Apr 12 2017

New Washington State Bill Seeks to Increase OER Use and Development

Proposed legislation would make using open resources easier for educators.

When it comes to open educational resources (OER) in higher education, the promise is that students could receive great digital content on the devices they already have for cheap or even free.

After adopting an open-education initiative in 2011, the University of Massachusetts Amherst reports that students in classes using OER or free library materials have saved over $1.6 million dollars.

However, few colleges are using them regularly, citing not enough options within topics of study. In an effort to expand the potential of OER by creating options, the House Higher Education Committee in the state of Washington has proposed a bill that would distribute grants to six universities, Campus Technology reports.

“The legislature finds that the cost of textbooks is a barrier to higher education for many students,” reads the bill proposal. “It is the intent of the legislature to create a pilot grant program to reduce costs for college students by supporting the public, four-year institutions of higher education in promoting, adopting, and creating open educational resources.”

The News Tribune reports that House Bill 1768, which is still awaiting a hearing, would help these universities fund the salary of an OER liaison in the campus library to ensure robust OER options are available or help the universities contract with an OER library.

The bill is being spearheaded by State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, who had success in passing similar OER legislation two years ago for Eastern Washington University, The News Tribune reports.

“It’s been welcomed by all institutions, and they’re very excited to put in their grant applications to receive the dollars to help their students,” says Stambaugh in the article.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of OER Usage

“[Students] have told me on more than one occasion that textbooks have been a barrier to them continuing and completing their education,” says Linda Williams, a professor at Tidewater Community College, in a video celebrating their use of OER.

Cost has not been the only benefit universities have found to using these digital formats to replace or supplement traditional texts.

Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania touts OER as a student engagement booster because the digital format gets students class materials even before the first day of class and lets them work from anywhere on any device.

In their lists of the benefits of OER, both Shippensburg and Goucher College in Maryland agree that teachers have the opportunity to explore other teaching methods and multimedia options without developing them or needing more funding.

“By using OER, you have access to new assignments, teaching methods and more without having to dedicate precious hours to designing everything from scratch,” reads the article on the Shippensburg library website.

When it comes to the downsides of OER, many agree that the quality (almost anyone can update) and sustainability can be potential negatives.

“Since OER creators generally do not receive any type of payment for their OER, there may be little incentive for them to update their OER or to ensure that it will continue to be available online,” reads the Goucher College article.

With the dedicated funding to create robust OER libraries, Washington House Bill 1768 could help set the precedent for battling these cons to OER adoption.

Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Thinkstock

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