Open educatiOnal ResOuRces as leaRning MateRials: pROspects and stRategies fOR univeRsity libRaRies
SEPTEMBER 2012 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
and others were hybrid open access readings that were available to the students at no cost, due to the
subscription paid by the university libraries.
From the standpoint of producing OERs, this is a transition period that will likely take years to reach
wide adoption. Much of what university faculty produce and where and how they decide to publish is
based on the importance of that publication for their career and future promotion. At a large research
institution, peer-reviewed publications, high-caliber journals, and prominent book publishers are the gold
standard. But recently, new forms of publishing and readership statistics may be changing that behavior.
One example of this new kind of publishing is a video produced by digital ethnographer Michael Wesch
of Kansas State University, who produced a YouTube video called “Web 2.0…The Machine is Us/ing
Us,” first released in 2007.3 Since that time, the video has gone viral and now has 11,637,661 views. That
kind of reach for any written product would be the dream of almost any scholar. This is an era when
what constitutes a publication is beginning to change, and the metrics used to evaluate the impact of a
publication are also changing. As this continues, publication of openly accessible learning objects might
be seen as a more attractive endeavor by faculty than previously realized, and download metrics that are
provided by institutional repositories will help faculty gauge the impact of these works.
Turning to the standpoint of consuming OERs, faculty have two obligations to their students when
considering open educational resources. First, the resources need to be of high quality and cover the
topics that the faculty expect the students to learn. Second, the faculty and the university need to deliver
high-quality learning at the lowest possible cost to students. This last point is a significant reason for the
development of the Open Educational Initiative at UMass Amherst.
The Open Education Initiative at UMass Amherst
The increasing costs of higher education and the high cost of textbooks has been a concern for students
and their parents for many years. As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2011, 78% of
undergraduates report not purchasing a required course textbook due to its high price.4 Perhaps of more
concern is the anecdotal evidence that some students occasionally decide whether or not to take a course
based on the expected cost of the required textbooks. This is becoming a bigger issue now that faculty are
required to report the textbook titles on the course catalog system so students can see what materials they
will be asked to purchase during the registration process.5 In short: book cost, not student interest in the
subject matter, may be driving some students in their selection of elective courses.
As one response to the rise in student expenses, the University Libraries and Office of the Provost at
UMass Amherst developed the Open Education Initiative (OEI). Building upon a program spearheaded
by Steven J. Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University
and a member of Temple’s Teaching, Learning & Technology Roundtable Group, UMass Amherst formed
a grant-incentive program to change or augment the traditional textbook model with resources that are
openly available or available to students at no additional charge.
Begun in March 2011, the UMass Amherst director of libraries and the provost each contributed
$5,000 to award 10 faculty members individual $1,000 Open Education Initiative grants to seek out an
alternative textbook solution in one academic course. Tenure-track faculty were asked to identify the
cost of their current teaching materials and to discover or develop replacement materials that would
come at little to no cost for the students. To assist faculty, the University Libraries developed an online