Equity in Education: OER Can Help
by Howard Weiner on December 16, 2015
What is equity in education?
We can all agree that everyone should at least have the chance for a good education. But when we talk about fairness and equity, we often think of K-12 classrooms. While equity in schools is certainly important, what about in higher ed? Isn’t it important there, too?
U.S. higher education is generally a pay-to-play model. In order to participate, you have to pay. Sometimes that comes in the form of state-subsidized education, and sometimes it’s delivered by selective, high-priced elite institutions. It runs the full range, from affordable to out-of-reach.
Does this affect the discourse around equity in education? Because it’s a paid model in almost every circumstance, does it temper our “moral imperative” of offering an equal opportunity to anyone who desires it? Even if the answer is no, the fact is that there’s inequality baked into the system. As long as it’s a tiered model, it won’t be equal.
Despite that, there are things we can do to meet these important challenges in education. Let’s examine one strategy in particular that has the potential to make a big impact.
Access and equity issues
How can we provide a better to education to all of our students?
Let’s start with Open Educational Resources (OER). While it’s not the only lever to pull to help with access and equity issues, it’s an important one. Powered by the ability to create, distribute, and connect, instructors are able to go beyond the walls of their own classroom and provide benefits to a wider audience.
Instructors are creating tons of educational materials and putting them in the e-learning commons, making them accessible to anyone who might find them to be useful. While critics bemoan the lack of quality control or the difficulty in parsing out the best content, it’s undeniable that OER is having an impact.
What instructors like is that this change is from the bottom up, not simply the result of a mandated access and equity policy. It affords them some control over their curriculum. Because these materials are disaggregated, it’s fairly low-risk to plug them into their course. If it doesn’t work, fine—you just move on and try the next one.
Benefits of OER
- Success: Students who forego their course materials are at a huge disadvantage. After making an investment in the the course itself, it’s foolish to put it all at risk because you are “priced out” of your course materials. Making a choice to employ OER and other low-cost materials in your course can subdue this issue and help make sure that students actually have (and use) their course materials.
- Relief: It’s a well-worn topic, but college is expensive. And the cost of course materials is often a “hidden” cost—one that students don’t take into account when they are budgeting for college. Tuition, room & board, commuting costs—all these are predictable. But what happens when you’re presented with a “surprise” bill for $1,200 for your textbooks this semester? OER can provide significant relief on the cost issue.
- Appeal: Administrators stand to benefit, too. With all the pressures on increasing institutional enrollments, a commitment to affordable course materials enhances the value proposition when competing for students. Imagine taking a stand on eliminating (or even simply reducing) the “hidden costs” of college. It might move the needle and affect a prospective student’s decision.
- Relevancy: Aside from the economic issues, OER can have a major impact on the course itself as well. Instructors can insert local examples or make other changes that are more in line with their students’ needs. There’s a huge push for a more personalized educational experience, and OER enable that.
- Control: With OER, the instructor is back in control of his/her own course. No more needless updates to your textbook. Rearrange the table of contents to fit your syllabus—not the other way around. Don’t like the way a particular topic is presented? Change it! Instructors are more able to be flexible and creative, which provides a better student experience.
Are you, your department, or your institution doing more with OER? Do you have successes to highlight? What have been the most significant challenges, and how did you overcome them?
For more about this topic, please see: The Academic Challenge / Reducing Cost of Materials & Equity of Access.