Because NH students have the highest student loan debt in the country, I think every instructor in public higher education in the state has an obligation to minimize student expenses in whatever way we can. One of the things faculty can individually control is our choice of educational materials. To me, this means that faculty have an obligation to minimize the costs of educational materials for their courses.
How can faculty do that? Use open educational resources (OER). Of course, this can be challenging. There may not be high quality OER for the content of a particular course, for example. Even if OER exist, an individual faculty member may not have time to investigate the possibilities available for a particular course.
These challenges are why we need to advocate at a systems level to allow for the development and adoption of OER. Institutions should give faculty members the resources needed to develop and adopt OER. In the University System of New Hampshire, for example, we have an Academic Technology Institute each year in which faculty are given an opportunity to engage in professional development activities around OER and receive a stipend to develop and/or adopt OER. Contributing OER materials to the Creative Commons should be seen as valid and valuable scholarly activity in promotion and tenure guidelines. Compensating faculty, whether tenure-track or non-tenure-track, for their contributions to the commons should be a priority for institutions. The results will be educational materials that save students money and, therefore, don’t contribute to their debt load.
Moving beyond the cost of educational materials, we see that engaging with “Some Rights Reserved” rather than “All Rights Reserved” materials changes students’ relationship to knowledge. Copyright limits the ways in which we and our students can engage with our educational materials and so it limits the ways in which we and our students can teach and learn from them. When students are asked to truly grapple with the content of a course by creating something new from it, they learn more deeply and begin to develop a sense of agency over their own learning.
In order for students to develop this agency, however, we need to ensure that our pedagogy takes advantage of the Creative Commons licenses on OER. We need to provide opportunities for students to engage in meaningful work that reaches beyond the walls of the classroom in some way. This changing of pedagogy should be a core activity for those of us at Plymouth State University because student agency over their learning is at the heart of the Integrated Cluster initiative. Although pedagogical change is difficult and time-consuming, many of us have seen in our FYS sections, cluster projects, and other cluster experiences that students take the work more seriously, are more engaged, and are prouder of the work they accomplish. Research done by others bears this out as well.
We should work in these open ways because they benefit students.