Pacific Expands Push For Open Source Curriculum, Offers Faculty Grants

Student in classPacific University is putting its shoulder into a longtime effort to make more course material freely available to students. The Open Educational Resources initiative that’s led by the Pacific University Libraries and the College of Arts & Sciences is accepting faculty applications this spring for a round of grants to help fund the conversion of some textbook material into digital coursework that would be free to use, share, copy and repurpose.

“I’m really excited by what’s been happening with OER in the last year or so at Pacific,” said Professor Isaac Gilman, dean of University Libraries, who said he’s been encouraging the use of open educational resources for more than a decade. “It’s been really exciting to see more people coming together and having an interest around this.”

When a professor assigns coursework that’s available as an Open Educational Resource, it spares students and the library from having to pay for a book, or even an e-book that may be difficult to share or copy. The OER model, which may be thought of as a kind of Wikipedia for textbooks, is a way of prying open the historically costly marketplace for proprietary coursework.

One of the prime motivations for making the shift is to lighten the costs for students. A recent survey by a university committee found that Pacific students pay an average of $82 per textbook, many of which aren’t available in any other format.  A national survey said students at private colleges pay an average of $1,220 a year for textbooks.

Student Senate President Kouichi Saito ’22 said he’s heard students say they have foregone nice meals and even medications because their budgets are severely stretched. Saito, a senior, told the committee he’s taken 65 classes, paid for 16 online subscriptions and bought 54 textbooks and other required materials in the course of his time at Pacific. That cost him about $645 a semester, or more than $5,000 over four years. Such textbook costs put a substantial burden on students like him, he said.

“I support the OER because I am first generation, from a rural area, low income, English as a second language and a 0 EFC student,” he said in an email, referring to expected family contribution (EFC). “The odds of me getting accepted to a college is amazing, the odds of me staying in college is greater and making it to graduation for a student like me is a battle on a day-to-day basis because everything in society is fighting me. If on top of all of this I have to budget $650 a semester to procure textbooks, it makes continuing college a tough financial decision.”

The current round of faculty grants will pay faculty members from roughly $500 to $2,000 to do the work needed to create free educational materials. Physics Professor Todd Duncan, who was selected for a grant last year, wrote a set of open educational resource homework questions for his Physics 202 and 204 classes. Before he did that, his students subscribed to an online service called Sapling, which costs about $80 per year for each student.

Duncan said an open educational resource not only saves students money, but can be more useful to professors like him.

“Over the long term I think it works better when I can easily adapt questions on the fly based on where the students are, what misconceptions need to be cleared up or where they need more practice,” he said by email. “Now I can customize questions on a moment's notice without having to email an external company and wait for a reply, etc.”

Pacific’s Open Educational Resource committee expects to award its faculty grants by early May. Faculty members can apply using this form.

Monday, March 21, 2022