Open Access Week is upon us and this year’s theme, “Open for Whom?” has us investigating how open access benefits the student population here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to the Open Access Week official blog, this theme is meant to start a conversation on “whose interests are being prioritized in the actions we take and the platforms we support” towards open access. They raise an important question: Are we supporting not only open access but also equitable participation in research communication?
To explore this question on our campus, on Monday morning, we set out on an initiative to see how much our students are paying for textbooks this semester and asked how free, open textbooks would help them. How might having access to open educational resources such as textbooks help our student body participate in research communication and the academic community of the University?
At the four major libraries across campus, posters were set up for students to anonymously indicate how much money they have spent on textbooks this semester. They did this by placing a sticker dot on the poster that best fit their expense range, as pictured below. Alongside each poster was a whiteboard with an open question that students could answer: “How would free, open textbooks help you?”
By Tuesday afternoon these boards were filling up with answers from students. While this was an open board to post their thoughts, of course, we had some humorous answers including: “More money for coffee, “I would cry less,” and “More McChicken.” However, despite the occasional joke, the majority of the answers focused on saving money. Many students commented on the tremendous cost of higher education and not only the high prices of textbooks but the additional costs of supplemental online workbooks provided by Chegg, WebAssign, or McGraw Hill – Connect. Students agreed that textbooks as resources for their education should be free and available. A worrying result of these discussion boards was students sharing the ways in which they illegally access textbooks in lieu of purchasing them; many sharing links to illegitimate websites.
So, open for whom? Open Educational Resources (OER) offer a more affordable option for students and educators to access a quality educational experience. The Open Textbook Library describes open access textbooks as “funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed” and open for everyone’s use. Higher education institutions are gearing towards OER instead of requiring traditional textbooks and for students who are choosing between paying rent or purchasing textbooks, this can be life-changing.
Learn more about Open Educational Resources and how to find, evaluate, use and adapt OER materials for your needs.
What are you thoughts?