‘Free the textbook’: Fighting for more open-ed resources

By Emma Keas

For Plainsman Online

At this time of a global pandemic, students need free online resources more than ever.

 One of these sources that college students and faculty are turning to is Open Educational Resources.

Openstax is a nonprofit organization that provides openly-licensed (free!) textbooks to students. Daniel Williamson, managing director at Openstax, hosted a video news conference for student journalists on Oct. 21, explaining the mission of the company, and how they are striving to achieve it.

Openstax is an incredibly convenient resource for students and teachers, with hundreds of textbooks available for viewing and downloading, completely free. Its built-in tools, such as highlighting and searching the book for specific words, make it far better than a paper textbook.

OpenStax's Daniel Williamson honored by Rice Board of Trustees
Daniel Williamson, managing director at Openstax

Williamson explained that the company is working every day to put more resources on their site. They have partnered with other organizations to provide students with the most opportunities as possible. Currently, for a small membership fee, tutoring is offered alongside the free text resources.

 Williamson says that Openstax’s current goal is to double the size of their library.

As of 2020, 4.4 million students and 36,000 faculty in the United States use Openstax. Williamson preached the company’s motto of “free the textbook,” along with their goal of helping students avoid automatic textbook billing when at all possible. He encourages students to examine their options before buying textbooks, and to check whether it is available on Openstax or another similar website.

While other companies may see similar websites as competition, or something to be eliminated, Williamson is glad to know that there are other organizations out there doing what Openstax does. He adds, “We want more competition, not less.”

Other examples of Open Educational Resources (OER) are Khan Academy, which students can use to prep for the SAT, ACT, and as a study guide for almost any high school or college course, and Lumen Learning, which works similarly to Openstax. There are other similar sites, easily discoverable with a simple Google search.

Dr. Erika Warnick, professor in College Literacy, English, and Education at South Plains College, is a strong advocate for the usage and availability of OER. She says that she “loves open educational resources” and is happy to see these resources being more widely available and used during the past few years.

Erika WARNICK | Assistant Professor in Reading | Doctor of Philosophy,  Higher Education Administration | South Plains College | Teaching and  Learning Center
Dr. Ericka Warnick

“Where was this when I was in school?” she joked.

Jokes aside, Dr. Warnick explained that she advocates OER in the best interests of her students. She also mentioned that “our dean of Arts and Sciences, Alan Worley, is a big proponent of open-ed resources because he doesn’t want there to be a barrier to education for students.”

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently awarded a $20,500 grant to Dr. Warnick, along with Dr. Elaine Ramsinski and Dr. Tasha Vice at Texas A&M – San Antonio, which is being used to develop even more open resources at SPC. South Plains has also offered to match that amount in material resources, according to Dr. Warnick. She mentioned that, especially during these times, it is more important than ever for students to have as much help as they can get.

“The only price all students can afford is free,” said Williamson.

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