The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board launched a digital library called Open Educational Resources on Sept. 1 to provide students with free educational materials in Texas higher education institutions.
Funds for the platform were allocated by the Texas Legislature to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic with a free online collection of educational resources, including online textbooks, readings and courses from each institution.
"One of the best ways to accelerate our economic recovery is to make strategic investments in our future workforce,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press release from July. “By investing in our students and institutions, we will make our workforce and our economy even stronger."
Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education librarian, said UT will start to promote and integrate the platform this week to faculty. Instructors can choose to use the free materials from the platform as an additional resource or an alternative to textbooks.
“Professors are really reflecting on the financial struggles that a lot of our students are going through and have always gone through,” Morrison said. “In the midst of a pandemic … there's a lot of empathy and attention around that, so I’m pretty hopeful that right now is a good moment for a lot of professors to be considering that type of transition.”
Professors are able to look through the resource and find free books and publications to provide to their students instead of having students purchase expensive textbooks, Morrison said. UT libraries will begin notifying campus community members about the resource this week if they have signed up for an open resources workshop or signed up to receive emails, Morrison said.
Harrison Keller, the Texas commissioner of higher education, said Texas legislators and Abbott committed an additional $10 million of CARES Act funds to higher education to improve the quality of online teaching and learning.
“Institutions that haven't been that heavily engaged in digital learning and online education suddenly found themselves thrust into the middle of it (during the pandemic),” Keller said. “This ends up being an important platform for strengthening collaboration among faculty, supporting faculty-led innovation and how education is delivered.”
Keller said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has been working with higher education institutions in Texas to create curated collections and collaborate with other universities’ libraries to expand the platform.
Morrison said most of the materials currently in the UT-Austin collection on Open Educational Resources come from the UT Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning, which has been partnering with faculty to develop digital resources.
“We hope to see (digital materials developed) increasingly in other departments on campus,” Morrison said. “Language (departments) certainly have a lot of really good resources because they've been dedicated to this for a long time.”
Keller said the education board is rewarding grants to proposals to help boost the website’s development. So far, Keller said the platform has been helping in the innovation of new ways of learning and in assisting students financially.
“Open educational resources are a terrific way to reduce costs for students,” Keller said. “It can make a considerable difference for individual students, especially in some of those frequently taken and transferred general education courses.”