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Excellence and Expertise

Shift to Open Educational Resources seen as key to avoiding high cost of textbooks

Caryn Neumann receives grant to assist college instructors in effectively using Open Educational Resources (OER) to lower textbook expenses

Excellence and Expertise

Shift to Open Educational Resources seen as key to avoiding high cost of textbooks

Caryn Neumann
Caryn Neumann, Teaching Professor

Miami University Regionals Teaching Professor Caryn Neumann has been selected as a recipient for a unique grant that helps college instructors learn how to better utilize Open Educational Resources (OER) to save students money on expensive textbooks.

Neumann, teaching professor and lead departmental advisor in the Department of Interdisciplinary and Communication Studies, was one of 30 instructors chosen in the latest round of funding from OhioLINK, a statewide academic library consortium. The grant program has awarded at least 146 OER Course Redesign Grants since March 2022.

OER materials are resources that are available at no cost to students through internet access or library lending. They offer an alternative to commercial textbooks. OER materials provide the same high-quality instructional value, but because they are openly licensed, they are free to users.

In the fall, the OhioLINK grant will provide Neumann with four weeks of online training and a stipend to work with OER specialist librarians to learn more about finding and accessing OER materials for her Introduction to Women’s Studies course. Over time, the free OER materials could result in a savings of thousands for the many students who enroll in her course, she estimated.

"I’ve got students who struggle to buy food," Neumann said. "I don’t want them paying for textbooks."

Expenses such as textbooks can weigh heavily on students who are already on limited budgets in order to afford tuition and living costs. A survey at Miami Regionals in the spring of 2023, found that 74 percent of students were somewhat worried about paying for textbooks. Roughly 42 percent said they were very worried about paying for textbooks.

The Education Data Initiative said the average cost for textbooks in 2023 was between $339 and $600 per year. They reported that up to 66 percent of students said they did not buy or rent some needed course materials because of the high cost.

John Burke, principal librarian at the Gardner-Harvey Library on Miami’s Middletown campus and a certified OER specialist librarian, said the goal is to reduce costs for students across as many courses as possible to help lighten their financial burden.

"Expenses such as textbooks can have a disproportionate impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These are groups already facing financial stress and worry," Burke said.

"As a librarian, how can I help convince more faculty to seek out OER materials for their students? Seeing another faculty member like (Caryn Neumann) access these materials is a great model for others to follow."

Burke said there is no shortage of OER materials to choose from, and a number of Miami instructors are already using these resources in their courses.

"OER materials are written by credentialed faculty or researchers who choose to make the material free to students," Burke said. "They are not an inferior quality to traditional textbooks."

OhioLINK Executive Director Amy Pawlowski estimated that using OER materials instead of commercial textbooks could save Ohio students as much as $1.5 million per year. She said the grants are proving to be effective as a targeted method of increasing awareness and participation in the use of OER on campuses statewide.