Summit of savings

UND displays its Open Education Resources leadership as host of NDUS summit on textbook alternatives for students

Nicole Allen

Nicole Allen, director of open education for Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has travelled the world, to more than 200 institutions, to explain why Open Educational Resources are critical for higher education. She spoke at a North Dakota University System event at UND on Oct. 27. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Nicole Allen spends a lot of her time in the seat of an airplane.

The Director of Open Education for Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has traveled around the world to more than 200 institutions to explain why Open Educational Resources (OER) are critical for higher education. Her latest journey brought her to UND to serve as keynote speaker for the 2016 Open Education Resources Summit.

UND is considered a leader in the North Dakota University System when it comes to OER development and support. UND already estimates it has saved students well over $1 million by allowing courses to be taught with OER instead of expensive textbooks.

Instead of allowing summit organizers to pay for her plane ticket from Washington, D.C., to Grand Forks, Allen opted for something else. She wanted that money to go to additional OER implementation for NDUS students.

“She said, ‘You just get me a hotel room,’” recalled Tanya Spilovoy, NDUS director of distance education. “So she came here on her own dime and within her busy schedule.”

Eliminating costs

More than 100 summit attendees representing every NDUS institution filled the lecture hall at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences on Thursday, Oct. 27. Many came to learn how to lessen the financial burden of books on their students. They scrawled notes as Allen explained how, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of textbooks has increased 88 percent in the last 10 years.

“We literally have a solution at our fingertips with Open Educational Resources,” Allen told the crowd. “Those of you in the room who are faculty members have the power to eliminate these costs for your students. It’s not always easy, but the impact on individual students’ lives is in your hands.”

Allen uses the Hewlett Foundation definition of OER: teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or are released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. Simply stated, they are educational resources that the user does not have to pay for.

And when the user is a college student, free is good.

“I was one of those students who didn’t buy some of my books because the price was too high,” she recalled. “At the end of the day, no matter what resource you’re using, how high quality it is, and how well it fits your course objectives, students can’t learn from materials they can’t afford.”

Thomas DiLorenzo

UND Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Thomas DiLorenzo has incorporated OER into the Introductory Psychology class that he teaches, which he says has saved his students $40,000 alone. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Legislative support

Allen is a member of an NDUS steering committee that reviews grant proposals for OER programs in North Dakota. One of those grants has helped UND be a pioneer and a leader in the state with an OER initiative of its own.

UND Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Thomas DiLorenzo has incorporated OER into the Introductory Psychology class that he teaches, which he says has saved his students $40,000 alone.

“I’d like to say how proud I am of our faculty here who have embraced OER more quickly and more enthusiastically than I could have ever hoped,” DiLorenzo beamed. “President Kennedy talks about the digitization wave crashing over higher education. OER represent our surfboard that will help us ride the wave.”

North Dakota State Rep. Thomas Beadle sponsored the legislation that made the OER grants possible. He urged summit attendees to reach out to their local senators and representatives to let them know how important this initiative is, and how much it can reduce the cost of education for students.

“Make sure that they know this is a priority, and know — from you — that it’s actually making an impact,” Beadle said. “We’re committed to providing quality education to our students at an affordable price. Technology and innovation does that.”

UND University Senate chair Dana Harsell serves on UND’s OER Working Group. He also has folded OER into his political science classroom at UND.

“We’re in the business of education, and sometimes we need to be educated,” Harsell said. “A change in thinking requires education and requires peer support.”

UND Student Body Vice President Blake Andert explained that support from the students who are using OER is already there.

“I think it’s a great program,” Andert said. “From what I’ve heard from students on this campus, they’ve said that it’s just been a great experience so far.”