Initiative offers free learning materials for students

A new initiative at Grand Valley is aiming to provide students with more free educational materials, while opening new doors for faculty to be creative and flexible with their curriculums.

The Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiative encourages Grand Valley faculty to incorporate textbooks, learning objects and other educational materials that are "open," meaning they are free to use, have few or no access restrictions, and can mostly be freely mixed, customized and adapted. 

"With the OER Initiative, we're starting by connecting and publicizing the support we already offer to GVSU faculty, and by showcasing faculty who are already engaged in creating and choosing OER for their courses," said Matt Ruen, University Libraries Scholarly Communications outreach coordinator.

Through OER, faculty can choose from a wide range of educational resources varying from single activities or supplemental readings, to full textbooks.

"Open educational resources offer faculty more flexibility by allowing them to combine the best parts of a dozen different resources and customize them to fit a particular community or a specific course, without needing to worry about the cost to students or asking permission," Ruen said. "More abstractly, sharing knowledge with people who want to learn is what higher education is all about."

One resource of OER for faculty and students is the the university's open-access repository, ScholarWorks@GVSU, which is currently comprised of more than 9,000 publications. The documents in the repository have been downloaded more than 2 million times from people around the world since 2008.

ScholarWorks gives Grand Valley faculty, staff and students the ability to add their own work to the repository, and three professors of mathematics have done just that. Matt Boelkins, David Austin and Steve Schlicker co-authored Active Calculus, which is a free text that encourages faculty to use active learning pedagogy in first and second semester calculus courses.

"For subjects like calculus that have been well-understood for more than 100 years, I believe these ideas are the property of humankind collectively, not individual authors or publishers," Boelkins said. "As such, it shouldn't be the case that proprietary texts on well-established subjects should be used to make people rich and make the materials prohibitive for students."

Currently bringing the initiative to fruition are participants from University Libraries, Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence, Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, eLearning and Emerging Technologies and the Laker Store.

"Each of our units already provides services and resources that can help faculty members create and use OER, but we have not previously linked these services together," Ruen said. "For example, sabbatical and grant funding could give a faculty member the time and resources necessary to develop an open textbook, librarians can help instructors find high-quality OER for their courses, and workshops can help faculty integrate OER into online or classroom activities."

While OER at Grand Valley creates positive flexibility for faculty, Ruen said the ultimate winners are students.

"The cost of textbooks is often a very real obstacle between students and education," Ruen said. "Textbooks are a small part of the overall cost of education, but even so, OER can help move an extremely uneven playing field a little bit closer to being level, and that's a move in the right direction."

For more information about the Open Educational Resources Initiative, contact Matt Ruen at (616) 331-9182 or ruenm@gvsu.edu, or read University Libraries' OER Guide.