I love reading the New Media Consortium’s annual Horizon Report. Without fail, it brings out the geek in me—the person who adores sci-fi and imagines a day when Earth-based colleges and universities offer holographic courses to a booming population of students on Mars. I also imagine droves of arts and humanities majors because the people of Mars have grown more than a little technology weary. Now that they’ve engineered ways to live safely and comfortably on the planet, they’re looking for ways to live meaningfully on the planet.
A long view keeps me optimistic about higher education, and that’s why the Horizon Report is one of the few technical reports I can always read cover to cover.
While NMC contributors aren’t exactly plotting out ways to teach on Mars, they are future-thinking and over the years many of their predictions have come to pass. This year’s trend designations seem more plausible than ever because I can see (to varying degrees) the evidence all around me. In fact, a quick glance at the 2015 Report’s summary infographic may feel a bit anti-climactic to some faculty members who have been on the cutting edge so long the party’s gotten a bit dull.
One of the trends I’m most interested in is a “mid-term” trend called the “Proliferation of Open Education Resources” (Horizon Report 14). The characterization of OERs as “proliferating” is apt because the growth has been largely uneven and disorganized. For example, I’ve been using OERs in my teaching since 1996. Back then, I was three years in to my first full-time teaching position when the World Wide Web and websites like Project Gutenberg made it possible to distribute literary works out of copyright. Since I was lucky enough to teach courses in 19th-century British and American literatures, I have passed on significant savings to my students going on two decades. Back then, the cost of most Norton anthologies hovered around $40, and the Riverside Shakespeare was approaching $80. No academic administrator asked me to cut students a break. It just made good sense. I was still paying off my student loans at the time and was well aware the students I taught were carrying more than double my debt—and at higher interest rates. And those were “the good old days” before the Dot-Com Bust and the Great Recession!
Of course, I recognize not all disciplines have been quite as fortunate as mine. Disciplines that count heavily on the most recent studies and reports to educate students are generally the disciplines with the highest cost periodicals, books, and textbooks—the sciences, engineering and technology, legal studies, and business. The good news is that times are changing; the OER movement is increasingly more organized and better funded, and more inclined to mitigate the cost of texts in these disciplines as well as many others.
The OpenStax Project alone is developing free, openly licensed (CC BY), peer-reviewed textbooks in physics, biology, anatomy, physiology, algebra, trigonometry, U.S. history, economics, and statistics. Canada’s BCcampus Project is also a marvel. British Columbians are on track to publish 40 of the “most highly enrolled first and second year subject areas” in the next year. Let me tell you, the occasional English professor in me is very happy to see a faculty-reviewed textbook called English Literature: Victorians and Moderns. A collection of the public domain texts I’ve been hyperlinking into my students’ hearts since 1996 are now in a handy compilation deliverable in every format under the sun (HTML to ePub to PDF) and available for users to adopt and adapt as they see fit.
Now that personal e-reading devices are less expensive than most textbooks, the Library Learning Commons (LLC) is taking a page from this year’s Horizon Report and doing our part to help accelerate and to support OER proliferation at CSC. If you are a faculty member interested in reducing the cost of an education for your students, we are interested in helping you. We recommend that you start with our Alternative Textbook Search Request form, now online via the LLC Website (in the Services for Faculty section). This form makes it possible for LLC librarians to conduct a search that will generate tailored solutions.
If your interest in OER extends beyond the textbook and its typical use—to textbook adaptation, course integration, online publishing, new media, and open-source applications—don’t hesitate to let us know. If there is sufficient interest, the LLC will plan to offer workshops and seminars in these areas fall semester.