Sunday, November 24, 2013

OER and Devices

I’m not above crowdsourcing solutions to very practical campus issues.

Wise and worldly readers, I’m having a hard time cracking the “devices” question for OER.  I’m hoping someone out there has a reasonably elegant solution, or set of solutions.

Here’s the context, and some parameters of useful solutions:

- Textbook costs have become a real stumbling block for many students.  Especially in the sciences and certain social sciences, it’s not unusual for an introductory textbook to run two hundred dollars or more.  For a student taking four or five classes, that adds up quickly.  Since many of our students are struggling with daily expenses, they often try to get through the class without buying the book.  That strategy usually ends in tears.

- Over the past couple of years, several providers of Open Educational Resources have come along -- often with foundation support -- to make alternatives either free or very inexpensive.  Even better, since most of those alternatives are electronic and specifically designed with access in mind, most of them are ADAA compliant right out of the gate.  That’s often not true for certain large, very successful textbook publishers I could name.

- On campus, we’ve used some grant funding to establish a working group of both full-time and adjunct faculty who receive stipends to investigate the possibilities of OER alternatives to commercial textbooks in their respective classes.  The idea is to get some early adopters to do the legwork, and then to rely on viral transmission among faculty for the concept to spread.  Between colleagues saying “look what I found!” and students saying “I’m broke, and how come my friend’s books are free?”, I’m hoping to see adoption of OER spread quickly.  We aren’t even getting hung up on the question of lost bookstore revenues; the college leadership has decided, correctly, that doing right by the students is the most important thing.  Eventually, if OER adoption hits critical mass, we may have to move to some sort of nominal fee for it, but we’re not there yet.

Here’s the tricky part.  

Because most of the OER materials are electronic, they have to be read on devices.  We’re taking a principled position that we aren’t going to go with any vendor-specific platform -- cough Apple cough -- because it’s important that students have many device options, and that at least some of the choices are inexpensive enough that we aren’t defeating the purpose.  And of course, at least some of those devices need to be compatible with ADAA requirements.

Getting from “this would be a good idea” to “here’s how it’ll work” is proving a challenge.  Obviously, some students will bring devices of their own already, and for them, it’s easy.  Others won’t have an issue with buying whatever they want.  But for the students who don’t show up with a tablet or laptop, and for whom every dollar counts, we need to make sure that any device we pick is robust enough to meet their needs, cheap enough to be a net money saver, and tied to a specific course so it’ll be eligible for financial aid coverage, much like a lab kit would be.

Wise and worldly readers, any thoughts on how to thread that needle?  

In my perfect world, there would be an accessible format that would work on nearly any device, and students then could choose anything from the highest-end, most recent ipad to a refurbished version of last year’s kindle, and it would all be fine.  But it’s hard to claim a requirement as loose as that for financial aid purposes.

Has anyone out there figured out the device question?