Helping educators determine the quality of open educational resources

Open vs. traditional textbooks

Open educational resources (OER) can save students hundreds of dollars, but are they equal in quality to high priced textbooks from traditional publishers? If a book is free, will it have undergone to the same academic or editorial review as a high priced textbook? Increasingly, the answer is yes. There are many new resources and tools designed to help faculty find high quality, peer reviewed OER.

Do you get what you pay for?

One question to consider: Do traditional textbook publishers truly produce a superior product? Publishers argue that high textbook prices are necessary to cover their costs for peer review, editorial development, and top quality production values.  However, new editions frequently come out with even higher prices but with very little new content to justify the higher cost.  Traditional publishers are driven by the bottom line and many new editions are produced simply in order to generate sales.  Instead of buying a used copy at a substantial discount, a student buys the “new” edition at full price and the publisher reaps the profit.

OER alternatives

Open Educational Resources can be a great alternative to high priced textbooks.  Read this CNN article for a great overview of new developments and how free resources really can work in the classroom.  But do free resources really meet the same quality standards as traditional textbooks? Yes! Many of them are peer reviewed and carefully developed by educators. The OER Commons includes a new tool which allows educators to rate the quality of OER with seven rubrics.  Check out this video  for a tour of the tool and the rubrics.

MERLOT II includes over 4,000 in-depth peer reviews and allows users to search for materials with peer reviews, editor reviews, and user ratings.  Other sites such as College Open Textbooks include lists of peer reviews divided by subject area.

Where to find peer reviewed OERs

Open Textbook Library at UMN

There are an overwhelming amount of open textbooks and other OER available for professors to use as-is or remix to fit the needs of their specific course. Happily, the University of Minnesota has created the Open Textbook Library, a searchable collection that include extensive reviews that help faculty determine which is the best book for their class. Want to help? Contact UMN to become a reviewer yourself.

Research Skills and Information Literacy Textbook

Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through the Information Fog (2011), is a research skills and information literacy textbook written by William Badke, Associate Librarian at Trinity Western University and information literacy expert. Library faculty at City Tech use it as the sole textbook for the course LIB1201: Research and Documentation for the Information Age. (We supplement the book with readings from news and popular media as well as scholarly articles.)

The book is terrific: it’s written in accessible language for all levels of undergraduate students and includes both practical, skills-based instruction as well as discussion of the nuanced, critical thinking components of information production and use.

The print version of the book can be found for less than $20, and the ebook version (in PDF) for as little as $10; both can be purchased from Badke’s website. Badke also keeps an abridged version on his website that may be of use to those who don’t need the entire book: http://acts.twu.ca/library/textbook.htm