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MHCC works to replace pricey text books

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MT. HOOD COMMUNITY COLLEGE/BRUCE BATTLE  - Students happy with MHCCs move to Open Education Resources show off signs they took to a MHCC school board meeting to support the idea. Mt. Hood Community College is working to get its instructors to replace costly textbooks with free online learning materials to ease the financial burden on students.

These free, or very low cost, so-called Open Education Resources (OER) are gaining popularity nationwide as the price of both college and textbooks keeps rising. More students are struggling financially to get through college and are graduating with increasing amounts of debt.

“Textbooks cost way too much money,” said Heather White, MHCC’s library technical services coordinator. “MHCC is supporting student success by making college more affordable.”

OER includes textbooks, curriculum modules, streaming videos, tests, software and all sorts of other learning tools. White and some other MHCC proponents of Open Education Resources formed a committee in October and began working to familiarize MHCC educators with the materials, get them on board with the concept and begin compiling the best resources for each class so instructors can assign them.

OER does not mean randomly searching the Internet for useable curriculum.

“You have people actively creating materials just for this purpose,” said Bruce Battle, MHCC’s director of marketing.

Internet repositories of the materials are popping up. Not surprisingly, students are huge fans.

“There is a groundswell of support, especially from the Associated Student Government,” White said.

A group of students showed up with signs and special T-shirts supporting the approach when the committee briefed the college’s school board on its activities.

“Fall term, I spent $550 on 3 textbooks,” one sign read.

White said one study showed that from 2002 to 2012 the cost of textbooks nationally has risen 82 percent.

One of the pricier textbook assigned at Mt. Hood is a math book called “Functions Modeling Change” by Eric Connolly et al. That book, which covers two terms, costs $256. “Wardlaw’s Perspectives in Nutrition,” a nutrition book often assigned in the MHCC nursing program costs $209.

A few MHCC faculty members are already using Open Education Resources, and White expects more will join as they hear about the efforts and the library builds a bank of resources.

White said some of the chemistry faculty is already using an open resource textbook, which can be used for three terms of chemistry. The digital version of the book is free. If a student wants a traditional hard copy, it will cost them $55.

Some critics charge that OER materials are unreliable, because their origins may be unknown. The materials, however, are gaining increasing support, and the concept was supported by Congress in the recently approved Every Student Succeeds Act.

Oregon also supports Open Educational Resources. Last July, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 2871, which calls for hiring a OER specialist and provides support for the effort.

“All the faculty I’ve talked to think this is a great idea,” White said. “I expect this to grow significantly.”