OER and Access

Much of the buzz around Open Educational Resources (OER) has been driven by the very legitimate goal of lowering educational costs – particularly, the increasing price of textbooks from traditional publishers. Financial considerations are a defining aspect of the student educational experience, and OER has helped to mediate these issues by offering a free, zero-cost option.

“nothing” by Katy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On the flip side, however, there are ways in which OER presents new challenges, especially for students with limited access to technology. Although the principles of OER theoretically extend to all forms of media (a printed course packet is equally “open” if it is openly-licensed and free of charge), OER are typically presented via online platforms or course sites. This does guarantee that any student has immediate, 24/7 access to the material from all devices (mobile phone, laptop, desktop computer, tablet).

At the same time, many students are primarily dependent on their mobile phones for internet access, and thereby restricted to viewing course materials on a tiny screen. In their 2014 study, “Commuter Students Using Technology,” co-authors Smale and Regalado¬†found that for some CUNY undergraduates, the availability of campus computers/technology was¬†“a critical factor in their daily college experience.” Many spoke of sharing computers with other family members, and relying upon their mobile phones for a way to compose written class assignments (as opposed to a more traditional word processing program on a laptop or desktop computer).

These considerations are something to keep in mind while building OER course sites: is the site responsive to viewing from mobile devices? Are there ways to improve site readability, with tweaks to its structure, attribution practices, and descriptive hyperlinks? At the same time, we might also open ourselves to larger questions of how and why educational materials are provided to students, and in what contexts the word “access” is used.

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