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An Even Playing Field for All: Boise State Promotes Open Educational Resources

The cost of textbooks, on average $100 per class and often hundreds of dollars more, is a hurdle for many students. Boise State’s support of Open Education Resources, or OER, is helping lower those costs. Open Educational Resources are a boon for faculty, too, say advocates. They add a diversity of voices to the canon and more flexibility in course design.

Open Educational Resources are textbooks, articles, courses, images, data, video, code and more, that are in the public domain or released under an open license. They are free in digital and other forms for anyone to use and adapt without an expiration date.

“Faculty members can customize them, blend resources from many sources, and teach the classes they want to teach,” said Rob Nyland, eCampus Center research and innovation team manager. He’s a member of the OER committee that includes representatives from across campus and holds open meetings every two weeks.

It’s hard to know exactly how many faculty members at Boise State are using OER in their classrooms, as not everyone reports it, but estimates are between 75 and 100. This year, 16 new OER projects chosen from 33 applications from faculty members will begin on campus thanks to grants from the Idaho State Board of Education and the Office of the Provost. Projects include redesigning a Spanish grammar course to align with available OER materials, replacing a commercial U.S. history textbook with an OER text, and editing and adopting OER texts for use in chemistry classes.

The state board gave $25,000 to support OER materials for GEM courses, the general education courses accepted across all Idaho institutions. Interim Provost Tony Roark committed an additional $20,500 for a mix of projects. According to estimates by faculty who received grants, this one-time investment of $45,500 may save students at Boise State more than $1 million per semester in textbook costs.

“The evolution of faculty practice toward novel approaches to teaching and learning – OER is just one example – needs to be a bottom-up process with appropriate support,” said Roark. “Autonomous innovation by subject matter experts always beats top-down mandates, so I’ll support the former whenever I can.”

The biggest strength of this movement on campus, is that it arose as a priority among staff, faculty and students, said Jonathan Lashley, a senior instructional technologist Learning Technology Solutions who teaches in the First-Year Writing Program. He wants faculty and staff to know “they have a stake in our discussion.”

Adding to the story

“The cost benefits of OER for students is huge, but I like to take it beyond that,” said Monica Brown, eCampus OER coordinator.

Even if affording textbooks isn’t an issue for students, actually getting them in-hand can be for any number of reasons, from shipping delays, to financial aid that arrives after the beginning of the semester, said Brown. Open Educational Resources allow “day one” access to class materials, “creating an even playing field for all students.”

The university also supports members of the Boise State community who want to create OER content.

“Anyone is allowed to add to the story,” said Brown. “If a faculty member has a great experience, they can write about it, share it, and others can use it in their classrooms. They don’t need a publisher. This allows for a lot more input than we normally see in the publishing process.”

OER for learners beyond campus

Students’ voices have a place in OER. This fall, in a course for theater majors, students will help write an OER eBook covering hundreds of years of global theater. Students’ interests will dictate content.

“This is a great opportunity for students to enhance research and writing skills,” said Brown, “and one with a real world audience impacted by what they write.”

Students’ contributions to the university’s OER collection also benefits the community beyond campus. In 2019, 13 upper-division language students from a range of disciplines, including nursing, business and graphic design, created The Pathways Open Educational Resource Repository, a collection of open digital language and culture lessons that are classroom-ready for teachers in public schools, many of whom struggle to find quality resources.

Amber Hoye, director of the World Languages Resource Center, and associate professor Kelly Arispe led the project. The repository offers material in French, American Sign Language, Japanese, Spanish, Basque, Mandarin Chinese, German and Korean.

Chloe Pampush, a senior in the Honors College from Tillamook, Oregon, is majoring in graphic design and minoring in German. Pampush created a collection of inclusive icons for teachers to download for flashcards or other visual aids. Examples include a bank icon that shows marks for euros and yens, not just dollars, and a post office icon that includes logo colors from offices in other countries, not just the familiar red, white and blue of the U.S. Language and cultural instruction was limited in her own high school, she said, and she would have benefitted from a project like hers.

“One of my motivations for getting into graphic design was being creative, but also having the opportunity to make work with the potential to help a group of people,” Pampush said.

Jacqueline Woods graduated from Boise State in 2016 with a degree in secondary Spanish education. She teaches Spanish at Meridian High School and looks forward to using the Boise State OER repository.

“Having a place online where I can find materials that require nothing more than a tweak, getting more ideas for encouraging kids to speak in Spanish will be amazing,” Woods said.

– Story by Anna Webb