By: Nora Thompson
Imagine a world where textbooks are free.
Pima Community College is getting closer to that reality by offering a number of online and classroom courses that don’t require students to purchase textbooks.
OER textbooks, or Open Educational Resources, is a collection of materials that falls under Creative Commons licensing and is free for students and teachers to use.
Creative Commons differs from the “all rights reserved” licensing that most textbooks fall under by allowing people to use the materials in any way they wish. The author doesn’t have to sell to a publisher, and in return, no one makes or pays money for it.
The number of OER courses has been increasing in large part due to Pima winning the Achieving the Dream Grant, which allocates funds and resources for community colleges to start OER programs.
Pima was the only community college in Arizona to win the grant, but it’s not the only one to have the OER system. Maricopa Community College has its own OER program as well.
Pima student Michele Anderson used an OER text in her Math 141 class last semester.
“The majority of the OER book was well written and presented in a manner that students could read the textbook and acquire a base knowledge of the material prior to the lesson in class,” she said.
The only criticism she had was that the textbook’s homework exercises didn’t vary much from each other, and the textbook itself didn’t connect to an online homework system.
The Achieving the Dream Grant at Pima will continue to improve the OER education.
Eric Aldrich, head of the writing department at Pima’s Downtown campus, hasn’t used a textbook in his Writing 101 or 102 class since 2013. He estimates that it collectively has saved his students about $100,000.
He prefers the OER approach, saying that it allows him to modify the resources he uses around his assignments, when traditionally instructors modify their assignments around the resources.
Aldrich is among the professors that started the idea of using OER textbooks instead of traditional materials for the writing classes at Pima, and he says it’s the direction that other community colleges are moving toward. Washington, Oregon and New York already have begun using OER extensively.
Pima Online is offering 104 classes using OER resources either partially or completely instead of a textbook. So far, online students have saved $207,600 for the Spring 2018 semester — an increase from 2017’s fall-semester savings of $48,700.
Pima is planning to create a degree that’s completely “No textbook required” for the future, but the Achieving the Dream grant Pima has received will work to improve OER education for its students now.