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UT Libraries has worked with the Student Government Association, the Division of Student Life, and the Office of the Provost to promote the widespread use of open educational resources—free online learning materials—to reduce the financial strain of purchasing textbooks.

Nationally, the cost of college textbooks has climbed over the past decade, with the average undergraduate student paying approximately $1,200 every year on books and materials alone.

These campus entities are encouraging professors and lecturers to adopt open educational resources (OERs) to cut down on these costs for students. OERs are high-quality learning materials such as textbooks, lectures, and other digital aids  not in the public domain, but openly licensed and free for everyone to use. By using OERs, professors have the freedom to design their courses without being restricted by a textbook and students save thousands of dollars on learning materials.

The VolShop hosted a Course Materials Affordability Fair to promote affordable course material options, including digital, print, OER, inclusive access, custom printing, course packets, and courseware, earlier this week.

More than 20 courses have adopted open textbooks and other OERs at UT since 2016, saving students across campus approximately $700,000 each year. Scholarly Communication and Publishing Librarian Rachel Caldwell said UT faculty and staff are becoming more aware of the expenses students face and how they affect academic success. She hopes that more faculty will explore OER options in the future.

“Ultimately, we want to improve the affordability and maintain the quality of a degree for students and their families,” Caldwell said.

UT Libraries has been working to increase awareness of OERs for years. After the Libraries joined the Open Textbook Network in 2016, interest in OERs spiked and many faculty members began using them. Librarians partnered with OIT, Teaching and Learning Innovation, and campus instructors to form the Open Textbook Working Group, which promotes the adaptation and use of OERs and supports the OER grant program. The program, with funds provided by the Division of Student Life, provides funding for faculty who adopt OERs or adapt course materials into OERs.

Associate Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science Joanne Logan is a recipient of the grant. She has used OERs for years and saw the grant as a great opportunity.

“I thought it would be a good chance to get some help finding better quality resources than the ones I have used,” Logan said.

With the help of the libraries, Logan was able to find more recent higher-quality resources that she can revise and update as needed for her students.

In 2016, SGA partnered with UT Libraries to establish the annual SGA Open Education Award. This award recognizes up to three instructors each academic year whose implementation of OERs in their classrooms has contributed to the overall accessibility and affordability of course materials for their students. Students have the opportunity to nominate their instructors throughout the year, and the recipients are announced in April.

If you are interested in adopting open education resources for your courses, contact Rachel Caldwell at rachelcaldwell@utk.edu or visit the UT Libraries website.