Increasing public pressure about the affordability of graduate education has caused many university administrators and faculty members to pay attention to what they charge students. One area where colleges have had success in reducing expenses for students is the cost of textbooks and using Open Educational Resources or OERs to supplement learning materials.
The use of OERs has traditionally been met with some resistance by faculty in higher education, whether it be because of lack of awareness; inability to build, find, or integrate resources into established curriculum; or doubts about the quality of existing OER materials.
However, the faculty at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business – specifically those who facilitate courses for the Center for Online Learning’s portfolio of online degree and certification programs – have found OERs to be increasingly beneficial to the student learning experience and have adopted alternatives to traditional textbooks at a much higher rate than their residential program colleagues.
What are OERs?
OERs, also known by the terms “open educational resources” or “open content”, describe any copyrightable work that is either in the public domain or licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities – retain, revise, remix, reuse, and redistribute.
These materials can range from open textbooks, courseware, and access journals to learning modules or online tutorials to streaming videos or digital learning objects such as data sets or case studies.
Traditionally, the definition of OERs excludes software which is described by other terms like “open source”. However, as higher education looks to adopt more tools and solutions to address the affordability puzzle, software and various technologies can be included in this definition of OERs.
Benefits of OERs
The movement for OERs seeks to close the gap between the traditional practices in graduate education which rely on the use of paid-for textbooks in either physical or digital form with the vast potential technological resources can bring to degree-seeking students.
The OER movement acknowledges that textbook costs can be a barrier to entry for some prospective students as prices have skyrocketed more than three times the rate of inflation for decades. Increasing accessibility to learning materials frees up financial resources for students who can redirect funds towards other costs associated with their education.
“At William & Mary, the libraries have historically been and continue to be the biggest advocates for OERs on campus because librarians value equitable access to information, and we recognize that the high cost of textbooks to students can be a barrier to access,” said Anna Milholland, Mason School of Business Librarian. “In the business school, students not only have the cost of textbooks to consider, but supplementary readings they are responsible for paying for, too. The faculty deeply care about their students here and want to help eliminate any barriers to entry if possible.”
Center for Online Learning's Approach
According to Milholland, in addition to informal surveys across campus, William & Mary’s Textbook Affordability Task Force released a report that found 12 percent of students did not register for a class because of textbook costs, and 8 percent of students will drop a course in question if they consider the textbook cost to be too high or if they are unable to afford the textbook. For students enrolled in the Online graduate business programs, this is simply not a choice as all of the degree offerings under the Center’s current portfolio follow a prescribed and highly-designed set of courses with little to no electives.
But the Center has worked carefully to address this issue from all angles and those efforts have been met with positive results.
The Online Master of Science in Business Analytics (OMSBA) program has led the way with its use of open educational resources and open-source content. Students in the program use the R and Python software platforms extensively, both of which are open source and open the door to many packages that run on those platforms such as TensorFlow. Half of the OMSBA courses utilize at least one open-source resource and two courses rely exclusively on OER textbooks.
“The OMSBA students and faculty appreciate, support, and enjoy the OER and open-source resources in the broader field of Business Analytics and Data Science,” said Dr. Joseph Wilck, Faculty Director of Business Analytics Programs and Clinical Associate Professor of Operations and Information Systems Management.
OERs have also mindfully been incorporated into the curriculum of other online programs such as the Online Master’s in Business Administration (OMBA) and the Online Master’s in Marketing (OMMKT) programs.
“Our online courses are designed to create a really engaging environment for students,” said Ali Blankinship, Director of Instructional Affairs for the Center for Online Learning. “Most are working professionals who want real-world applications to the content they’re learning in class and to have the ability to apply those lessons directly to their work tomorrow. As part of the course design process, we incorporate activities based on company data and case studies that provide students with access to the most current information available.”
Faculty Support of Propagated Use
Approximately 37 percent of the full-time faculty teach in an online program at the Mason School, and the adoption of OERs has been largely driven by these instructors who tend to be early adopters of new technology and resources. Studies conducted by the Open Education Group have found that 93 percent of students who use OERs do as well or better than those using traditional materials and these positive results have aided in abetting faculty concerns over the quality of OER resources.
Several of the online instructors have contributed to the OER community’s body of work with their textbook publications, including Dr. Lawrence Leemis, Professor of Mathematics and William & Mary Libraries Faculty Scholar, who developed the Mason School’s online courses in R programming and applied linear algebra.
“An OER textbook works exactly the same as an electronic text from a traditional publisher. Like all universities, OER materials are being adopted here at William & Mary at an increasing rate in response to the high prices on textbooks and I anticipate that the fraction of self-published books and OER materials by faculty will increase over time,” he said.
Though a majority of the content in the online programs are evergreen, faculty are able to leverage learning analytics data provided by the Center’s learning management system (LMS) to periodically update data, case studies, and other assets to ensure that students have access to the most relevant information possible.
For More Information and Resources
In addition to OERs, the McLeod Business Library at Miller Hall has a wide range of resources available, at no additional cost, to online graduate students to offset the expense of course materials. These range from textbooks listed on course syllabi to supplemental readings to market research reports and proprietary data that students would otherwise be required to pay for out-of-pocket. Online graduate students also have access to introductory materials that may serve as a refresh as they prepare for more advanced coursework in their respective programs.
And while many proprietary resources, including most library databases, are available to students only while they’re enrolled at William & Mary, Milholland is quick to point out that OERs are available to students while they are enrolled in an online degree or certificate program and after they leave the Mason School ecosystem as well.
“True OERs can be used by students after they graduate, and they can be tremendous resources to sustain lifelong learning,” she said.
For more information about the OER initiatives at the Mason School, contact Anna Milholland at [[w|admilholland]] or explore the list of available resources below.