Undergraduate costs are on the rise and student loan debt is a huge issue impacting today’s society. How can we, as higher education professionals, help limit the costs for students while also ensuring and promoting their success? This week we welcome Sandy King, Professor of Communications with the Anne Arundel Community College to discuss her suggested solution: Open Educational Resources (OERs). Sandy gives us some background information on OERs and also explains her personal experiences with incorporating OER into her teaching. The resources she provides on OER are outstanding, and I was so excited to hear about the gaming elements she had included in her course!

Thank you Sandy for this educational and inspirational post!


In June of 2014, I attended Maryland OER (Open Educational Resources) Day, and I heard some statistics that has changed the way I teach. In their presentation, Una Daley and James Glapa-Grossklag shared the following:

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, undergraduate costs rose 42% at public institutions between 2001 and 2011.
  • In 2013, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in Forbes, federal student loan debt was $1 trillion, with the average student loan upon graduation $25,000.
  • College textbook prices have risen 812% since 1978, and according to the Center of the Public Interest Research, 65% of students have sometimes chosen not to buy the textbook, even though 94% of students believe it will affect their grade.

Lowering Student Costs Through OERs

Although these statistics are sobering, there is a solution: OERs.

The U.S Department of Education defines OERs as:

“teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others.”  

OERs include full textbooks, course materials, modules/lessons, videos, images, animations, teaching objects, tests, software, and other ancillaries used for instruction. OERs are digital, which makes them easy to use in eLearning courses. They are available to redistribute and reuse, and most often, can be revised or remixed. A key appeal of OERs is they are usually free or available at very low cost.

For further research, please visit the following:

The Community College Consortium for Open Resources: http://oerconsortium.org/ 

The Community College Consortium for Open Resources Finding Resources Page: http://oerconsortium.org/find-oer/ 

The Open Education Consortium: http://www.oeconsortium.org/ 

MIT Open CourseWare:  https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/

Tufts Open CourseWare: http://ocw.tufts.edu/

Saylor Academy: http://www.saylor.org/ 

Open Stax: https://openstax.org/

My Personal OER Journey

While some faculty simply switch from a publisher textbook to an open text, I chose to build my intercultural communication from scratch using OERs, so that all the material for the course was found in the LMS, Canvas. This gave us some powerful advantages:

  • The cost of the text went from $160 to 0.
  • Available Sooner. Moreover, all of the students have the course materials from the first day. No one is waiting to purchase the text, waiting for a text purchased online to arrive, using the wrong edition of the text, or has misplaced or lost the text.
  • It enabled me to present the content in a more engaging way as well, which was helpful to both the native speakers in the course and students in the course for whom English may be the second, third, or even fourth language. Instead of over 400 pages of text, I was able to present the same concepts with much less text by using video, charts, interactive elements, animations, and links to engaging content presented on websites by authoritative sources, such as the Hofstede Center and the University of Pittsburgh website on Folklore and Mythology. Through video, my intercultural students can visit other cultures and meet their people, such as the following on stereotypes of African men: https://www.facebook.com/filmsforaction/videos/10153063886365983/
  • Creating the course this way also permitted me to make all of the content housed in Canvas accessible. The hard copy of the text I was using was inaccessible to students with vision impairments, and the electronic copy of the text wasn’t formatted for a screenreader, giving students who might need this accommodation no clear option.

And I Added Gaming and Badging

It also gave me the opportunity to theme each module so that I could incorporate some gaming elements, such as badges, to my course. Three of the badges – the Cultural Iceberg, the Dia de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead” Project, and Nonverbal Communication – are shown below.

badge showing an iceberg with the words "visable culture" at the top of the iceberg, "unseen culture" under water, with a larger portion of the iceberg, and "deep culture" far under water.A badge showing an individual wearing traditional day of the dead garb such as flowers and the sugar skull maskbadge showing a women wearing a headscarf or hijab and a bindi with her palms together, smiling toward camera.

Students earn a badge by receiving a 90% score or higher on an assignment, and a badge is available in every module of the course, so there are many opportunities for success. Badges are psychic or intrinsic rewards, which rely on the pure joy and satisfaction of achieving a goal, rather than basing motivation solely on the extrinsic reward, achievement for a grade.

With a Storyline

Additionally, using OERs allowed me to add a storyline to the course.  In each module, students assist Francisco, a recent immigrant to the U.S., to acclimate to a new culture. The students provide Francisco with advice and help as he makes his intercultural journey. By helping Francisco gain the knowledge and skills to be interculturally competent, students demonstrate that they, too, have learned the required knowledge and skills.

OER is Liberating

Incorporating OERs has been liberating for me. Now that I’m no longer dependent on publisher content, I can keep the course up-to-date and easily make revisions as needed.  As more open resources become available, my intercultural course will continue to improve.

Sandy King headshot


Sandy King
Professor of Communications
Anne Arundel Community College




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