Student and professor in classroom

Nearly 30 percent of Plymouth State University students are considered low-income and many struggle to afford expensive textbooks. The University has achieved dramatic savings by being proactive in finding low- or no-cost alternatives, including Open Educational Resources (OER).

“PSU started participating in a USNH initiative in late 2015 designed to teach faculty to curate and create openly licensed texts in place of commercial textbooks and has just completed a tracking database to accurately report on the savings,” says Director of the Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative (CoLab) Robin DeRosa. “We have saved students and their families more than $1.7 million so far and the pace is increasing as more faculty adopt OER.”

“The savings came out of a lot of people’s hard work and effort and we have tremendous evidence that it paid off.”

CoLab Associate Director Martha Burtis

CoLab Associate Director Martha Burtis took a conservative approach to wrangling the data, working with student collaborators to double-check exact course enrollments to achieve a high level of accuracy, and comparing the new lower cost of each course to the cost of the commercial books that was required before the faculty member made the switch.

“It’s pretty exciting to see the upward trend,” says Burtis. “The savings came out of a lot of people’s hard work and effort and we have tremendous evidence that it paid off.”

Creative Commons defines OER as teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the “5R” activities—retaining, remixing, revising, reusing, and redistributing the resources. 

Plymouth State is an acknowledged institutional leader in OER adoption in New Hampshire. The CoLab recently helped found the New Hampshire Open Ed Public Consortium, a joint effort across the state’s 11 public postsecondary institutions to lower the cost of textbooks and other learning materials for Granite State college students.

Science textbooks are notoriously expensive and PSU nursing faculty eagerly took up the challenge to help reduce costs. Their efforts replaced the cost of a $400 traditional textbook with a zero-cost OER version.

“I think our department does a phenomenal job weighing costs versus needs,” says Professor Kerriann Reynolds. While some nursing texts might serve as permanent references meriting hefty outlays, the Biochemistry for Nursing text was identified as a good OER candidate. Another factor was the relatively large numbers of students taking the course who would benefit from the savings.

As part of a faculty development initiative funded by the University System of New Hampshire, CoLab Director Robin DeRosa pointed Reynolds to existing online resources and Scholarly Communication Librarian Christin Wixson assisted with additional targeted research. Reynolds took the initiative a step further by adding companion learning modules. “I really thought that we could create not only the textbook but the student assessment platform for free as well,” she says. “I remixed the textbook, then created modules that would accentuate the biochemistry concepts that students need to practice and understand.”

“We encourage our students to think of knowledge as something you don’t just get for yourself but something you learn so that you can share.”

Director of Interdisciplinary Studies Matt Cheney

The work of Reynolds and her PSU colleagues contributes to the free online resources available to other colleges and universities. “We have a group where we share and we offered our OER to a nursing repository for 600 people,” says Reynolds. “Anybody can use or modify the book and I receive no proceeds, and if their program has different objectives, they can adjust it to fit their needs.”

Plymouth State not only embraces OER as a cost-saving strategy but as a key element of the Open Pedagogy learning model of which the University is recognized nationally for engaging students as creators of information rather than simply consumers. Students take existing materials and improve on them by adding new tech components and other updates, adding their voices and research to benefit peers who may be on-campus or around the world.

“We encourage our students to think of knowledge as something you don’t just get for yourself but something you learn so that you can share,” says Director of Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) Matt Cheney. The IDS introductory and capstone course texts feature roughly 50 percent student-created content. The program has been rebuilding the intro textbook this year and student workers sought out appropriate existing materials and penned some new sections. Since they were unable to find a sufficient overview of the “disciplinarity” topic and its higher ed history, the CoLab is commissioning a chapter that will not only be used at PSU but also shared openly for reuse and adaptation by others.

DeRosa is an Open Pedagogy thought leader and a sought-after presenter on the topic. She co-founded the Open Pedagogy Notebook, where faculty across the world share examples of open pedagogy in their classes.

Cluster Learning, PSU’s exclusive formulation of Open Pedagogy, includes interdisciplinarity and integration; project-based work that extends beyond the walls of the classroom; and open practices that foster access to knowledge and empower students to contribute to their wider communities and networks. An array of documents, videos, and other archived resources are available in the CoLab’s Cluster Pedagogy resource collection.

Biochemistry for Nursing (OER textbook authored by Professor Kerriann Reynolds)