As an instructor, I have adopted a variety of textbooks and supplemental materials to teach courses in Psychology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, and Physiology for undergraduate students, graduate students and medical students. For a long time, my perspective was solely on adopting materials that were most aligned with my course objectives and that best assisted me with instruction. However, being at UNC over that past few years has brought the cost of course materials into the forefront of my mind, as I have more freedom when choosing my course materials and I’ve learned that many UNC students have difficulty finding the funds for course materials. I’ve met very friendly, helpful, and genuinely concerned publishing company representatives that care about cost, but the student-centered approach is lost in the understandable motivation of profit within the corporate structure of publishing companies.
Publishing companies are doing a great job at staying relevant by creating textbooks in a variety of formats, providing supplemental instructor materials and test banks, and by integrating web-based active learning activities such as adaptive learning modules. This is very enticing for instructors, as this can significantly improve the quality of course materials with less effort. In addition, some publishing companies further entice by providing ‘bulk’ discounts and by packaging OER with significantly reduced price. Although this sounds like a great option for students, they’re essentially charging for OER and the ‘bulk’ discounts only apply if you use their products, which may exacerbate the monopoly certain publishing companies already have on the industry.
The solution, perhaps OER, but there are many obstacles for OER to be able to compete with publishing companies. First, OER need to be well organized, properly vetted, and easily accessed, perhaps through a centralized system. One of the benefits of adopting materials from publishing companies is that they are most likely written by experts and have been scrutinized through peer review, meaning instructors can be more confident that the materials are accurate and easily incorporated into their courses. Second, since textbooks are often written, edited, and reviewed by academics, there needs to be a concerted effort to recognize this contribution to their field and to higher education, not just for the creation of OER, but also for adopting and modifying OER. Tenure and Promotion is the obvious place to consider, but from my experience, there is not enough weight placed on the amount of work it takes to adopt OER, let alone create OER.
So, if you’re a Dean, Chair, Director, or Faculty, I encourage you to keep looking for ways to incentivize the creation and adoption of OER, and if you’re an Instructor, I encourage you to give it a try. You can start small by incorporating OER into a portion of your course, then you can add more and make modifications during subsequent semesters. Also, consider applying for UNC’s OER development grants awarded to UNC by the Colorado Department of Higher Education.