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Open Educational Resources as Financial Literacy: A First-Year Seminar Presentation

February 8, 2022

In Fall 2021, Penn State Harrisburg’s Student Government Association (SGA) reached out to our library director with questions regarding textbooks and available library resources. After a quick back and forth it became clear that our local SGA had a goal of saving student’s money on the high cost of course textbooks. At my campus, this is a common concern, which has only increased over the course of this pandemic. At the time, myself and my librarian colleagues did not have enough time to prepare a broad presentation to offer to students, so we made do with a brief Library Guide which included a list of available textbooks on course reserve in our library, along with a few links to Open Educational Resources (OER). The library guide that includes this information is, rather conveniently, our library’s PA Forward guide.

At Penn State Harrisburg, campus departments are encouraged to develop and offer first year seminar sessions on a variety of topics. In the past, I have presented on science literacy and science information literacy but because the increasing cost of textbooks has been on SGA’s radar – this spring, I opted to develop a new presentation. To fulfill one of PA Forward’s literacy initiatives, I decided to create a presentation all about OERs and outline how students can save money on textbooks by utilizing OERs as supplemental texts. I titled the presentation, “Save Money on Textbooks with Open Educational Resources” and offered it in Spring 2022. If you’re interested in learning more, continue reading below!

Penn State Harrisburg’s First Year Seminar program is run by our campus learning center and presenters must first submit a proposal. Each proposal is reviewed and accepted accordingly and included in the proposal is a list of learning outcomes. For this session, I proposed three:

  1. Identify and summarize the basics of open educational resources (OER) and how they can benefit you,
  2. Demonstrate how to locate OER for your academic discipline(s), and
  3. Analyze and/or integrate OER to enhance personal study skills.

During the 60-minute presentation, I first outlined the “basics” of OER: what they are and why they’re important. Attendees and I briefly viewed relevant news articles about the increasing cost of college textbooks, publishers’ move to an “inclusive access” textbook model, and professors who are concerned about the cost of textbooks who are also wary of free alternatives. We reviewed national survey results about the high number of college students who decided not to purchase required textbooks due to the cost and how, sometimes, their grades were negatively affected by this decision.

Then I began showcasing specific OER repositories such as: ROAM (Penn State’s Repository for Open and Affordable Materials), OpenStax, Open Textbook Library, OASIS, and MERLOT. After a very brief review of each repository, I instructed the students to complete an activity where they would search one of these repositories for OERs that interested them, select one OER, and briefly – but thoughtfully – evaluate it. With the remaining time, the students shared what they found with the rest of us, and I ended my presentation with a short plea to the students. My librarian colleagues and I routinely encourage the faculty members on our campus to include OER in the curriculum, we help them locate relevant OER, and we assist in the adoption and/or creation of OER – I urged the students to advocate for OER themselves. More students reaching out to faculty members asking about using OER in the classroom, could lead more faculty adopting open and affordable course materials.

This was my first time presenting on a financial-related topic and though this presentation is not our usual financial literacy programming for our library, the students shared positive feedback after the session, and I intend to offer a similar session again in the future. If you are interested in offering a similar session at your library, my presentation is openly available in Penn State’s institutional repository here.

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