Preliminary Guidelines on Selecting Open Education Resources

The following is my mostly unproofed ramblings on the preliminary guidelines I am placing on myself for selecting open education resources for the fall semester. Any and all input is appreciated. Thanks!


I currently use the following W.W. Norton’s intro books: You May Ask Yourself (Conley), Everyday Sociology Reader (Sternheimer), and The Blind Side (Lewis). I am very satisfied with these texts. The challenge is that I work at a college that uses a textbook rental system. This means the college buys new books every 3-4 years. Students rent the books. All sections of the same course use the same books. Textbooks are increasing in cost that the college has to absorb somehow while limiting tuition increases or textbook rental fee increases (this is a community college). Enter open education resources (OER). Due to our rental system restrictions, I see OER as giving me the ability to assign the texts I want instead of what works mostly for me but also for adjuncts. I can also drop readings that don’t work and add readings more easily. 


I was approached to pilot on OER textbook in sociology. The book I was given was not up to my standards for a textbook and does not jive with how I approach teaching Intro to Sociology. I agreed to the pilot, but on my terms. I would compile the OER materials myself instead of relying on one of the OER books alone. In this process, I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the The Introduction to Sociology Wikibook. I do not intent to assign the entire text, but am using portions of the book. It still doesn’t jive completely with my teaching, but the quality is there and I am comfortable using portions of the text.


I am supplementing with newspaper articles, magazine articles, and materials from the world wide web. The idea is that the materials are freely available. So, The New York Times only sort of works. Readers are able to read a certain number of articles for free each month, but then they hit a limit. I’ve opted to use only those newspaper and magazine articles that our library subscribes to to get around this limitation. The articles, then are not open education resources, but access is available to students.


I have even found a couple of book excerpts posted online (authorized, not from Google or Amazon’s previews) to use. A book excerpt is the perfect size for many students and if it is from a book that I have read, I can certainly fill in any blanks that were not included in the excerpt.


There are some really excellent sociology websites out there geared towards Introduction to Sociology. I am relying on The Society Pages (especially Sociological Images), The Everyday Sociology Blog, and Sociology In Focus (full disclosure–I write there). I am approaching my use of each website differently. I am limiting my selections of material from The Everyday Sociology Blog mostly to those articles that I consistently talk about in class. The Everyday Sociology Blog is the basis for the Everyday Sociology Reader, so I don’t feel that it is ethical to draw too heavily from this site without purchasing the book (though my college has already purchased this book…well it was free with the bundle). I feel that I can use a larger proportion of articles from The Society Pages because they have organized course guides on Sociological Images, for example. I am mostly using my posts from Sociology In Focus, primarily, because I am very familiar with those posts. Some of my posts are based on material I already use in class.


My goal is that no one source outside of the Wikibook makes up more than 10-15% of assigned course material. Another consideration is whether students have to be online to access the material. Once I am done with my Wikibook selections, I can convert it to a .pdf, which students then can read offline. I want them to have some material that is accessible offline–ideally 50% of assigned reading (with some for each unit). I don’t want lack of internet access to prevent students from doing the reading.


Now, on our campus students have access to computers and free printing. Students could spend a couple of hours visiting each site and printing out each article. (I remember that this was what I did as soon as I got to a computer after getting the syllabus in graduate school.) If students opt to print everything out on campus, then the college may not realize substantial savings. A more tech-savvy student might use Readability combined with Reeder for offline reading. Students, however, would not have any highlighting or notemaking ability with the Reeder app. With the textbook rental system, students already can’t highlight if they want to get their money back at the end of the semester. Giving my students the ability to mark up a text is one of the advantages of OER. 


Students in my face-to-face section will be able to rent a tablet computer for the semester so they can easily access their readings. The tablet is an Android device. I am an iPad user, so I need suggestions for apps for students to help them organize their readings, make notes, and so on using an Android device. I would suggest GoodReader, but it is not available on Android.


Once I have my preliminary list of materials pulled together, I will compute number of pages (40 pages/week as suggested by Arum and Roska), where the material comes from (proportionality–see above), and readability (as I want to strive to have materials at a range of reading levels).


Do you use OER? What works for you? What doesn’t work? I’m all ears…or I suppose, eyes.