Who Pays for Supplemental Materials?

One of the reasons faculty can be slow to switch from commercial textbooks to OER is a perceived lack of open supplemental materials like powerpoint presentations, lab books, and test banks. There are certainly some disciplines in which this is a challenge (I’ll discuss how we’re changing that below). But let’s think for a moment about what that means:

1. A faculty member reviews a collection of OER (perhaps an open textbook) and feels like the collection would be an acceptable substitute for the commercial textbook they currently require students to purchase.

2. The faculty member then begins to look for open supplemental materials like test banks and powerpoint presentations that commercial publishers provide for free to faculty whose students use their books.

3. While the faculty member found the OER acceptable in terms of a textbook replacement for students, they were unable to find an open substitute for the supplemental materials.

4. The faculty member chooses to continue to assign commercial materials to students.

What just happened? The faculty member decided to require students to pay the cost of the faculty member’s supplemental teaching materials.

Wow. The more you look, the more broken the textbook market is.

Perhaps a new business model for publishers to consider, as OER replaces commercial textbooks, is direct-to-faculty sale of supplemental materials. That would certainly be more appropriate – I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that the people deriving the value from a product should be the people paying for the product.

All of that said… this concern is increasingly unfounded – there are more and more openly licensed supplemental materials available. In fact, this is one of the most powerful collaborative practices we facilitate at Lumen Learning. Faculty at one institution will adopt OER and need open powerpoints. So we help them create these slide decks, and add these to our “open course” (which is what we call our curated / learning designed collection of OER for a discipline). Then we take that aggregation to another institution, which needs open lab manuals. We work with them to create these manuals, and then add them to the open course. &c. This “snowball development model” allows individuals and institutions to make small contributions to the open course, which gets larger and larger as it rolls downhill. And this ever-growing snowball is available to the entire community. (The snowball development model is also a great example of stigmergy in action – watch for more on this topic…)

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  • The framing of the problem you present is very convincing for me. I had not really “followed the money” in that way, but it makes sense. I do find a similar challenge with OER that do include ancillaries, but the barrier then is shifted not on lack of material resources but on time.

    What I really like about the latter half (the work lumen does) is tackling things one piece at a time. Often the wall I run into is when instructors believe they have to develop the entire course and every component and share it all under CC. Of course that is a daunting task, and IDs and other supports in higher Ed can help with that, but why not plan to roll out changes over 3-4 offerings of the course.

    Thank you for this

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