UND Student Senate throws financial weight behind open educational resources on campus
Three hundred dollars.
UND Dean of Libraries and Information Resources Stephanie Walker says that’s all it can take to make a college student cut and run.
“A recent journal article I read found that’s the average break point at which a student will just say they can’t afford it anymore,” Walker said. “That’s not much when you think of the cost of an entire education. By chance, that’s about the price of the first calculus book we worked on. So if I can get them a calculus book, maybe they’ll stay.”
Walker heads the Open Educational Resources (OER) Working Group, which in the last two years has helped a number of UND faculty members in math, psychology, political science and more assemble free, digital textbooks for their courses. That $73,000 initiative—supported mostly through legislative funding for North Dakota University System grants—has saved UND students an estimated $3 million dollars in textbook costs.
“This is something we need to tout. I’m not sure any other university has done that in their first year of looking into open educational resources,” UND Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Tom DiLorenzo said.
Now that the pilot funding for OER implementation has run out, the student body is making it clear that they don’t want the progress to stop.
“When students see the ability to have resources online that are of the same academic integrity as the solid textbook that they’re paying $150 for—that triggers something,” said UND Student Body President Brandon Beyer. “They say, let’s get more of that on campus.”
In September, the UND Student Senate passed a resolution in support of OER at UND. On Jan. 15, it put its money where its mouth was and unanimously passed a bill to allocate $75,000 dollars to the implementation of more OER on campus. That allocation was coupled with a $25,000 match from Provost DiLorenzo.
“It was an easy conversation,” Beyer said. “The provost has realized the same thing we have with OER, so for him to put $25,000 towards it to see a potential return of $800,000 on that $25,000 alone—it’s a pretty easy decision for anyone who knows what OER have done to this point.”
“If we continue this, we could save students another $2-2.5 million next year,” DiLorenzo said. “This is substantial, and this is a reason why students will want to come here.”
With the help of the rest of the OER Working Group, Walker and Beyer are now teaming up to get digital textbooks into the hands—or rather, tablets and computers—of as many students as possible. And that starts with faculty buy-in.
“The $100,000 we have is there now, ready to go out as grants,” Beyer explained. “What we want to do now is reach out to as many faculty as we can. We’re literally just going to put it on their desk and say, if you implement this, we will give you grant money to do it. And, by the way, it will save your students—the people sitting in front of you—thousands of dollars.”
Those faculty who apply for and are awarded OER grants—which average $3000—will receive a stipend to spend time over the summer workshopping with campus librarians, instructional designers and experts in copyright and Creative Commons law. They’ll then be equipped to write or adapt their own textbooks for use in the classroom in the fall.
Walker and Beyer have already approved grants to implement OER for many upcoming introductory courses in math, history, art, English composition and business communication.
“Big dream, and maybe it’s not possible for every discipline, but I would like it if we were able to get students most of their textbooks for their first couple of years. Once you get to the more specialized courses, it’s very hard,” Walker said.
Beyer said when his time as Student Body President wraps up, he wants to hang his hat on the work that has been done to move OER forward at UND, and he believes the momentum will continue long after his graduation.
“We have this drive on campus to embrace technology—we’re riding the digital wave,” he said. “So when the administration sees faculty championing that, they’ll take notice, and they’ll notice the students seeing some pretty good financial benefits.”