C. Edward Watson is Associate VP at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Formerly director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Georgia, he worked on a successful program focused on adopting open educational resources (OER) throughout the institution.

Watson recently joined us for an in-depth webinar that also covered active learning and course design. Based on his experience working with faculty at the University of Georgia, here are three of Watson’s tips on how to pave the way for OER adoption by faculty.

  1. Start with the low-hanging fruit
  2. Most OERs, of course, are tailored towards general education. OpenStax specializes in non-specialized textbooks that are most often used in first-year courses, and introductory
    chemistry, biology and statistics books are among the most popular textbooks on Top Hat’s Marketplace.

    As director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), Watson relied on personal, one-on-one networking methods to win over professors, but his first port of call was the shelves at the campus bookstore. “We walked around and looked at the costs of books, and most of them were general education courses that had large enrolments.

    “Using food as a leverage point, I often would invite a faculty member out to lunch and say, ‘Hey. I have an idea for you. Can I buy you lunch?’ We would go to lunch and then I would share the student debt narrative, which they are already familiar with. Then I’d share the textbook costs challenges, which they were also already familiar with.”

    Watson would then offer the professor help from the CTL to make the transition from their current, highly-priced textbook to the free textbook.

  3. Ancillary materials matter
  4. In Watson’s experience, when professors adopt free textbooks they often find that associated content such as question packs and presentations don’t come bundled with it. He believes that if OER textbooks are widely adopted, the market will meet professors’ needs.

    “A lot of faculty have become accustomed to the suite of things that are wrapped around a textbook in terms of course materials,” he said. “At the big five publishers, you don’t just get the textbook, there are often Powerpoint slide decks or access to quizzing tools or simulations that you get online. The textbook is maybe just 30 percent of the instructional pieces that are there.

    We’re seeing more and more projects come about that are looking to fill in some of that void, to provide those ancillary materials around these free textbooks. And I think that’s a real opportunity for for-profits to enter into this space—to look at adopting and embracing some of the OER textbooks, and to build those materials around the textbooks.”

    Even if students are required to pay for associated materials, they still end up ahead financially, Watson explains—a package of textbook and ancillary materials originally priced at $475 could be reduced to $45 if the textbook is free. (You can read more about the issues with packages, and other ways of reducing textbook costs, in this post.)

  5. Switching to OER pays off for students cumulatively

When you’ve converted a faculty member to using OER over the long-term, the savings can easily add up for students.

“As a CTL you only have so many initiatives that you can pick up, carry and run with,” Watson explains. “We just did the math. If we had one faculty member who, maybe had 2,000 students a year and, if we could switch from a $100 textbook to a free textbook, just that one faculty member would then represent $200,000 a year.

We then realized that, if we can help someone use a free textbook, if they just switched back the next semester, we don’t have to do any additional work or effort and the savings continue to multiply. For one faculty member saving $100,000 the first year, over three years it would be $300,000. Over five years with one faculty member is half a million dollars of savings, collectively, for that group of students.”

Interested in driving the adoption of Open Educational Resources? Find out more about how Top Hat partners with institutions.

Learn more


Quin Parker

Quin Parker

Quin Parker is a Toronto-based digital editor and writer, and is Content Marketing Manager at Top Hat.