Fort Hays State seeks to expand free educational resource offerings

What "open educational resources" means is free or vastly reduced costs for classroom materials, including notoriously expensive college textbooks. Fort Hays State University began seriously looking into "OER" in 2012.

The program really began in earnest this year and, over the summer and fall, students in seven classes at FHSU saved $77,947 on textbooks, said Dennis King, director of the Virtual College and learning technologies.

"Our goal is to maintain or increase quality while reducing cost," said King. "That's our mission."

King said that by fall 2015 those savings could be more than $300,000.

"It's exciting," he said. "There's a lot going on."

One thing that is going on is FHSU OER Day Tuesday, Nov. 11, in the Memorial Union's Black and Gold Room. Nine faculty members and staff people involved in the university's institutional push to find ways to cut the costs of higher education will make presentations on different aspects of open resources.

The event is a come-and-go affair for faculty, intended to open them up to the value of OER and to give them information on how to do it. It will last from 11 a.m., when interim Provost Chris Crawford, an enthusiastic promoter of OER, will give a welcome, to about 2:30.

The full schedule is available through the FHSU OER Day-November 11th link on the Web page at All presentations will be videoed and made available in on the OER website.

Topics and presenters include Dr. Robert Channell on his experience with OER as a professor of biological sciences. Dr. Gavin Buffington, professor of physics and chair of the department, will present "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- Tales from an Early Adopter."

Another presentation, this one in the afternoon, will address a topic in good, bad and ugly terms: Drs. Justin Greenleaf and Brent Goertzen on using student teams to create OERs. King highlighted one 800-level leadership studies class that produced chapters for an OER text for 300-level undergraduate students.

The afternoon will also include Maslyn Phoenix, open education librarian at Forsyth Library, and Seung Gutsch, pronounced "sing gooch" (the oo sound rhymes with "due"), instructional designer for the Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Technologies, will talk about "Finding, Creating, Implementing OERs."

King will open the afternoon round with a presentation on a "New Launch of OER Mini-Grants." The initial rounds of grants were issued so far to encourage faculty members to engage in the hard work necessary to either create open-resource classes or reconfigure existing classes for open resource methods.

The first round of grants totaled $18,000, said King, and the second round, about to be launched, is $35,000. This round, he said, is intended to encourage early adopters to keep innovating and to generate new developers who will be able to learn from and expand on the lessons of the last year. King emphasized the cost-effectiveness of the grants by noting that the $77,000 in textbook savings in seven classes over the summer and fall of this year resulted from about $5,000 in grants.

Classes using open resources have also increased dramatically since the first in the fall 2013 semester. That class was the only one that semester. Spring 2014 saw five open resource classes, but this fall's class offerings had 143 OER courses.

The university has made a commitment to exploring OER as a way to meet its mission of offering quality education at affordable prices, said King.

In an email encouraging faculty to attend as many of the sessions as possible, Provost Crawford noted that research has shown that one of the main reasons students leave before earning a degree is the expense.

"No news," said Crawford. "Our students often work 20-plus hours per week. Whatever we can do to help control the cost of resources helps our students stay in school and miss fewer classes due to work-related conflicts and fatigue."

He also promised that funding for the mini-grants will be available. "If Dennis runs out of money, I'll find a way to get more funds to support OER adoption."

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