UMass Boston

Open Educational Resources


Making Education More Affordable

Over the past few years a fabulous innovation in higher education has given college students the best news they’ve heard in a long time. It’s called Open Educational Resources (OER) and it’s a real game changer. But behind that innocuous name is a service that can save students hundreds of dollars a semester in textbook costs. And now, thanks to the support of Provost Joseph Berger and the diligent commitment made by IT Associate CIO Apurva Mehta, UMass Boston students can start taking advantage of this tremendous opportunity.

OER was first conceived when administrators realized skyrocketing textbook costs were imposing a huge financial burden upon students and negatively affecting their educational success. The statistics are clear. About 65% of students will not buy a textbook because of the expense, prices have risen 88% in the last decade, and half of students will actually not take a class because of its textbook price. Thoughtful educators realized something needed to be done, so OER was born.

Here’s how it works. OER are “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.” Resources include “full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and other tools,” which most often are used in lieu of textbooks.

Apurva Mehta described how OER came to UMass Boston. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve tried to launch this service several times in the last few years, and it’s never gotten off the ground,” but he explained how the situation changed with the arrival of Provost Joseph Berger. Berger came “from UMass Amherst and he was a big proponent of OER there. So, when we approached him about trying to launch OER at UMass Boston, he didn’t need any prodding.” Once Berger was on board and willing to provide the necessary funding, it didn’t take long for Mehta and his team to make OER a reality.

Of course, implementing a system to make OER available to UMass Boston students was just the first phase of the project to create a strong, thriving program. For OER to be really successful at UMass Boston, Apurva said that without question the most important factor was an enthusiastic response from the faculty. It’s the faculty that decides if they want to use OER in their courses each semester, “So all our communications are really around trying to convince faculty that OER is good for the campus, good for the student.”

And how did the faculty react? Slowly at first, not that anyone involved with OER was surprised. Like anyone who is used to doing their job a certain way for many years, it took some convincing for the first faculty members to alter their course materials and change how they’ll teach it. But as often happens with an innovation of this kind, initial acceptance of it led to a quick shift and forward momentum. Faculty discovered colleagues were using OER and were inspired to follow suit. Associate Provost Andrew Perumal expressed hope that as this process continues the program will experience “exponential growth” over the next few years. Mehta estimates there are about 60-70 courses now offering OER adding, “it’s a good start and we think that number might grow some more.”

Another factor that has raised awareness of OER and may potentially speed its growth is when students now look at WISER, the course catalogue and registration system, they can see what courses offer OER. Talk about an attention getter. Of course, these courses are expected to attract more students than similar courses without OER, which in turn should convince more faculty of the value that OER offers for students.

Andrew Perumal worked very closely with Apurva Mehta on OER and when describing how the project progressed, didn’t hesitate to give credit where he felt it was due. Without Apurva Mehta’s leadership, Perumal said, “It would have taken us much longer to do an awareness campaign, to provide a support structure, for the Learning Services team and the library to put together an incentive program, and then to reach out to students. Apurva has been really instrumental in all of this.” Mehta himself summed it up by saying for a student taking “Introduction to Biology, why should they have to spend $200 on a textbook when Open Educational Resources (OER) can help make education more affordable?”

Information Technology Services
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