I recently spent several days at a convening with a group of faculty and librarians from across West Virginia who are working to transform their courses to low-cost or no-cost using open education resources (OER). They were inspiring to me, as this group of educators are an example of what an equity-centered, student-centered instructor is.
OER are openly licensed materials, which means they can be freely used, adapted, and shared by educators and students. This allows students to access high-quality learning resources without paying for expensive textbooks or other materials.
OER is becoming increasingly important in promoting college affordability. The rising costs of textbooks and other course materials are major barriers for many students, often resulting in financial hardship or students dropping out of courses or programs altogether. By utilizing OER, faculty members can significantly reduce the course cost and financial strains for their students.
As the Director of Equity Projects for Student-Ready Strategies, I support the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (WVHEPC) on a project that provides grants to faculty engaging in OER implementation. Since its inception in 2021, this project has already saved students millions of dollars on course materials. Although affordability is why many faculty engage in this work, OER as an equity strategy was another focal point during the convening.
Not only does OER help to reduce the financial burden on students, but it also has the potential to enhance the quality of education. Because OER can be adapted and customized to meet the specific needs of a course or program, faculty members can create more tailored and relevant learning materials (including examples that are representative of students’ race, economic or cultural backgrounds) that better meet the needs of their students. This can ultimately lead to improved student outcomes and success rates.
At the convening, Charlotte Dailey of the Southern Regional Education Board served as the keynote speaker and shared with the group how the work they’re engaging in serves as a catalyst for change at their institutions. These faculty members are just that - change-makers. From transforming entire degree programs to OER to ensuring that materials meet the accessibility needs of all students, they are not only inspiring their colleagues, their dedication to making higher education more affordable also motivates their students and me.
Meeting them in person and experiencing their passion and energy for making higher education more affordable and equitable reignited in me the passion for going the extra mile for students. It reminded me that, sometimes, it’s not always about what you teach, but how you teach it. That when resources and time may seem scarce, your commitment now will be felt ten times as much by students. And that as we wait and hope for institutional change, sometimes we might be the catalyst for change that our institutions need.
The work being done by these educators and the use of OER are crucial in transforming higher education. My hope is that other educators are inspired and motivated, just like I am. As more faculty members embrace these resources and similar strategies, we can work towards a more equitable and accessible higher education system for all students.