Worcester State Leads in Saving Students Money Through Open Educational Resource Initiative

April 21, 2020
By: Victoria Konicki

Since 2016, Worcester State’s Open Educational Resource (OER) Initiative has saved over $157,000 for more than 3,000 WSU students who were able to reduce the total cost of their textbooks, and in some cases eliminate having the buy textbooks altogether, according to Library Executive Director Matthew Bejune. Bejune, with librarians Vicki Gruzynski and Shu Qian, are also becoming the regional experts on the money-saving national trend, hosting on-campus workshops to share best practices with other public university colleagues.

Open educational resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that are free of cost and access barriers, and which also carry legal permission for open use generally through an open license.

Using OER materials means students do not have to spend as much money on textbooks, because many of the resources they need for class are provided for them. The program helps students who may struggle to buy textbooks for classes for financial reasons, and who may find it hard to keep up with their classes if they don’t purchase textbooks.

Since the program’s start, more than 34 Worcester State classes have been converted to the OER model by 37 professors, with more than 150 sections offered, Bejune says. The conversion was originally funded with pilot grants from Reach Out for Schools and Academic Affairs, which offered mini-grants to faculty to reimagine their classes using easily accessible material.

“Based on the success of WSU OER Initiative, library staff and faculty have actively participated with statewide OER initiatives leading to cost savings and pedagogical improvements across the commonwealth,” Bejune says.

Bejune, Gruzynski, and Qian recently completed a census of all OER activities at other Massachusetts public higher education institutions and provided five, day-long, regional training workshops as a part of a $150,000 Performance Incentive Fund grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE) called Massachusetts Open Education—Achieving Access for All.

Bejune also served on the DHE OER Working Group, where he worked with other members from institutions in Massachusetts to increase the use of OER throughout public higher education in the state in an effort to lower costs for students.

In December, Associate Professor Miriam Plavin-Masterman, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Elizabeth Siler, Ph.D., both of the Department of Business Administration and Economics, presented to regional Massachusetts legislators to help them understand why it helps students and convince them to approve additional funding of statewide OER initiatives.

Plavin-Masterman and Siler have also presented to academic conferences about how to use OER and convert classes to OER specifically within the business field.

“We’re out there being pretty vocal about it,” Siler says.

Plavin-Masterman and Siler have converted several of their classes to OER, because, “there’s a real benefit to it; the course material is more current and recent,” Plavin-Masterman says. “This semester every one of my classes is OER.”

“I feel like students think we’re on their side; we took their financial concerns into account,” Plavin-Masterman adds.

An unanticipated benefit of faculty adopting and developing electronic course material is that they were better prepared to teach online classes when students were sent home to learn remotely starting March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The future remains bright for OER. I look forward to seeing what else we can achieve through the adoption of OER on campus and across the commonwealth,” says Bejune.

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