This is a content holder for the one button emergency notification system.

Turning the Page

Spreading the word about free and inexpensive alternatives to traditional textbooks

Professors often hear that the out-of-pocket costs of textbooks create a financial burden for their students, which is why some faculty members at Bridgewater State University are using Open Educational Resources.

OER, as it’s known, is a public digital library that provides educational materials for free, or at a very low cost. BSU was recently awarded a $192,555 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to support the expansion and impact of OER at the university.

Jessica Birthisel, associate professor of communication studies, is a fan. 

“For me, the use of free and open educational course material is one small way that I, as a faculty member, can ease the financial burden of being a student today,” she said. “Utilizing free and/or open resources in my classes is one way I can make sure that my students aren’t having to decide between buying a textbook or buying groceries.”

Cindy Kane, assistant provost for strategic initiatives and Dean of Library Services Kevin Kidd worked together to co-lead the grant.

According to Kane, the grant will be utilized over the next three years and, among other benefits, will offer new course transformation grants for faculty looking to expand OER use.

“Over the next three years we can influence professional development, our community of scholars, and work with faculty (across all disciplines) to really do it well and help it stick,” she said.

Since 2016 Susan Eliason, associate professor of elementary and early childhood education, has co-chaired BSU’s OER committee. Her interest in OER began when she was working with Apple to create content that was easily accessible.

Through that experience she learned of the OER movement, and together with other BSU campus members, including leadership from the library, a committee was formed.

“The goal was always to increase faculty engagement, to make people more aware,” she said.

And like Birthisel, Eliason wanted to find a way to help ease the financial burden textbooks create for her students.

“I had students that couldn’t purchase the book until three weeks into the semester. This means they missed assignments and it put them at a disadvantage right away,” Eliason said.

Aside from the cost savings, she said having access to more content can make things more equitable.

“I really feel strongly about representing and looking at other can I create course content that is more equitable all around? OER helps with that,” Eliason said.

OER also provides an opportunity for faculty to communicate with other professors outside of the BSU community and publish their own content.

Eliason herself has published an OER book on infant and toddler care.

Beyond that, there is a plethora of other accessible information, including syllabi, rubrics, video courses, interactive games, tools and software, text banks, assignment sheets, and much more.

“It’s amazing what you can find once you start digging in,” Birthisel said.

Eliason added that OER is best viewed as simply another option for faculty.

“I don’t think we can ever say one size fits all...but this helps give the maximum number of options to access, the more access, the more options,” she said.

The grant money will undoubtedly help shine a light on all the possibilities OER offers.

“I truly believe it will have a sizeable, positive effect for our students,” Birthisel said.

Do you have a BSU story you'd like to share? Email