The average college student pays more than $1,100 every year for textbooks, reported the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). PIRG also reported that textbook costs are 26 percent of tuition at public universities and 72 percent of tuition at community colleges, according to estimates by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

“Many students are struggling financially and can not always afford to purchase their textbooks,” said James Sousa, a math faculty member and instructor at Phoenix College in Phoenix, AZ. “There are often financial aid issues that prevent students from having their money in time to have textbooks for the first day of class.”

Students are navigating their educational experience with financial decisions that may negatively impact their success. According to a 2011 survey by PIRG, 7 out of 10 students on 13 campuses forego purchasing textbooks because of rising costs despite expectations that they would perform worse in the class.

Some educators are turning to open education resources (OER), which are generally publicly edited and available to anyone, to level the playing field for students of all financial backgrounds, increasing access to the resources necessary for successful learning in courses.

“Large publishers do have some great resources to help students succeed. However, I think the cost of these materials limits access to only those who can afford them,” said Sousa. “OER is open to anyone.”

Sousa has been teaching with OER materials for two years, using free eBooks from CK-12 and College of the Redwoods, creating YouTube videos, and assigning online assessments with instant feedback for students. “By using OER, every student in my class leaves the first day of class with all the course material in order to be successful,” he adds.

With CK-12, students not only receive a free eBook, but they also have access to video lessons and online homework. Sousa has enjoyed the flexibility and customization capability that CK-12 offers. He can easily customize a list of texts he assigns to students, tailoring the lessons to his curriculum and syllabus.

Sousa witnessed first hand how OER extends the reach of learning across the globe. “From my personal experience creating over 1,800 video lessons that I host on YouTube, OER extends to anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection,” said Sousa. “I receive views from all over the world every day.”

While OER is opening doors for many, some educators worry about quality control among OER materials. Sousa said that on occasion he has come across inaccurate information, yet reassures that it’s an easy fix since the textbooks can be edited. In addition, he reports that the CK-12 staff is efficient and responsive when technical issues arise.

“It does take more of an effort to review OER before using it in class,” said Sousa. “One bad experience with OER can turn faculty off and prevent further adoption of OER. However, I think it is important to emphasize that OER materials are a work in progress and can be improved year-to-year. This frees faculty from the publisher’s new edition cycle, which is a big advantage to making the best course materials for students.”

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