Open Educational Resources: A Movement Toward More Equitable Classrooms
By Gracie Meisner, Staff Writer
For many college students, the high price of textbooks required for college courses poses an enormous financial burden. In some cases, the cost of required texts makes it impossible for students to afford the vital resources needed for academic success.
A Change.org petition entitled “Implement Solutions for Textbook Affordability at Gettysburg College,” seeks to address this problem. The petition, which received 268 signatures in the past month, asks for the College to explore affordable options, such as Open Educational Resources (OER) and course marking to share costs associated with classes before students select them.
In response to this issue, Gettysburg College’s Scholarly Communications Department has spearheaded the implementation of OER into courses at the college. This initiative allows students to access peer-reviewed openly licensed course materials such as textbooks, which are similar to the materials students would otherwise be required to purchase.
Scholarly Communications Librarian Mary Elmquist said that the initiative will create more equitable classrooms at Gettysburg College, has been heavily involved with assisting faculty in implementing OER.
“Textbook choices are something that faculty make in designing their syllabus,” said Elmquist. “We want them to be able to make those choices. We have been working to support faculty who are interested in making their classrooms more equitable by making their course materials more affordable. What I do is reach out to faculty and say ‘Hey, we found an open textbook that is similar to the commercial textbook you might be using in your class now. Why don’t you see if it might be a good fit for your class?’”
The call for OER comes after years of documented inequity surrounding textbooks and course materials on campus. Elmquist, along with Director of Scholarly Communications Janelle Wertzberger and Scholarly Communications Assistant Sarah Appedu ’18, administered the 2019 Gettysburg College Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey, which collected information about the experiences of Gettysburg College students with textbooks and course materials.
The survey reported that 64 percent of survey respondents spent over $200 on course materials in the fall 2019 semester. In addition, 56 percent of respondents reported receiving financial aid but not having enough funding left to cover course materials. Nearly a quarter of respondents reported not purchasing required books because of cost, and 15 percent reported struggling academically due to the inability to access course materials. The survey also revealed that material costs may affect some groups more than others. First-generation students reported struggling academically at twice the rate of non-first-generation students, and Pell Grant recipients were about three times more likely to report academic struggles due to textbook costs.
Ava Collin ’25 pointed out that, often, financial assistance granted by the college fails to take into account additional course costs.
“Often, financial aid doesn’t cover the cost of textbooks and materials. Open Educational Resources are beneficial because they allow for students to have access to the tools they need for higher education,” said Collin.
Luca Tolino ’25 felt that students should not have to worry about the additional costs of course materials on top of paying tuition.
“Education is already so expensive,” said Tolino. “It’s better to have cheaper access to textbooks. It’s hard to afford textbooks on top of such high tuition prices.”
Elmquist highlighted that since the start of the fall 2021 semester, the initiative made important strides. At the Senate Meeting held on Sep. 27, the implementation of OER was presented as an opinion. The opinion called to request the Gettysburg College administration to take action to promote and endorse the use of OER to address the issue of textbook affordability on campus. It passed through voting members of the Senate unanimously.
To contextualize the results of the initiative, since the start of the fall 2021 semester, 31 faculty members have implemented OER across 24 academic courses, which has impacted 932 students and saved a total of $143,443.50 that would otherwise have been spent on required course materials.
In addition to saving students money and making classrooms more equitable, OER also offer pedagogical benefits for faculty. Because they are published under an open license, faculty have the opportunity to adapt and customize OER to fit the contexts of their own classes. Elmquist noted that the open-license opportunity can contribute to more sustainable textbooks.
“Because [OER] can be updated freely, they can really stand the test of time,” said Elmquist. “They can be updated to include the issues of the moment, which is a sustainable option, especially next to commercial textbooks that are even more expensive because they have new versions being printed every year or two years.”
Ultimately, while OER can help to create more inclusive learning environments, the shortcomings of the initiative still must be addressed. Because nearly anyone can contribute to OER, the guarantee of relevant and accurate information falls short in comparison to commercial textbooks. On a similar note, because the creators of OER do not generally receive compensation, the quality of resources may be jeopardized. Further, because 300 and 400-level classes address more specific material, OER may not always be available for every course; however, Elmquist advocates for faculty to take advantage of library resources in these situations.
Currently, the implementation of OER at Gettysburg College is presented only as a suggestion to faculty, Elmquist believes that the initiative has a bright future ahead.
“I see [OER] growing locally because they are growing on a national level. A lot of people are looking at how much commercial textbooks are costing. This is not just a movement at Gettysburg College,” said Elmquist.
On Sept. 15, Musselman Library expanded the petition’s access, hosting a table outside of the College Union Building where students could sign the petition.
While Elmquist noted that no official steps have yet been taken within the administration to address textbook and material affordability issues, events in the upcoming weeks will continue to advocate for the cause. Elmquist said that Student Senate President Sydney Quan ’22 will take the OER opinion to an upcoming faculty meeting, and students can learn how to make their research and other work free through the Research 101: Behind the Paywall extended orientation offering taking place on Oct. 26.
Editor’s Note: This article was edited by Alli Dayton and Gracie Meisner on Oct. 24 at 8:17 p.m. to add an additional event that occurred regarding this issue.