College cost cutters, OERs, may shake up higher ed

Posted by Marty McGough on Apr 8, 2016 2:54:02 PM, Last updated 01/15/2017
Marty McGough

A riveting presentation was the highlight of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges Annual Meeting in Harrisburg last week on the recent trend of professors providing their syllabuses and class instructional material online, for free, for all who may want them–"Open Educational Resources” (“OERs” for short).
Online Educational Resources OER

Two leaders in this space, Dr. MJ Bishop, Director of University System of Maryland'sCenter for Academic Innovation, and Bill Hemmig, Dean of Learning Resources and Online Learning at Bucks County Community College, discussed the OER trend in depth in a breakout session at the conference, and described the ways in which a new group of “faculty developers” have committed themselves to this initiative. Their goal: reduce the expenses associated with college textbooks to help lessen the financial burden of pursuing a degree. The audience was struck: Is OER becoming a movement?

As the talk wrapped, a hush fell over the room, followed by numerous questions, indicating that the speakers and institutions they represent may be onto something destined to shake up long established practices in higher education:

  • How will book publishers, such as Pearson and McGraw Hill, react? Will they see this a threat or an opportunity to change their models?
  • Will these faculty developers become recognized experts with the profession, earning kudos or, perhaps more importantly, currency for scholarship and tenure?
  • How will such a system, defined solely by access to free online educational resources, measure student outcomes? How do we know if it works?

The reason this is such a big deal is that, unlike MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which anyone can take for free, OER class instructional materials can be assessed by instructors for students who are paying tuition at accredited colleges.

Sure, it saves money for students who don’t have to buy expensive textbooks, but how are these faculty developers being paid? Will curricula become too similar across institutions, thus stifling innovation? And what if these OERs are accessed by people simply interested in learning for learning’s sake, not credits? How will this be handled?

OERs are in their infancy, but raise many important questions, as do other cost cutting initiatives. It will be interesting to see how these innovations play out.

Image © Alexoakenman 

Topics: Education

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