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The Open Education Movement

The Open Education movement seeks to improve student learning through the use of free and openly licensed course materials - textbooks, exercises, assignments - that can be customized by teachers and easily accessed by all students regardless of their financial means. Switching to such Open Educational Resources (OER), like textbooks from OpenStax and OpenIntro, gives faculty the freedom to revise and remix content to match their plan for the course. OER also allow students to engage with the text in new and pedagogically powerful ways that help them recognize themselves as producers of information rather than just consumers. Open Educational Pedagogy (OEP) is the practice of employing OER to support student learning in ways that are impossible when using traditional, closed course materials.

GC Faculty on adopting OER

Q. What were your major motivations for switching to or adding an open textbook to your course?

A. I wanted a better textbook. I wasn’t especially happy with the (statistics) textbook I was using and had been staring at my own textbooks from my undergraduate and graduate days on my shelf. I realized that they were not interactive enough for the course I wanted to teach, and so I went looking for a more modern text. If I recall correctly, I ended up finding OpenIntro through social media as one of the authors is active on Twitter.

Q. How has the open textbook improved your course?

A. As a group, my students aren’t wild about enrolling in a statistics course: for one, it’s considered ‘Math-y’ which turns off some students, and most of them are in the major for their interest in human biology, not quantitative analysis or experimental design. To top it all off, I made them purchase an expensive textbook! Announcing on day one of the class that there is a cost-free option has generated a lot of good will from which I draw when I push and challenge them in class. It makes it more credible when I say, ‘I know this is hard but trust me, it’s important’. Simply put, it’s good diplomacy.

Q. What advice would you give to a professor who is considering switching to or adding an open textbook?

A. I was quite surprised at the positive reaction I received when I announced that I was using a ‘free’ book (note: the online or pdf version is free; students can purchase a softcover version for $14.99). I had not fully understood how much financial pressure the cost of textbooks places on many of our students. [But] (Non-) Buyer Beware: it is a substantial amount of work to switch textbooks!


Q. What were your major motivations for switching to an open textbook?

A. Cost primarily, with a secondary consideration of whether students will be able to access the text after the course is over or to share it with others.  The course in question is biology for non-majors.  I don't see any reason for these students to spend hundreds of dollars on the Campbell biology textbook, which is excellent, but only marginally better than the OpenStax offerings. For Biology majors, however, I think the Campbell book makes is the better option. Benefiting from many revisions, it is a great reference book, and it makes sense for majors to keep the book and refer back to it later in their academic and professional careers.

That said, most students, even majors, sell their books at the end of the year. So, even the potential benefit of having the book on hand in years to come is not enjoyed by most of our students. In this respect, the open source book may, actually, be more useful. Students can re-access it whenever they wish, or even share it with friends and family. 

Q. How has the open textbook improved your course? 

A. I don't have any formal assessment of this. My impression is that there is a benefit in that all students actually have the book. In other courses I have taught, several students have tried to get by without buying a book.  I would think that the free book is also less likely to alienate students who struggle to pay for more expensive texts. By offering an open source text, I am showing that I respect the students, all of the students, and that I am looking out for their concerns. 

Q. What advice would you give to a professor who is considering switching to an open textbook?

A. Talk with someone who has experience with that book. The book that I am using now suffers from some idiosyncrasies, as I'm sure many open source resources do.  This book, for example, is targeted at non majors, but is cut down from the version for majors.  As a result, the level at which topics are presented is not consistent. There have also been several terms that are used without prior definition.

I would also recommend that the instructor make it very clear that a printed version of the text can be ordered. Some students prefer hard copies, but might incorrectly assume that an open source book is only available online. 

Q. What were your major motivations for switching to or adding an open textbook to your course?

A. Motivations were cost saving and freedom to choose works. I explored this possibility, encouraged by Janelle, when an anthology I had been using moved to a new edition.

Q. How has the open textbook improved your course?

A. In some ways the transition has been seamless in that works of lit are works of lit, however published and consumed. However, there have been subtle improvements brought on by digital notetaking and the ability to display annotated text to the class.

Q. What advice would you give to a professor who is considering switching to or adding an open textbook?

A. What I have is an open reading list rather than a textbook, but for any teacher teaching works in the public domain, I would suggest examining whether the editorial apparatus and commentary you get from a commercially published edition are worth the price to your particular students.


Are you a Gettysburg College faculty member who uses an open educational resource in one of your courses? Please let us know!

And if you would like to share your experiences with OER as these professors have done here, please email Janelle Wertzberger with answers to the following three questions:

  1. What were your major motivations for switching to an open textbook or resource?
  2. How has the open textbook or resource improved your course?
  3. What advice would you give to a professor who is considering switching to or adding an open textbook/resource?
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Open Access Week 2017

OER used at Gettysburg College

Cover of OpenIntro Statistics textbook, 3rd Edition

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Janelle Wertzberger

Janelle Wertzberger

Assistant Dean and Director of Scholarly Communications
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