Monday, March 10, 2014 News

Open Education Week Kicks Off With Congressional Briefing

Open Education

Monday, March 10, 2014


Focus on Leveraging OER to Reduce Education Costs and Fuel the Economy

Washington, DC – Open Education Week kicked off today with a briefing on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Congressional E-Learning Caucus in cooperation with the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).  Leading open education experts and college campus leaders discussed how K-12 and higher education systems can leverage open educational resources (OER) to reduce the cost of textbooks, improve student outcomes, and fuel the economy with a better educated workforce.

Panel members included: David Wiley, Co-Founder, Lumen Learning and Scholar in Residence, University of Utah; Dr. Daniel DeMarte, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer, Tidewater Community College (TCC); Ethan Senack, Higher Education Associate, U.S. PIRG; and Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education, SPARC.

The bipartisan Congressional E-Learning Caucus is co-charied by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD).

Briefing panelists in front of the U.S. Capitol. Left to right: Senack, Allen, DeMarte, and Wiley. Credit: SPARC CC BY 4.0.

“The future of America’s economy depends on a well-educated workforce and that young Americans have the skills they need to contribute to a 21st century world.  Yet students are taking longer to graduate, taking on larger amounts of student loan debt, and not always graduating with the skills they need to get full employment after college,” said Nicole Allen.  “With today’s technology we have the ability to address these issues and transform how to teach our students.  We can share information at virtually no cost over the web.  That’s how we come to open educational resources – public materials everyone can use, adapt, and share freely.”

“You can pretty drastically improve learning outcomes when every student has access to the core materials they need,” said David Wiley.  “In Utah, students who used open textbooks outperformed those who used the standard textbooks – a very strong measure.”

DeMarte (right) explains to briefing attendees how TCC launched the nation’s first associate degree program that uses OER in every courseCredit: SPARC CC BY 4.0.

“Over two years, a TCC student stands to save more than $3,600 on the cost of their degree just in textbooks,” said Daniel DeMarte. “The traditional textbook costs students money, but textbooks ‘cost’ in other ways.  A faculty member might sacrifice learning objectives by following a textbook’s organization, or use only some of a textbook but then spend time identifying supplemental material.  Both are inefficient.  The qualities of our OER textbooks are at least as good as – if not better – than what we ordinarily use.  Our metrics are showing that this is very worthwhile.”

“There’s a real problem with the cost of college textbooks.  Costs have increased 82% over the past decade, four times the rate of inflation,” said Ethan Senack.  “Our recent report shows that 65% of students did not buy a textbook because it was too expensive – and that the high cost of textbooks impacted which classes they were able to take.  This is clearly impacting the quality of their education. Open textbooks are vital to solving this problem because students are able to access their textbooks for free, or purchase a hardcover copy at a dramatically lower cost.”

A packed audience of Congressional staff and members of the public listens as the panelists discuss the benefits of OER. Credit: SPARC CC BY 4.0.

While the briefing did not discuss active legislation, both the House and the Senate are considering the Affordable College Textbook Act, which would support the creation, use and improvement of OER at colleges and universities across the country.

Open Education Week (March 10-14, 2014) is a global event that seeks to raise awareness of free and open sharing in education and the benefits they bring to teachers and learners.  In addition to co-sponsoring the Hill briefing, SPARC is hosting a webcast about how academic and research libraries are leading the way on Open Educational Resources. The webcast will take place on March 13 at 4:00PM EST and features three librarians who have spearheaded OER projects on their campuses.  More details can be found here: For more information on Open Education Week, please visit

Nicole Allen
[email protected]




SPARC®, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.  Developed by the Association of Research Libraries, SPARC has become a catalyst for change.  Its pragmatic focus is to stimulate the emergence of new scholarly communication models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries.  More information can be found at and on Twitter @SPARC_NA.

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