University system working on open educational materials

Jan 5, 2015

Governor Dalrymple’s budget sets aside $220,000 for funding “open educational resources.”

As Prairie Public’s Dave Thompson reports, this is an effort to help save college students money they would be spending on textbooks.

The 2013 Legislature showed some interest in the idea of “open educational resources,” then called “open source textbooks.”

“An open textbook basically, or an open educational resource, is a free, accessible, openly licensed public domain document," said Dr. Tanya Spilovoy, the director of distance education for the North Dakota University System. She’s been on the forefront of the “open source” movement in North Dakota. “It’s media. It could be lab activities that are on-line, simulated lab activities. Sometimes it’s textbooks, sometimes it’s lectures, sometimes it’s videos – all kinds of open resources that you can use for teaching in classrooms.”

Spilovoy says some North Dakota college instructors are already using open source material for their classes.

“One of the rock stars for undergraduate education is Teresa Tande at Lake Region State College," said Spilovoy.

“I’m using one for a University 101 class – Introduction to College Life – and next semester, I have made the commitment to use an open book for both of my speech 110 classes,” said Tande. And she says the students seem to like it.

“More and more, our students are moving to do so many things on a computer, that it would seem to make sense that they wouldn’t have to carry a big book around," said Tande.

Eric Murphy is an associate professor at the UND Medical School. He has been using open source material in some of his classes. He says he was reluctant, at first, because he likes the feel of the book. But he’s come to a realization.

"Our students today are much more savvy with regards to using electronic sources, and reading off a computer screen or a hand-held or an I-pad or whatever," said Murphy.  "They’re just used to that, much more so than perhaps my generation.”

Murphy says  he believes the use of open source material will grow. But he says there are problems.

“One, getting information to faculty about what’s out there, and the quality," said Murphy. And Spilovoy agrees.

“They just don’t have the time to go out and dig through thousands of resources," said Spilovoy. So, she searched for an open source repository. And she found one -- The University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library. And Spilovoy says there is now an agreement between the North Dakota University System and the U-of M on sharing resources.

“It is like looking at an Amazon shopping page, which I immediately liked, because I enjoy shopping on line," said Spilovoy. "I wanted it to be user-friendly, straight-forward, visually pleasing for folks.”

“Our focus has been on open textbooks," said Dr. David Ernst, the executive director of the open textbook initiative at the University of Minnesota. "And it’s really meant to be an open resource for faculty to find textbooks to consider that are openly licensed and freely available for their students.”

Ernst says in addition, he has been traveling the country giving seminars on the subject.

“Just to help faculty understand what open resources are and help them understand the financial strain that students are under,” said Ernst. “And when cost is an issue, it can get in the way of learning.”

Spilovoy says she recently talked with a woman whose daughter is studying architecture at NDSU, and who needs to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks and other materials.

“If we could save her daughter some money on some of the basic courses, like English comp, or calculus, or speech, that could really add up for her in the long run," said Spilovoy.