OER and the College Bookstore: A Librarian’s Observations

By Elizabeth Horan, Coastline College

I took on the role of Open Educational Resources (OER) Coordinator for Fall 2020 through Spring 2022. I am the second person to take on this role at Coastline College. The first coordinator, an English Professor, did a great job of getting faculty to adopt OERs for their courses at Coastline. This foundation was invaluable because when I stepped into the role there were a lot of things changing at Coastline far beyond the disruptions created by the pandemic.

In 2019 Coastline had made the choice to move to an online-only bookstore. As a college that consistently offered at least 80% of its courses “at a distance” even before the pandemic, this move made sense. When the bookstore was still on-site, Coastline had a partnership with Barnes & Noble. To transition to an online-only bookstore, the college expanded its partnership with MBSdirect, which was the bookstore the college had used for military programs and students for many years.  Early on in the transition, I was asked to attend meetings with MBSdirect after sharing my concerns with the Vice President of Instruction that bookstore information was confusing to students when the required textbook for a course was an OER. For example, if faculty who assigned OER textbooks did not put any information in the bookstore website, an error message would appear when a student searched for a class textbook. Or faculty would choose the option “No textbook required” when in fact there was a textbook required, but it was an OER text that they planned to link to from their Canvas shell. A final example is when the faculty member made the OER textbook “required,” but it looked like the student needed to purchase the print textbook for the class even though they were going to be able to use the OER online for free. Working with the Vice President of Instruction, his office, and MBSdirect staff, I led the effort to enable faculty to put messages on the bookstore website that were tailored to their courses, directing students to the URL for their free textbook before class started. Now faculty have the option to include different messages to students when they enter information for the bookstore. As the OER Coordinator these are the ones I recommend to faculty:

OPTION A: Materials provided by school

  • This course will use a FREE textbook available online: [Enter textbook name and URL]

OPTION B: Material available in Canvas

  • All course reading material is FREE and embedded in the Canvas course.
  • All course material is FREE and provided in the form of online videos/articles in Canvas.
  • Students will be utilizing a free, online textbook. Instructions on how to download the textbook will be provided during the first day of class.

Faculty can select Option A or B when communicating their textbook adoption information to the bookstore and the bullet points are some suggestions for additional text to provide to their students. This increased clarity represents a big win for students. It lets them see their textbooks before the first day of class and lets faculty explain about resources being used in the class directly on the bookstore website where students normally get their textbook information. Spring 2021 was the first rollout of these options, and about 70% of faculty who assign OER used one of the options provided. I think some faculty did not use the options this semester because they were not shared widely with faculty until well after the textbook adoption deadline. Moving forward we expect to have almost 100% adoption of the tailored, course-specific OER messages./p>

As a Librarian / OER Coordinator I wanted to share this win with my colleagues around the state. In speaking with some of you I have learned the bookstores you work with are not always open to providing links to outside sources. Because Coastline was working with a new bookstore and a new bookstore contract, we were able to emphasize the importance of improving the functionality of OER access on the bookstore website. The staff at MBSdirect were open to helping us find a way to make this work. Gaining the support of the Vice President of Instruction by showing him the impact on students and being asked to sit at the table during discussions with MBSdirect were the first steps in creating a bookstore experience that is much more user-friendly to students and faculty.