Texas Woman’s University’s efforts to make education more affordable for its students will receive a boost thanks to a program that encourages greater use of free, flexible textbooks.
TWU was one of 12 colleges and universities selected by OpenStax, Rice University’s openly licensed textbook publisher, to join its Institutional Partner Network. The program consists of more than 60 colleges and universities in the United States dedicated to expanding the use of open educational resources (OER) on their campuses. In selecting new partner schools for the 2020-2021 academic year, OpenStax gave special consideration to those with high numbers of Pell grant-eligible students and to minority-serving institutions.
Each school in the network participates in a first-year program that guides institutions through the development and execution of a highly successful OER adoption program. Amanda Zerangue, manager of digital services and scholarly communication librarian for the TWU Libraries, said the university is in the beginning stages of strategizing with OpenStax and the other institutional partners.
“I know one component will be continuing to provide a small stipend for faculty who are able and interested in adopting or creating OER,” Zerangue said. She added that TWU has quite a few faculty who currently are using OER.
“With the new option of isolating courses that have been marked as only OER in Webadvisor, students can now factor in textbook costs when choosing courses,” she said. “Our hope is that in fall 2021 there will be a dramatic increase in the number of OER-designated courses for students. Faculty are doing all of the hard work, but we are developing new strategies to support, encourage and assist with the adoption, creation and course redesign while building a community of practice around OER.”
The website CollegeData.Com puts the average cost of books and school supplies at $1,240 per year. Citing the four courses that transitioned to OER as part of TWU’s 2019-2020 OER initiative, Zerangue estimates students at TWU could save approximately $892 per year on books.
The library collaborates with Teaching and Learning with Technology and the Center for Faculty Excellence to support faculty in redesigning courses to include OER. A pilot faculty course redesign cohort in FY20 involved partnering cohort members with an instructional designer and developing a community of faculty interested in OER. Activities were halted in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Zerangue said collaborators hope to modify their strategy to support even more faculty transitions to OER in the current fiscal year.
“The OpenStax partnership will allow us to expand those efforts by providing guidance from universities across the country with successful initiatives and movements, combines with some tried and true strategies from the OpenStax program. The program boasts a 156% increase in faculty using OER for those schools participating,” she said.
Zerangue said efforts to implement OER have received extraordinary support from Texas Woman’s administrators and faculty alike. Suzanne Sellers, dean of libraries, funds the stipend for faculty through the TWU Libraries budget, and the chancellor, provost, vice provosts and deans support the efforts by encouraging faculty to adopt OER and advocating for OER growth at the university.
“Many faculty at TWU are ‘social justice warriors’ with student needs at the forefront of their mind,” Zerangue said. “Over the course of our two OER initiatives, we found that many faculty have been using open and free content for years — they just didn’t have a phrase for it the way we do now.”
Zerangue’s OER efforts extend beyond Texas Woman’s. She has been named to the inaugural team of OER Ambassadors with the Texas Digital Library and an OER Research Fellow with the Open Education Group. Both groups are focused on using digital resources to relieve students of the financial burden of buying textbooks — a move Zerangue enthusiastically supports.
“OER ensure that every student starts Day One with access to the course materials needed to be successful in class,” she said. “We understand that many students are not financially able to purchase textbooks, particularly now that we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and budgets are even tighter than before. When faculty use OER in their courses, they remove one financial barrier faced by students in their path toward graduation.”
By Karen Garcia
Marketing & Communication