OER & NoLo – FAQs & Concerns

Frequently Asked Questions

Are OER mandated in Alaska or in UAF teaching policy?

No. While nearly half of the states in the U.S. have some form of OER initiative or mandate in place, Alaska has not implemented any yet. UAF also has no official policy in place, although OER, no and low-cost courses and programs are encouraged.

What is NoLo and what is its history at UAF?

NoLo are No or Low-cost courses where the required textbook and materials are under $40. In 2019, a student-led initiative to increase OER use at UAF in order to reduce textbook costs for students was brought to faculty senate. This initiative was recognized by the faculty senate, and an ad hoc committee was formed to help address this concern. UAF Provost Prakash tasked a team drawn from this committee and the registrar’s office to implement no/low-cost course markings by Fall 2021 to help students determine which courses have lower textbook costs. Not all NoLo courses use OER, but many do. See the current list of NoLo courses here.

NoLo only pertains to required course textbooks, workbooks, online homework platforms or other publisher-provided tools and materials. This amount does not include equipment (like art supplies, calculators or physical lab materials), regular course fees, lab fees, proctoring fees, or tuition.

Why doesn’t my course show on the UAF NoLo list?

If you teach a NoLo course at UAF, please inform the staff member who updates the course schedule for your department that your course needs to be given the NoLo attribute in the CourseLeaf Course Scheduler (CLSS) interface. Alternately, if you do not know who your scheduler is, you can use this form.

How can OER support diversity and inclusion?

This is an excellent question because the focus of conversations around OER often focus on access and cost, not diversity and inclusion. When evaluating any learning material, it is fundamental to ask the question – Whose voices are missing? Is this material accessible to everyone? OER itself does not itself directly address the bigger issue of inclusive design. This is something that instructors need to acknowledge and address with any content. However, since OER are legally editable and remixable, these materials provide an opportunity to add or modify content you feel needs updating. By designing your course to reflect your student’s prior knowledge and experience, you can increase engagement and comprehension. The responsive instructor will localize content to the community context, incorporate learner content through co-creation activities into materials, adapt content in a responsive way to learner interest and backgrounds, and update content to eliminate bias. OERs allow for this.

How can OER support academic integrity?

Before addressing this question we might also think about how academic misconduct enhances inequity. For students who are likely to cheat, there are a myriad of available options for obtaining homework and exam solutions. These products that these business offer most often are based on textbook materials from big publishers. These sites charge a fee for students looking for the easy path to grades. Studies show that around 65% of students do not purchase the textbook due to cost. Any student who is financially stressed may instead choose to subscribe to one of these sites for quick homework solutions instead of purchasing the textbook. Other students who are extremely financially stressed may purchase neither the textbook or the cheating service and still do poorly. How can we beat this problem?

Open education resources are not part of the big publishing engine and so are often overlooked by these cheating services. Also, because they are licensed as open, instructors can modify the content to make it locally relevant and unique, further limiting the opportunity to search for the easy answer.

Through incorporating active learning assignments and authentic assessments instead of summative exams we can limit the infusion of ready answers. Ask open-ended questions with integrated personal experience in discussion forums. Choose these questions yourself rather than relying on the textbook to pose them. Use open education resources where possible and make the content your own.

Some publishers of OER like OpenStax are also actively working to integrate authentic assessments and activities into their textbook materials in order to help combat the trend toward academic misconduct.

How can I be recognized for OER work?

Apply for UAF Accelerator faculty development workshops such as the OER Innovation Quest and receive an award for successful completion. Submit your NoLo course to your course scheduler for display on the NoLo listing or use this form.

Who can I consult with at UAF about OER? How can I get started with OER?

The following faculty are currently serving (2021-2022) on the UAF Faculty Senate OER Ad hoc Committee:

  • Latrice Bowman, lnbowman@alaska.edu, Department of Mathematics & Statistics
  • Genova Brookes Boyd, gdbrookesboyd@alaska.edu, Library Science, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library
  • Dan Darrow, djdarrow@alaska.edu, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
  • Anja Kade, ankade@alaska.edu, Department of Biology and Wildlife
  • Scott Goddard (Chair), sdgoddard@alaska.edu, Department of Mathematics & Statistics
  • Sarah Stanley, sstanley2@alaska.edu, Department of English
  • Sandra Wildfeuer, sjwildfeuer@alaska.edu, Department of Education

Instructional designers at UAF eCampus are available for consultation to work with you on OER course design and can answer related questions.

Librarians at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library can work with you to find OER through the library system.

If you would like to learn more about OER in general and how to get started, the OER & CC Training Arena is available for self-directed study.

I teach a no-cost course. Do I still need to turn in a textbook adoption to the bookstore?

Even though you don’t have any textbooks or materials that students need to purchase, it is important to let the bookstore know that your materials are free for students. Your students will be looking at the bookstore for what they need. Including a statement like “No Store Supplied Materials/See Instructor for Details” will alert the student that they don’t need to worry about getting their textbooks from the bookstore.


Common Concerns about OER

Traditional textbooks & materials are of better quality than OER.

OER can be produced to the same quality standards as traditional textbooks & materials.

OER publishers actively work to ensure the quality of their resources. Many open textbooks are created within rigorous editorial and peer-review guidelines and many OER repositories allow faculty to review (and see others’ reviews of) the material. There is also a growing body of evidence demonstrating that OER can be both free of cost and high quality—and, more importantly, support positive student learning outcomes.

  • OpenStax—one of the most recognized open textbook publishers—created a library of peer-reviewed, professional-grade open textbooks for the highest enrollment college courses. These books are kept up to date through a centrally controlled errata process.
  • The Open Textbook Library is a growing collection of hundreds of open textbooks. Prospective users can read public reviews of the books written by faculty, which assess the text through a star rating and a ten-point rubric.
  • Merlot curates peer-reviewed online learning and support materials and content creation tools, led by an international community of educators, learners and researchers.
  • Pressbooks hosts thousands of quality textbooks from various institutions.
  • OER Commons is a public digital library of open educational resources that you can filter for education level and for meeting specific state and national standards.

Peer-reviewed academic research studies have found OER support positive student outcomes. Studies find that students who used OER tended to perform the same or better than their peers in terms of grades, course completion, and other measures of academic success.

When choosing OER or any material for your course, it is helpful to use a quality rubric such as UBC’s Faculty Guide for Evaluating Open Resources or the Open Textbook Selection Criteria from Affordable Learning Georgia.

Fischer, L., Hilton, J., Robinson, T.J. et al. A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary studentsJ Comput High Educ 27, 159–172 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x

Whether resources are open or closed, faculty are the best judges of quality because they know their students’ needs.

Partially from OER Mythbusting. Washington, DC: SPARC.

Requiring OER puts a hardship on students due to bandwidth requirements.

It depends on the type of OER you usenot all OER are digital and not all OER are of a large file size.

There will always be a balance between what students will need to download or access and what is feasible under their bandwidth limitations. Instructors increasingly expect publishers to provide ancillary materials with textbooks, including lecture slides, images, videos, and homework platforms. Sometimes these ancillary materials are bundled with the textbook and students have no option. OERs can be anything from reasonably sized PDFs for download to media-rich online textbooks. What you choose will impact your students regardless of whether it is an OER or traditional textbook.

Printable OER textbooks have an advantage for all students over traditional textbooks that they may purchase from the bookstore. OER allows for redistribution so the textbook can be downloaded by the instructor and posted in the LMS for download and printing by students – meaning that they will have their textbook in hand from the first day of class. Did you know that 65% or more of your students do not purchase the textbook for your class due to cost? Many financial aid packages do not allow students to use the funds to purchase books.

Many OER textbooks can be obtained through print-on-demand services. Typically, this is done through the institution’s bookstore. If you wish to see this service at UAF, please bring it to the attention of the bookstore and UAF administration.

Establishing expectations & offering support

There are several techniques you can use to help students in low bandwidth areas whether you use OER or not. At the start of class, survey your students to find out if they will have trouble accessing the textbook and materials due to bandwidth or cost. If the textbook you require is more than $40, see if you can find an OER alternative that would work for students. Ask whether bandwidth is an issue for your particular OER that you’ve chosen. If it is, perhaps you can send a thumb drive with the materials to those specific students.

There is little return on investment when using OER.

There are many practical reasons to use OER that lead to a return on investment for the institution and for instructors.

  • OER use can increase student recruitment to low-cost courses and programs or degree pathways.
  • Quick access to course materials at the start of class leads to greater success rates.
  • Student retention is higher in OER courses.
  • OER removes the temptation for students to download and use illegally downloaded textbooks.
  • OER allow for modifications, adding the instructor voice to the materials or edits that increase diversity and inclusion in course materials.

References & Suggested Reading

Open resources are simply free resources.

Not quite. Open means the permission to download freely, edit, remix and share materials to serve all students better.

‘Open’ goes far beyond freely available. Open resources are those that can not only be viewed but can legally be revised, updated, remixed, downloaded, and redistributed without having to ask for special permissions to do so. Students benefit from open resources because they can freely download and access them forever, unlike many traditional online textbooks. Instructors can to update and tailor material based on the context of their course or their student cohort.

Inspired by OER Mythbusting. Washington, DC: SPARC.