• For Community College Students, Open Educational Resources Help Level the Playing Field

    When you discuss the cost of purchasing textbooks with students at Mt. Hood Community College, they view it as a circumstance beyond their control. Much like the cost of housing or of food, it’s something that they’ve learned to live with.

    Mathematics instructor Jack Green teaches a recent class using the OER he created with his colleague Nick Chura.

    “It always sucks, having to go online and compare textbook prices and search around for a better deal,” describes Bob Hansen, a student in the Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management program at MHCC and president of the college’s Associated Student Government (ASG).

    “Each year, the books get more expensive too,” adds Hansen, who estimates that he spends about $1,000 per year on textbooks. “The saddest part is that students just know that they need to pay it and there’s usually no other options.”

    Juan Perez-Torres, a General Studies major at MHCC and the ASG’s coordinator of student organizations and clubs, agrees.

    “If I need to get a certain book for class, then that’s that,” he says. “But when I can, I’ll look for classes that offer lower costing textbook options.”

    Last year, MHCC’s Textbook Affordability Team (TAT) rolled out a new program that identifies classes in the college’s online Class Schedule as either “Low-Cost: Under $50” or “No-Cost: $0”. The designations appear in a column to the right of the course name (for participating classes only).

    The designations originated from the Oregon Legislature’s House Bill 2871, which was passed in 2015. HB 2871 established the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Grant Program and set aside $700,000 to provide faculty at Oregon universities and community colleges with grant funding to produce OER curriculum. The bill also established a statewide mandate that all publicly funded universities and community colleges label their courses that use OER or that offer low-cost/no-cost textbook options.

    “Each year, the books get more expensive too. The saddest part is that students just know that they need to pay it and there’s usually no other options.”

    “It’s a way for us to easily notify our students of the classes that offer Open Educational Resources (OER),” explains Heather White, technical services coordinator with the MHCC Library and co-chair of the TAT. “Plus, we’re working with instructors across the college to identify opportunities for OER and to support them financially as they create those resources.”

    The TAT – a cross-collaborative group of administrators, staff, faculty and student leaders at MHCC – formed in 2015. One of the TAT’s earliest projects included working with the ASG to launch two textbook cost surveys to students. Student respondents resoundingly indicated that lowering textbook costs would make the college more affordable.

    In 2016, the TAT received a $10,000 grant from the MHCC Foundation. Those funds, along with a $15,000 grant from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) and $37,650 from Open Oregon Educational Resources, supported faculty as they developed and implemented OER for their classes.

    The initial Foundation donation supported OER projects in seven programs: Biology, Business, Psychology, Writing, Anthropology, Political Science and Metallurgy. In all, those projects have resulted in an estimated cost savings of approximately $350,000 to students from 2016 to 2018.

    “The work of the Textbook Affordability Team and the Foundation is incredibly important to bringing affordable textbook solutions to the college,” says MHCC President Dr. Lisa Skari. “My goal is to support these efforts and to encourage them, ultimately lifting some of the financial burden off the shoulders of our students.”

    MHCC Business instructor Stephen Konrad used an initial $1,500 TAT grant to develop an entirely free educational resource to replace the textbook he previously used in his class, Business 239: Advertising and Promotion. The OER, which is available in an online, downloadable document, saves students an estimated $175 – or the cost of a used version of the previous textbook.

    “Developing this new resource was well worth it,” said Konrad. “Not only am I helping students, but I’m better able to dictate the type of content I want to focus on in my class and leave out the content I don’t typically teach. I’ve built something specifically for my class, and not had to develop my class around the textbook.”

    With an initial grant of $500, MHCC Literature and Composition instructor Beth Sammons is creating a free OER for her Writing 121: English Composition class, saving each student in it $50.

    “Just a couple years ago, my Writing 121 students typically spent over $100 at the Bookstore for a course packet, a handbook and textbook with readings,” says Sammons. “In fall 2016, I replaced the textbook with online materials and started using short videos, along with articles. I had several students thank me for providing the videos to help illustrate the more complex concepts.”

    “The work of the Textbook Affordability Team and the Foundation is incredibly important to bringing affordable textbook solutions to the college. My goal is to support these efforts and to encourage them, ultimately lifting some of the financial burden off the shoulders of our students.”

    Sammons’ new OER, which is accessible entirely online, includes links to supporting articles, videos and images, providing a more integrated approach to delivering the material and supporting different learners in the process.

    “Putting together a good OER/replace-the-textbook project is time consuming,” Sammons adds. “For instance, if I previously used a textbook to explain critical thinking, then I had to find a new way to help students understand the concept. But overall, I’ve ended up with a much more engaging course because of going through this process.”

    Earlier this year, the MHCC Foundation awarded the TAT $50,000. The funds, dispersed in $10,000 increments over the next five years, will support additional OER projects at the college.

    “Right now, we’re accepting grant applicants for OER projects,” says Jack Green, Mathematics instructor and TAT co-chair. Using a $15,000 HECC grant – the largest OER-specific grant at MHCC – Green and MHCC Mathematics instructor Nick Chura produced an open educational resource for Math III: Pre-calculus. The interactive, activity-based math book is available entirely online.

    “Developing OER content gave us the freedom to create a math book unlike anything that is currently available, commercially or otherwise,” adds Green. “We think ours is an example of what books will look like in the future.  Then there is the added value of making it available to everyone for free.”

    Back at the ASG offices of the Student Union, Hansen and Perez-Torres add the finishing touches to some 150 certificates of appreciation for those instructors and staff who worked on OER projects in the last year. The ASG began recognizing faculty involved in OER beginning in the 2017-18 school year. Last spring, Hansen, Perez-Torres and other student government members met with the MHCC Board of Directors to share their agenda, of which OER topped the list.

    “As a group, we’re going to push for OERs as much as possible,” says Hansen. “We’re aligned with the Board on this issue – the members realize how important it is to a more affordable education here.”

    “And we realize that not every class can offer some sort of OER,” he adds. “A lot of it depends on the availability of open educational resources, but for those who can and who do, we want to thank them for their effort.”

    MHCC’s ASG President Bob Hansen studies an OER for one of his business classes.