Open Educational Resources

“The best things in life are free. The second best things are very, very expensive.”

 ― Coco Chanel

I spent some time this week looking for just the right (write?) quote. While I’d known this quote for some time, I actually knew very little about Ms Chanel other than her status in the fashion world. I have recently started researching the people behind the quotes I choose a bit more cautiously. To be honest, I was rather shocked by what I learned. None-the-less, I stand by the quote itself, although I’d like to simply apply it to textbooks.

About two years ago, our VC/UHV Library approached the VC Mathematics department with a challenge: “Could you adopt open source textbooks?” Our answer was that, yes, we thought we could. It has now been two years since I’ve started teaching statistics with an open source text, and this is the second term that college algebra is being taught in the same fashion. In no particular order, let me tell you what I’ve learned about Open Education Resources (OER).

First let me tell you some outright myths that I had about open resources.

  • You get what you pay.
  • Free books don’t ever look pretty.
  • It won’t actually save much money.
  • There won’t be resources for your students.

Let me tell you some hard-earned truths about open resources:

  • Psychology tells us humans believe price is an estimator of quality. Look at wine.
  • OERs actually can look pretty.
  • Our savings per student was around $100; a bit less if they choose to print a copy.
  • There actually are resources.

Final thoughts:

OERs are not for everybody. In mathematics, we’ve used openstax college which is supported by Rice University and the Gates Foundation. Our students have textbooks, student study/solution guides, and their list of titles has doubled since we first started using them for statistics and now college algebra.

OERs do tend to take a bit more work. Especially early editions tend to have some typos, so it can be a labour of love. The nice thing about edition updates is that rarely do page numbers change, typos are simply fixed and the PDF updated. I’ve taken to using the Snipping Tool quite a bit when I build worksheets; one of my recent soapboxes is that learning to read a textbook is very important. I try to break that process down so my students can master that skill.

It is a bit more work on the start-up phase, but it feels like less work now. I’m able to modify and reuse content, as I wish to give my students an environment where they too are free to explore. This term, all our students have saved about $38,000 (and I’m looking forward to hitting my own personal $20,000 in student savings). Exams haven’t changed, our class goals are stable, and our students are learning mathematics well. Even better, we can get our students into the content as soon as they register for class at no extra cost. I was surprised (perhaps I’m jaded) by how many students actually respond to my before-term email with not only thanks but sometimes with questions!

Have you considered using an open textbook? Have questions you’d like to ask? Post them in the comments field below, and I’ll do my best to either answer personally or get you in touch with the librarians who know more.



Matt Wiley is a tenured, associate professor of mathematics with awards in both mathematics education and honour student engagement. He earned an assortment of degrees in computer science, business, and pure mathematics from the University of California and Texas A&M systems. He is the director of quality enhancement at Victoria College, assisting in the development and implementation of a comprehensive assessment program to enhance institutional performance outcomes. A programmer, a published author, a mathematician, and a transformational leader, Matt has always melded his passion for writing with his joy of logical problem solving and data science. From the boardroom to the classroom, he enjoys finding dynamic ways to partner with interdisciplinary and diverse teams to make complex ideas and projects understandable and solvable.

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