf
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). (2020). Fixing the Broken Textbook Market. Retrieved from: https://pirg.org/edfund/resources/fixing-the-broken-textbook-market/
Justina Brown, M.Ed.
Instructional Designer, Media & Faculty Development
Center for Instructional Innovation & Assessment
Academic Technology & User Services