Friday, April 14, 2017 News

Successful OER Adoption Models: Academic Libraries Leading the Way

Open Education

The concept of making college more accessible and affordable with open educational resources is taking off on campuses across the country. SPARC hosted a webcast on March 29 that featured four librarians who shared their experience in supporting OER in creative ways with students,faculty, and community members.

University of Connecticut, Kathy Labadorf, Information Literacy, Open Educational Resources & Social Sciences Librarian:

The burgeoning culture of open at UConn began with a grassroots movement by students. In 2014, a group of undergraduates raised awareness of OER with a questionnaire to faculty asking about how they choose textbooks and their knowledge of OER. The next year, that information was tallied and given to the vice provost of academic affairs who was receptive and shared the concept with the deans. A campus-wide OER task force was formed and the group received a $100,000 grant from the university’s foundation to pursue OER on campus.

Money was used to pay for part of Labadorf’s position and a new website was created (www. There was $20,000 set aside for mini-grants to promote OER. Labadorf said it was surprisingly hard at first to give away the money—a lesson learned: check out how to best get faculty’s attention.

Initial grants were given to a chemistry faculty member who used the OpenStax editing system to redo her textbook to better match her teaching style and another to a history instructor who threw out his textbook on race, class and gender and built his course around library and web resources, said Labadorf. Other grants have been given to instructors in calculus, film, chemistry, and more money has been put into the grant fund from other campus sources to continue to fund the OER efforts.

After the semester, the OER award recipients were required to turn in student evaluations, report grades from students using the new material compared to previous semesters, and submit their syllabi to the new OER repository on campus. The recipients were also asked to talk to other faculty about their experiences. “We spread the word and we showed our success,” said Labadorf.

Virginia Tech, Anita Walz, Open Education, Copyright and Scholarly Communications Librarian:

Libraries increasingly support faculty inquiry, curation, and adoption of OER—including textbooks, lab manual, videos, homework assessment tools. Faculty engage in creating openly licensed material for several reasons: They are frustrated with the high commercial costs; they feel the quality of a new edition is not sufficient to adopt a new version of a book; some teach in specialized areas where materials are not available; while others like OER because they want more course flexibility, said Walz. “There are some faculty members who care deeply about student learning and liken $200 to $300 single semester textbook rentals to highway robbery,” said Walz. “They are aware of the impact of student cost on student learning and inequitable access for low-income and first generation students.”

At Virginia Tech, Walz worked with faculty members to openly license an introductory business book, Fundamentals of Business, which came out in August of 2016. Rather than paying $200 for a textbook, the new print and electronic version of the book is housed in the campus’ institutional repository and is available for free. It was used by 700 students in the fall, saving them $150,000 so far and the text has been downloaded worldwide 13,000 times.

“This was quite a monumental effort,” said Walz, adding that there are new tools out since that are helpful to others interested in OER. She suggested, Authoring Open Textbooks and Modifying Open Text Books created by Open Guides (

“Our role is the catalyst of curiosity and possibilities as a library and our shared commitment to stimulating creative, cultural, intellectual and social endeavors,” said Walz. “As a land-grant university, our mission encourages us to share. We are especially passionate about making these high-quality, openly licensed books accessible.”

University of Texas at Arlington, Michelle Reed, Open Education Librarian:

To be successful with OER initiatives, Reed suggested libraries need administrative support with time, money, resources, and advocacy.  Professional learning communities on her campus have been discussing OER for years, so the topic is not new to the university. Reed also serves as the subject librarian for the College of Education, which she says give her an opportunity consult, teach and talk about openness with researchers.

Reed’s effort to grow OER focuses both on working with students and faculty. This year during Open Access Week, she held a “Speak Out” event where students expressed their feelings about textbook costs on paper  and a “Free the Textbook Party” with cake, buttons, and displays of the costs of commercial textbooks alongside open alternatives. Students were also asked to nominate “textbook heroes,” to recognize faculty members who adopted free or low-cost materials who were awarded with gift cards.

Reed has also held a series of workshops for faculty on topics related to OER. One future workshop will focus on open pedagogy and using open data; another will feature David Wiley. “We are not asking for a policy. We are not asking for mandate,” said Reed. “But we do want our administration to show their support – coming to events, helping locate free resources.” Reed said her approach has been to listen to faculty, provide support, and share examples of projects that work.

Tidewater Community College, Olivia Reinauer, Reference Librarian:

In 2014, the 25,000-student community college based in Norfolk, Virginia, piloted a program with zero textbook costs, known as the “Z Degree.” Over the course of a year, faculty and administration worked together with Lumen Learning to create a 21-course program for an associate of science degree in business administration. It became the first accredited college to offer such a program.

The goal was to allow for continuous improvements of textbooks and to reduce the financial barriers to education. Over the 11 semesters the program has been offered, it has saved more than 10,000 degree completers nearly $1 million. Reinauer says that it shaves about 25 percent off the cost of TCC education for students, many of whom are federal grant recipients – saving taxpayers money.

The evaluations showed most students preferred the Z Degree. Only 5 percent surveyed wanted the traditional textbooks. Students using the OER materials also received overall higher course grades, in part said Reinauer because all students had access to electronic books.


-Caralee Adams

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