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Getting Out of the Textbook Business: How OERs Boost Accessibility and Improve Results at NETC

  • 5 Min Read

When I arrived at Northeastern Technical College (NETC), change was in the air. It was around the same time that our new head librarian, Ron Stafford, joined the organization, and we were both interested in using Open Educational Resources (OERs) to replace traditional textbooks.

At that time, NETC had already started introducing OERs for a few courses, but they were somewhat under the radar. We wanted to start an initiative to make them a priority, and the college’s senior leadership backed us all the way.

Our president, Dr. Wagner, is fond of saying that “we’re in the education business, not the textbook business,” and I love hearing that quote. Our focus and our mission here is to educate our students, not to make a profit out of selling them $300 or $400 textbooks.

That’s particularly important because of who we are. NETC serves three counties in rural South Carolina, and many in our community have been underserved in terms of education. Our goal is to reach out to people who never had the opportunity to go to college and show them the value of technical education to improve their careers, increase their earning potential, and make their mark.

More than 80% of our students are the first in their family to go to college, so we need to overcome any doubts or lack of confidence that they may have about furthering their education. Affordability is a big factor in making that offer appealing, and if you have to ask students to spend $1,400 on textbooks in their first semester, that’s not a good start.

So, Dr. Wagner set the goal that no course should have a textbook that costs more than $50. But Ron has taken that challenge to a whole new level: his goal is to get our textbook costs down to zero.

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Northeastern Technical College

NETC reaches underserved students by bringing college to their home

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Key Strategies for Driving OER Adoption

For many of our courses, there are already great OERs available in the public domain, and it’s a relatively easy task to review the content and upload it into our learning management system, which is D2L Brightspace, and then it’s ready for students to access on the first day of their course.

That’s a big benefit for both students and faculty, because there’s no need to run around to find the right textbook, and everyone starts out with all the content they need for their classes.

On the other hand, for some of our more practical technical courses, such as welding and pipefitting, relevant OERs just didn’t exist. So, we worked together with faculty to create tutorial videos and used pieces from public domain content to pull together some great new courses in D2L Brightspace.

For example, we have a course for people who want to earn a commercial driver’s license, so one of our professors built a whole set of resources based around the South Carolina Driver’s Manual.

Even though it’s a lot of work, we’ve found that our faculty respond well to creating their own OERs in Brightspace. When they’ve built the content themselves, they feel like they own it, and they can teach their course exactly how they want to teach it. If you look at national studies, that also seems to be reflected in student engagement and course completion—success rates go through the roof when the textbook is an OER source.

We have also put a lot of thought into how to encourage faculty to get involved. For example, Ron teaches a class to our staff each semester about OERs, and we’ve created an “Outstanding OER” badge in D2L Brightspace that we award to the teachers who are doing the most to drive OER adoption. External recognition is important too—we now have 12 faculty members who have received “Professor for Affordable Learning” awards from South Carolina Affordable Learning (SCALE) for their OER work.

Our next step is to make the OER process more transparent and standardized by uploading new OERs into Brightspace and allowing our Curriculum Committee to access and review them before we start using them with students. We’re also planning to start a peer-review and approval process with other colleges that are working with OERs.

Making Education More Accessible, Affordable, and Equitable

Today, around 98% of our general education resources are available as OERs, and we’re making good progress toward our goal of reducing or eliminating the need for textbooks in all our courses. Already, we’ve seen an average 77% reduction in textbook costs, which saves students around $1,000 per semester.

According to Dr. Wagner, we’re leading the state in our usage of OERs, and other colleges and universities have reached out to us for help with OER adoption. We have done multiple national and statewide conferences and webinars. That’s a big point of pride for our institution, and we’re happy to share our knowledge and experience to help make education more accessible, affordable, and equitable for students across the country and around the world.

If you’re interested in learning more about NETC and D2L, you can check out the full success story or read an interview about how NETC increased student enrollment and retention during the pandemic.

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