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OER: Students Take Action

State and national studies indicate that the high cost of course materials negatively influences students’ decisions about their education. Research shows that these costs impact the number of courses students take, their choice of a major, their decisions to drop/withdraw, and even whether they purchase the required materials for a course they are taking.   

Responding to the results of the 2019 Tennessee Community College Student Course Materials Survey, Elizabeth Spica, Principal Researcher partnering with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Postsecondary Education Research Center, cautions:   

“…simply enrolling students is not enough. We not only want students to enroll, but also to succeed and earn the degrees and credentials that will help them be more successful in life. The negative points of impact evident in this research report indicate we have more work to do.”    

The report indicates that in fall 2019, required course materials cost community college students an average of $119.18 per course. The course material costs for students enrolled at UTK are typically even higher. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) reports that, across the board, “Tennessee students enrolled in public institutions spent an average of $1,400 on course materials in the 2018-2019 academic year.”  

One action that the UT Student Government Association (SGA) has taken to counter high course material costs is to pass legislation that promotes the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and course material cost transparency:   

  • January, 2017 – SGA legislation passed on the Equal Opportunity Textbook Act, calling for the University to establish “an official award that recognizes faculty for the best use and/or creation of open education resources.”  
  • May, 2020 – SGA legislation passed on A Bill to Create an OER Designation for Classes in Banner.  

The Hewlett Foundation defines OER as “high-quality teaching, learning, and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose.” Here’s what students have to say about the positive impact of faculty adoption of open texts and other OER:  

The OER proved to be a valuable resource this semester and was very useful for studying and homework. It also helped me financially since other options for a textbook would likely be ~$200.  

I think it improves the class experience because it allows everyone to have access to the exact same textbook instead of the usual case, where some people can afford the textbook and others cannot. It really levels the playing field, which is refreshing.  

The use of the open textbook created a wide range of options for students ranging from PDF e-book and Kindle e-book to a cheap print version for students who preferred that format.  

I was so thankful for the opportunity to have the text open access, because it made it easier to access and study anywhere as well as saving money…. I studied more, I did better. I could read my book anywhere. I vote all professors offer this. It makes everything so much easier.  

Open Educational Resources are unique in that their licenses allow for modification, remixing, and sharing. These permissions, which differ from the restrictive licenses of traditionally copyrighted materials, give faculty freedom to structure course assignments and projects that allow students to create and share new products. Supported by proactive faculty, some students are even using OER to complete course assignments and participating in course projects to create OER. Faculty looking to explore more about these teaching and learning practices can support students in these efforts by:  

For more information on related SGA legislation, contact the current Student Body representatives, or the UTK office of the Dean of Students/Division of Student Life.