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OER at Work: Open textbook is a path to ‘continuous improvement’

A digital rendering of an open textbook that looks like a computer chip

Dec. 2, 2020

John Morris’ foray into open educational resources was spurred by a series of questions, and they all led to the same conclusion: Textbooks are too expensive for college students.

This is a widely held view in academia, and Morris, a senior instructor in Oregon State University’s College of Business, decided to implement a no-cost alternative in his integrative strategic experience course. He did so with the support of the OSU Open Educational Resources Unit.

You can read more about Morris’ experience adapting an open textbook in part one of his OER at Work story. Below, he shares his thoughts on the strengths and challenges of OERs and gives advice to fellow faculty members.

What surprised you about working with OERs?

“I thought I was on my own if this was going to be important to me. But hearing about the open textbook initiative put a lot of resources behind my interest. It’s not just the grant, although that was nice, but also the WordPress platform and trained expertise the group brings to the project.”

What challenges did you face in bringing an open textbook into your course?

“The book has become an integral part of what I’m teaching. I’ve modified the language of my book and the language I use in my Canvas course to steadily be synchronous. That is, students can see a stronger linkage between what they read in the textbook and what they are asked to do in their assignments. This has put me into a continuous improvement mode. It’s not a set-and-forget resource.

“In my next edition, I plan to create a tighter linkage between the textbook and the computer simulation. In business, there are lots of ‘local usages,’ like profit vs. net income or sales vs. revenue; these terms mean the same things, but they can confuse even senior-level students.

“You may start asking yourself the same question I did: Isn’t there a better way? There is — it’s OER.”

“Because I can’t change the language that my simulation vendor uses and I can the language that my textbook uses, the challenge will rest on me to make those linkages more explicit.”

What is the greatest strength of OERs?

“I appreciate that Stefanie (Buck, the director of the OSU Open Educational Resources Unit) is continuously improving the open textbook initiative. I have worked with two directors for the project and received three grants in total. Each time, there is more to draw from the initiative for what I want to do.”

What’s your advice for faculty who want to use OERs in their courses?

“Prior to getting motivated to use an OER textbook, I had an experience that was telling. I was planning an open book final exam and conducting an exam review the week before finals week. A student asked if I had an extra copy of the textbook to borrow for the exam. As is probably the case for most instructors, I had several older editions in my office, so I asked the class if anyone else would like to borrow one. To my surprise, about a dozen students raised their hands.

John Morris, a senior instructor in OSU's College of Business

John Morris, a senior instructor in Oregon State’s College of Business and proponent of OER.

“I asked why so many needed a book. None had actually purchased the textbook. When I dug deeper, several admitted to sharing one, but a few acknowledged that the book was so expensive they just couldn’t afford to buy it. They were muddling their way through their education without the benefit of a textbook.

“That was an eye-opener for me. But my experience was reinforced over the following several quarters as I asked more sections of the course about the book. I usually got the same kind of answers about the cost, and I would bring my piles of out-of-date books to final exams.

“With an OER textbook I don’t have to worry about access and affordability anymore; now it’s more an issue of motivation and time management.

“If you assume your students all bought or rented the textbook, I’d recommend asking. You may be surprised at their response, and you may start asking yourself the same question I did: Isn’t there a better way?

“There is — it’s OER.”


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