With textbooks and other required course materials proven to be costly, UCF faculty, staff and students have come up with creative, yet practical, solutions through the creation of Open Educational Resources (OER), which include free teaching, learning and research materials.

“There has always been a need for open educational resources in higher education,” says Nicole Lapeyrouse, a UCF chemistry professor and 2023 Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) High Impact Award winner. “By adopting or creating OER, you are able to further support students by making your courses more affordable and helping reduce the financial burden on students.”

Isabella Griffin, a student in Lapeyrouse’s Chemistry Fundamentals I course, confirms those benefits.

“The free textbook has helped ease the financial burden associated with being a college student.,” she says. “Sometimes, high prices prevent students from having textbook access — to the detriment of student learning. I greatly appreciate the free and open access to [the Chemistry Fundamentals eBook]. It has increased my ability to access relevant and useful resources related to class.”

“From my own personal experience with not always having access to affordable resources,” says Lapeyrouse, “I wanted to prevent students from having to make a tough call on [whether to] buy the required resources or pay a bill.”

According to the 2022 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey conducted by Florida Virtual Campus (FLVC), 53% of students from Florida’s public higher education institutions indicated they did not purchase a required textbook for financial reasons. Forty-four percent took fewer courses. Thirty-eight percent did not register for a specific course. And 24% dropped a course due to the high cost of textbooks.

During the Fall 2022 semester, at least 61 UCF faculty members provided their required course materials at no cost to students through the use of OER. These efforts resulted in an estimated combined savings of $1,439,063.64 for 12,306 students enrolled in 99 course sections across four colleges and 12 departments. Since the Fall 2020 semester, roughly 18% of UCF students took a course offering OER — a 9% increase.

“We are grateful to our faculty who go the extra distance to make student course materials affordable,” says Michael D. Johnson, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “The success of our students is paramount, and these efforts are being felt university-wide.”

The growth of OER across UCF has been fueled by a mixture of highly-motivated teams situated within UCF Digital Learning, UCF Libraries, Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL), Student Government, registered student organizations, such as Wiki Knights, and most importantly, the faculty units intent on delivering free, openly-licensed course materials to replace costly versions of the same or very similar content being sold on the free market.

“The work that Nicole and her colleagues are doing on OER is remarkable in several aspects,” says Department of Chemistry Chair Michael Hampton. “These OER materials are readily available at any time, at no charge, and can be used as a library for students to review and reinforce their studies. Additionally, faculty, including Nicole and her colleagues, are preparing these materials free of charge — [an example of] action arising from dedication.”

Data, such as those reported in the FLVC survey, continue to motivate UCF faculty, staff and students to devise actionable plans for creating viable open solutions that promote equitable access to customizable, shareable and impactful course materials.

This year, Student Government Resolution 53-58: Encouraging the University of Central Florida to Support the Use of Open Textbooks has been a major talking point at recent meetings with high-level administration, and units across campus have already offered support to amplify student voices on this topic.

The FCTL, for example, expressed a willingness to deliver select communications about open education and shared ideas for a tabling opportunity to increase faculty awareness. Registered student organization Florida PIRG Students at UCF is also back in swing and working with the Wiki Knights to help bring textbook affordability to the forefront.

Additionally, the UCF Libraries continues to offer support to the open education initiative by collaborating during bi-weekly team meetings, supporting Wiki Knights tabling events and generally helping advance strategic aspects of the OER movement.