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Students use the familiar bookstore purchasing process to pay for printed materials, platform or other support fees associated with reliable, effective OER.

Note: Asterisk denotes this is a proven, high-impact play.

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While open educational resources are freely available, there may be justifiable costs associated with services and technologies that make OER reliable and effective for faculty and students. When this is the case, your campus store can be an easy-to-implement path for funding ongoing use of OER.

Use these considerations to determine if the bookstore funding model is a good fit for your campus.

  1. Determine which OER course materials your faculty members want to adopt, and whether they carry added costs.

As faculty members identify OER course materials to adopt, you should confirm whether they carry an added, justifiable cost, versus whether they are completely free to students and faculty. Consider not only the cost of a textbook, but also any supplementary tools instructors plan to adopt to make the learning experience with OER more effective.

For example, virtually all math teachers who adopt free OER textbooks also require students to use an online homework system for machine-graded assessments and immediate feedback. Professionally-supported online homework systems generally carry at least a nominal cost to students.

Work with faculty members to identify the resources their students need and tally the cost to students.

  1. Confirm there is an option to go through the campus bookstore to pay for OER courseware / services / support.

The campus bookstore is a well-established way for students to pay for course materials. When your faculty members plan to use OER course materials that carry an added cost, you should confirm whether the providers offer payment options through the bookstore (typically in the form of printed textbooks, access codes, or a similar mechanism).   

A huge advantage of bookstore payment is that it collects any added cost for OER course materials directly from students, so you don’t have to find other pockets of funding to cover these costs. Also, students may use financial aid dollars to purchase course materials through the bookstore.

  1. Identify what markup your bookstore will add to the cost of the OER course materials, if any.

Before you finalize any payment terms, be sure to discuss the markup or administrative fee your campus bookstore will add to the cost of OER. We have seen this range widely, from 0% to 40% or more. Often the markup is based on existing contract terms with the campus store operator so there may be no room to negotiate.

In any case, understanding the markup will give you a complete picture about what’s happening with textbook affordability and your OER initiative. For example, an OER option that finds students paying $40 for online homework access and $50 for a printed textbook starts to look very similar to the cost of traditional course materials. In this situation, both faculty and students may start to wonder what value OER actually provides, and this sentiment can undermine the success of your OER initiative. On the other hand, students are delighted when they can pay $25 for an OER option instead of $150 for traditional publisher’s textbook-plus-access-code package.

  1. Confirm the OER course materials offer clear value to students.

Students are usually comfortable paying for course materials through the bookstore when the materials are reasonably-priced and when they offer clear value to strengthen learning.

In Lumen’s work with students, we find they are most interested in affordable, effective course materials, rather than demanding zero cost. Students typically have little concern about paying for low-cost (e.g. $40 or less) course materials when these resources offer clear value supporting the learning process.

Students may see value in a variety of ways:

  • Is the content up-to-date, high quality and error-free?
  • Can they retain their own copy of the content after the course ends?
  • Are there interactive learning tools to help them master the content?
  • Are the course materials convenient and easy to access?
  • Are students well-supported throughout the learning process? Etc.  

When we ask students to shoulder external costs associated with OER through the bookstore or other funding mechanisms, we have a responsibility to make sure their investment in these course materials is both affordable and worthwhile.

  1. Recognize some students may choose not to purchase course materials.

Even though bookstore payment is convenient and familiar and value-adding OER options may be affordable, some students may choose not to pay. This can lead to the same problems we encounter with traditional course materials: when students don’t have access to complete learning content, their academic performance usually suffers.

Discuss this eventuality with your OER provider to see what options are available to remedy this situation. For example, Lumen uses a model that provides students with complete access to instructional content at no cost throughout the term. Students are cued to enter an activation code to retain access to machine-graded assessments for the duration of the term. This creative approach encourages more students to comply because it asks students to pay a nominal cost for learning tools that add clear value on top of the freely-available OER.  

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