“Why OER?” video

I made a ten-minute video for my faculty colleagues at Bemidji State University, to answer the question many are asking as I begin advocating for open learning on campus. Incorporates some of the data from the latest Florida survey I wrote about yesterday, especially the part about required textbooks going unused.

2018 Florida textbook survey summary

In March 2019 Florida’s Office of Distance Learning and Student Services published a follow-up to the 2010, 2012, and 2016 student surveys which have been a valuable source for many OER advocates. The new survey was conducted in spring 2018 and involved over 21,000 respondents. The survey’s findings were that:


  • For the first time since the 2012 survey, overall textbook costs did not increase. Relative to 2016, only 43.8% of students reported costs of over $300 for the semester, with ten percent shifting from the “above $300” column to the “below $300”. This result doesn’t quantify the real savings, though, since it doesn’t specify whether students went from $305 to $295 or from $400 to $200 between the two surveys.Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 9.34.58 AM.png
  • Students increased efforts to reduce their textbook costs by finding cheaper vendors for new textbooks and by buying used copies or renting print or digital textbooks. It is worth noting that buying or renting from cheaper online sources and buying used, which all increased since 2016, could be threatened by publishers’ “inclusive access” plans that require students to acquire their materials from a single source.
  • Students continued to report that they had not acquired required textbooks (64.2%), took fewer courses (42.8%), had avoided a course (40.5%), had earned a poorer grade (35.6%), or had dropped a course (22.9%) due to textbook expense.Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 9.37.11 AM.png
  • More students reported that required textbooks were not used in classes. In 2012, students had reported that an average of 1.6 textbooks were not used in class. In 2016, 2.6 textbooks per student were unused. In 2018, students said 3.6 of the students they had been required to buy were not used. Over a sample of 21,000 students, that means over 75,000 textbooks were purchased and not used. If the average price was $100, $7,500,000 in student funds were wasted. The survey suggests that courses switching to digital resources may account for this change – if that’s the case, instructors should stop requiring the textbook as well as the ancillaries.Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 9.38.14 AM.png
  • Students reported a much greater willingness to use digital textbooks. The question was worded around textbook renting (which also increased), but 41.4% indicated willingness to rent digital textbooks, which is a hopeful sign for digital OER acceptance. In addition, 57.2% of students said they used interactive practice questions and 44.8% used PowerPoint slide decks, suggesting that digital, interactive learning is making headway in both publisher and potentially OER formats.


Image source: All images from 2018 Florida Student Textbook & Course Material Survey, Donaldson, Opper, Shen, 2019. CC-BY.


This document by Dan Allosso, 2019, CC-BY-SA

Setting up Hypothesis

I just made a short video to introduce my students to Hypothesis. I’ll be using it for annotation and discussion in all my online and in-person courses this fall. After they’ve watched the video, I have the students create an account, follow a link I provide to the private group I’ve set up for each section, install the plugin in their browser, and leave at least one comment on the course syllabus. Here’s the video:

Unattainable Goals

One of the things that jumped out at me, during a day full of meetings yesterday related to the beginning of the fall semester, was a guest speaker who opened our meeting in the College of Arts, Education, and Humanities. John Eggers is a Bemidji Pioneer columnist and an advocate for 100% High School graduation. John argues that we should set a goal of trying to get 100% of Bemidji’s high school students to graduate, and he claims this goal could be achieved in not five years or three years, but in one if we really put our minds to it.


(Goals by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images)

I’m not going to argue whether John’s goal is attainable. The thing that struck me about it is, it’s obviously the right goal. How could one justify setting a goal that aspired to less than 100%? “Yeah, we want to leave 2% or 3% or 5% behind each year” doesn’t cut it. That may be a reality, but it’s not a vision. Whether or not you believe it can be achieved in a year, three, five, or maybe never at all…how could you argue that we want less?

I thought this was a useful idea for OER, especially in the context of the currently-popular idea of Z-Degrees. The Minnesota Legislature has mandated three Associate Degrees will be created with zero textbook costs – not only for the money that will be saved by the students that got through those particular tracks, but for all the students around them, who will get the benefit of being in the Z-courses created, even if their entire program isn’t free of textbook costs. And of course the focus on creating Z-courses will inspire other changes and the benefits will snowball.

Similarly, as I’ve mentioned before, students at 4-year schools like Bemidji State University would benefit from substantial decreases in their textbook costs even if we can never eliminate them entirely. When John was talking about 100% Graduation, I wrote in my notes, “an unattainable goal isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” Then I immediately started thinking of ways it can be a bad thing. Like if you’ve pegged your compensation to a goal you can’t achieve. But then I ultimately decided that on the whole, I like the idea of refusing to compromise on a vision and then celebrating getting as close to it as possible.