'Open educational resources' gaining traction in ND Universities

Jun 6, 2016

The North Dakota University System has been working on the concept of “open educational resources” – that is, having textbooks and materials provided to students on-line at no cost.

As Prairie Public’s Dave Thompson reports, this could save students substantial money.

Tanya Spilovoy is the director for distance education for the North Dakota University System. She’s been working on the open educational resource project since 2013. Spilovoy says there are two goals. One:

“To reduce the cost of textbooks for students.”

The other goal is to increase access to information.

“Some students may come to class on the first day without their book," Spilovoy said. "And we’re hoping to level that playing field, so that everyone has access to information on the first day of class.”

The 2015 Legislature gave the project $110,000 in seed money. And Spilovoy says it has taken off.

“I’m so excited," Spilovoy said. "And already, campuses have embraced this, and have done things that I couldn’t have even imagined.”

Dr. Julee Russell is a professor of English at Valley City State University. She says faculty attended Spilovoy’s workshop on open educational resources last summer.

“We launched one course," Russell said. "It was one of my courses – “Introduction to Professional Writing” – in which we used only OER resources.”

Russell says the students were surveyed, and a focus group was convened.

“It was to find out how the students are working with the resources," Russell said. "Are they comfortable with them? Do they like them?”

And the results?

“Yes, they were satisfied," Russell said. "Yes, they thought they were accessible. Yes, they preferred those resources to purchasing a $110 book.”

Russell says for the spring semester, 10 faculty members who taught general education courses agreed to use those open source materials in their courses. And she says again, students were surveyed and focus groups were convened.

“Students do appreciate alternatives to purchasing textbooks," Russell said. "And they also appreciate having instant access to resources, whether they’re looking at it on their phone, their tablet or their computer. They can get to them any time. “

And Russell says that anytime access is very valuable.

“It doesn’t matter anymore if you forgot your book at home. You’ve always got your book.”

Spilovoy says VCSU students saved over $82,000 in costs for textbooks and materials.

At UND, an OER working group was put together. Thomasine Heitkamp is a professor of Social Work.  She says many faculty have embraced the concept.

“So now we have everyone teaching Intro to Psychology involved in using OERs," Heitkamp said. "We have our Calculus faculty that is also using OERs, in 1,2 and 3. We have Intro to Social Work, some folks in Atmospheric Sciences, as well as State and Local Government.”

Heitkamp says the Calculus OER curriculum will be rolled out this fall. And she says Eric Johnson, a professor in the law school, has written an OER book.  

The University System office estimates UND students have already saved more than $909,000 on textbooks. And Heitkamp says she believes the movement toward open resources will continue to grow.

“This has been a grassroots effort at the University of North Dakota to build something with enthusiasm, and no pressure to be involved.”

Spilovoy says students now at the junior high and high school levels already do their homework without textbooks, using digital devices.

”And so the next generation of kids coming into our colleges and universities are used to working in a real digital environment," Spilovoy said. "They have no problem looking for information when they need it. This will be a seamless next step for them.”