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Program uses free content to cut student costs for books, supplies

November 19, 2013 2:00PM

When a few students entered Dr. Neil Snow’s General Biology course with the textbook at the start of the fall semester, they were given instructions they don’t typically hear.

“I was able to tell them to take those textbooks back immediately so they could get their money back,” Snow said. “What student doesn’t want to hear that?”

Rather than teach from a printed textbook for this particular section of General Biology 111, Snow used teaching and learning materials that were available online and, better yet, free for the students. The material was developed by content specialists and is available around the world as part of the growing Open Educational Resource (OER) movement.

Snow’s course is the first as part of this initiative at Pittsburg State to use OER materials in lieu of a textbook, but it most likely will not be the last. University administrators and faculty are working to develop and offer more OER courses in an effort to help cut the costs of education for students.

The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center recently found that the average student at a four-year public university spends around $1,200 on books and supplies each year.

“This is all about trying to reduce costs for students by eliminating, when possible, the need to purchase a textbook,” said Dr. Brenda Frieden, director of Pitt State’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. “Research has shown that a large number of students nationwide drop courses because they cannot afford the textbook, and some will stay in the course but never buy the book. That’s a trend that needs to be addressed.”

Frieden and others from the university recently attended the Open Education Conference in Utah to learn more about OER, and they returned with an even stronger belief in the system.

“This is not a fad,” Dr. Howard Smith, dean of the College of Education, said. “I think OER is here to stay, and it’s something Pittsburg State should definitely start taking advantage of.”

Pittsburg State plans to offer three more OER courses -- Written Composition, General Biology, and General Psychology -- in the Spring 2014 semester.

By fall 2014, Music Appreciation, Explorations in Education, and Intro to Research Writing also will be offered in OER format. Faculty members in those fields are working with colleagues at other institutions to develop the courses.

“It’s a collaborative effort that will take place over the next six to eight months and one that will have a positive impact on students for many years to come,” Frieden said.

A steering committee, including Dr. Lynette Olson, provost and vice president for academic affairs, is being formed to further explore how Pittsburg State should proceed in the OER process.

“I see us going through this incrementally,” Olson said. “We want to make sure everyone is on the same page and we have all of the proper policies and procedures in place. But the landscape is changing, and it’s something we have to navigate.”

©2013 Pittsburg State University