Associated Students Discusses Classes Using Free Online Textbooks

 Santa Monica College English proffessor Angie Misaghi demonstrates the utility of Open Educational Resources at the May 21st meeting of the SMC Associated Students board. Misaghi said that she likes OER because, on top of the fact that they are free, they allow her to customize her course material on the fly to suit her classroom needs. (Reed Curtis/Corsair Photo)

Santa Monica College English proffessor Angie Misaghi demonstrates the utility of Open Educational Resources at the May 21st meeting of the SMC Associated Students board. Misaghi said that she likes OER because, on top of the fact that they are free, they allow her to customize her course material on the fly to suit her classroom needs. (Reed Curtis/Corsair Photo)

At the penultimate meeting of the 2017-18 Santa Monica College Associated Students board, professors Fariba Bolandhemat and Angie Misaghi were invited to speak to board members and students about how they can save money on textbooks by taking classes that use open educational resources (OER) materials.

OER is a catch-all term for freely accessible, open source educational resources that includes courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge. Students can access OER through web portals such as oercommons.org and openstax.org.

Bolandhemat began her presentation by explaining that California colleges and universities began to investigate how to use OER to alleviate cost strains on students after the State Assembly passed the College Textbook Affordability Act of 2015 (AB 798).

The bill established a process by which California schools could be provided the guidelines, requirements and processes to submit proposals for their local textbook affordability programs. They can receive up to $50,000 to implement their program and report on the student savings created by their program. Each institution was required to create its own plan to implement textbook affordability by "encouraging faculty to implement the resources available and implement the material in their courses to increase student success."

To reinforce her point, Bolandhemat said that "going back 12 years -- the prices for college textbooks astronomically increas[ed] in relation to other costs like child care and other resources needed for college students." Additionally, Bolandhemat cited a 2014 consumer report, which indicated that 65-percent of college students chose not to purchase required course materials because of their high cost. She used those statistics to show that, when forced to make a choice between buying textbooks or buying necessities like food and childcare, students usually chose the latter.

English Professor Angie Misaghi, who has used OER for several years, shared her experience with the materials. "One of my first goals is to make sure my students always have access to the materials," Misaghi said, "Because I know that they're more likely to do the reading and show up prepared if they can get [course materials] easily. Not just [regarding] accessibility, but also affordability."

Misaghi said that she prefers the open source nature of OER because "if there's a chapter I don't use that much, I can take it out -- I have the ability to change [the textbook] as much as I want, even put in my own materials." She also said that the fact that the books were online allowed students to use materials more effectively. "That's one of [OER's] most commented on positive features, [students] don't have to remember to bring [their textbook] -- they can just pull [the book] out on their phone and do the reading easily."

To check which classes at SMC have OER materials available, the website www.cool4ed.org has resources to find the materials and courses that utilize them.