Libraries Play a Key Role in Campus OER Adoption

Open educational resources (OER) have emerged as a viable alternative to pricey commercial textbooks, offering a means of more affordable learning — and libraries are taking on a key leadership role in encouraging their use across campus.

Libraries Play a Key Role in Campus OER Adoption

Open educational resources (OER) have emerged as a viable alternative to pricey commercial textbooks, offering a means of more affordable learning — and libraries are taking on a key leadership role in encouraging their use across campus.

Not only is this helping students who can’t afford to purchase their own course materials; it’s also changing how faculty teach their courses, leading to richer learning experiences for students.

A 2019 Library Journal survey of nearly 300 academic librarians across the United States revealed that libraries are expanding their traditional roles by helping to drive student success initiatives on campus. In fact, more libraries are taking the lead in affordable learning programs at their institution (35 percent) than provost’s offices (34 percent), according to the survey.

One way libraries are doing this is by promoting and supporting the use of course materials that may be freely accessed, reused, modified, and shared among faculty.

Library Leadership

Mark McBride, library senior strategist for the State University of New York (SUNY) System Administration office, believes libraries are a natural fit for leading OER initiatives for a number of reasons — one of which is that librarians have what he calls “baked-in empathy” for the toll that rising textbook costs can take on students.

“Librarians have seen firsthand what it’s like for students to have to lean on a textbook reserve program to meet their educational goals,” he explains. “Honestly, you can never buy enough of those resources to meet the demand of students. I don’t think there’s a librarian in this country who can’t tell you a story about a student breaking down in tears because they couldn’t get access to the textbook they needed at that moment.”

As one of the few professionals in higher education who engage with the entire campus community, librarians are uniquely positioned to serve as go-betweens in discussions about academic materials between faculty and administration. What’s more, as trusted sources of information about high-quality academic content, they have everyone’s ear in communicating the value of OER to various stakeholder groups.

“When faculty come and ask if the library can put their textbook on reserve, that’s an opportunity for the librarian to begin a conversation about textbook affordability,” McBride says. “Faculty are aware that textbooks have been outrageously priced for a long time. They just haven’t had an alternative. They’re often very busy, and so they don’t always have time to track new initiatives. Librarians can introduce a solution to this problem that faculty have known about for decades.”

At SUNY, McBride and his colleagues noticed that libraries were playing a critical role in introducing the concept of OER to faculty and getting faculty the instructional design support they needed to use OER effectively in their courses. So, they reallocated some resources from the Office of Library and Information Systems to support a new shared service for the university system’s 64 campuses, called OER Services. Soon after, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature announced an allocation of $4 million dollars to SUNY to expand OER adoption in high enrollment, general education courses.  

This new service provides technical support for embedding OER within each campus’s learning management system, and it serves as a centralized point of contact for faculty professional development about OER. It also collects high-quality open content in one location, so that faculty can feel more comfortable in adopting these instructional materials.

“Quality is still an issue that our faculty said was going to be a big hurdle for them to cross,” McBride says. “We didn’t want to see campuses just building OER or spending their time discovering OER on their own; we wanted to give them curated content that we knew was of high quality.”

Value for Everyone

When librarians lead an OER initiative at their university, they create obvious value for students by making course materials more affordable. At the same time, they help demonstrate the library’s value to the institution by supporting student success.

But using OER creates enormous value for faculty as well, McBride says: It changes how faculty deliver their courses in ways that ultimately improve their teaching.

“We have noticed that when faculty adopt OER, they often think about different approaches they might take in achieving certain learning outcomes,” he explains. “They start to weave in different technologies and modalities, and they customize their classes based not on what the publishers packaged for them and sold to their students, but on what they want students to know and accomplish.”

As librarians communicate the value of OER within their institutions, they’re missing a key opportunity if they don’t highlight this potential benefit, McBride says. He adds that faculty use of OER “is truly changing the nature of some classes. It frees faculty to take complete ownership of their classes — resulting in unbound academic freedom.”

McBride will be one of the speakers during a Feb. 6 Library Journal webinar about the library’s role in OER adoption on campus. To learn more about the experience of SUNY and others — including the lessons they’ve learned and their advice for other institutions — you can register here




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