Removing Financial Barriers with Open Educational Resources

Unlock the transformative power of Open Educational Resources (OER) and join the frontline of an educational revolution! This episode is a treasure trove for anyone wanting to understand how the right knowledge can break down financial barriers in learning. We bring you the incredible tale of a homeless student's battle with textbook costs, a story that thrusts the need for affordable education into the spotlight. National University's Assistant Director of OER, Taylor Perkins, shares the groundbreaking efforts of her team, affectionately dubbed the Orcs, who have championed the use of OER and saved students close to a cool million dollars.

Journey with us through the legal labyrinth of copyright laws as we dissect the Cambridge University Press versus Patton case, illuminating the challenges faced in academic material distribution. Learn how Creative Commons licenses are revolutionizing the way educators can share, modify, and disseminate course content. Perkins reveals how National University isn't just cutting costs; they're cultivating a culture where knowledge is a communal treasure, encouraging educational equality from the get-go. Their story is not only a beacon for cost-cutting but an inspiring example of how nurturing an open-source educational environment can spark engagement and innovation in the classroom.

Show Notes

  • 0:02:20 - Librarian's Mission for Open Educational Resources (104 Seconds)
  • 0:12:57 - Course Materials and Student Retention (79 Seconds)
  • 0:21:25 - Using OER in the Classroom (73 Seconds)
  • 0:27:39 - OER Benefits and the Future of Open Education (104 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success - the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. According to a recent article in PubMed, the outbreak of COVID-19 leads to an increasing demand for online educational resources to continue teaching and learning. Open educational resources, or OER, with the benefits of cost saving and open licenses, have great potential in facilitating the rapid translation to digital education, but concerns about whether OER decreased the effectiveness of student learning remains unsolved. Today we are talking about the benefits of OER at National University.

On today's episode we're discussing open educational resources, and joining us is the Assistant Director of Open Educational Resources from the OER and Curriculum Support at National University, Taylor Perkins. Taylor currently oversees a small but mighty team, affectionately known as the Orcs. The Orcs team is dedicated to improving the student experience when it comes to course materials by reducing or eliminating cost for students, making sure resources are authoritative, accessible and diverse, and helping our own faculty and staff create course resources that can be adopted on a global scale. Prior to stepping into her new role at National University, Taylor served as the Instructional Design Librarian at Northcentral University for nearly a decade, and then through promoting the OER and library resources over commercial textbooks, her team has helped the university collectively save our students nearly $1 million. Taylor envisions an environment where cost burdens and barriers due to course materials are eliminated and every student has access to equitable and engaging resources from day one of their educational journey and beyond. And we welcome Taylor to the podcast. How are you?

0:02:22 - Taylor Perkins

I'm doing well, Kim, thank you.

0:02:24 - Kimberly King

Yeah, thanks for joining us. This is so interesting and innovative, and why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work before we get to today's show topic?

0:02:36 - Taylor Perkins

Yeah, absolutely. So, I have been a librarian for over a decade now and I would say the mission of any librarian is to help students get the resources that they need. So that's certainly been the impetus behind my current role and my passion for open educational resources. And if I could, I'd like to just share an instance of a student that we had who contacted National University library, this was some time ago. But he admitted that he was homeless, that he was living out of his car and that he was hoping and praying that the library could help him get his textbooks for his courses at no cost. And that really struck me, as this student is already sacrificing so much to get an education, why should the cost of educational materials be a barrier? So that really describes the mission and, again, my passion for open educational resources.

0:03:49 - Kimberly King

Thank you for sharing that story and, boy, you know, it's true, there's some things that we just don't think about and that is probably it could be kind of prevalent in today's society. So I love your mission and I love that you have a passion for that. So thank you for making a difference. So, Taylor, today we're talking about what is open education and what are those resources, and literally my first question is what is open education?

0:04:15 - Taylor Perkins

Yeah, yeah, thank you, Kim. So great question to start. And so we've already touched upon textbooks. So, before I even define open education, I would like to share some slightly alarming statistics, if I may. So, speaking of textbooks, the cost of textbooks have increased 800% from 1960s to the present day. On average, students are expected to pay about $1,200 per semester for their textbooks and their course materials. Yeah, and then, finally, textbook costs have risen more than three times the rate of inflation in the United States. So why? Why do I even mention?

0:05:07 - Kimberly King

I'm so sorry. No, I was just saying those numbers. When you said 800, first of all I was like what? And then? But just when you do an average on the cost, that's just… Good for you for trying to make a change on this, because you know it's probably one of those things that people don't see, that price creeping up and creeping up, and it's, you know, especially his parents have new students coming into the education system, so it's probably something they think is just normal. But good for you for being the eyes and ears on that.

0:05:35 - Taylor Perkins

Thank you, yeah, and you're exactly right, Kim. I would just say, when we think about traditional commercial textbook publishing, you really have an outdated model. So you have a model where the students are being charged, so each student is receiving a cost associated with the textbook, and on top of that it restricts dissemination, it restricts innovative use, and Commercial traditional textbook publishing also comes with an expiration date, and what I mean by that is, by the time a textbook hits the shelves, the content might already be outdated, and now the student has to go by the newer addition at a higher cost, right? So what? We have our costs on top of the cost of pursuing an education, and I say all of that to set the stage for open education. So open education, first and foremost, it is a movement, and it's founded on one simple but very powerful belief, and that is that everyone in the world should have access to high quality educational resources and high quality educational experiences.

0:06:58 - Kimberly King

So, and I think it's great to. I always remember going to college and then now I just have had a recent college graduate to back. But I just remember when they had to buy their books and then try to sell them back and it was like, really, it was, I'd seem, like 800 different, 800 percent difference on the list. You got back for that and you write the relevance of the subject matter could be completely different. So that's a really good point too. So tell me what, what does the OER stand for and what? Tell me a little bit about that with that, open education resources? Sure yeah.

0:07:35 - Taylor Perkins

So OER directly ties into open education. It stands for open educational resources. So, as I just mentioned, open education is the belief that everyone deserves a high quality education. So OER are going to be the teaching, learning, and research materials to provide that education, and they are going to reside in the public domain or they're going to be released under an open license, and so basically what that means is they're free. Ok, so they're free. There's no cost to access them. And not only that, there is no cost to adapt them or redistribute them in any means.

0:08:24 - Kimberly King

OK, great, and I guess you know. The next question is about why we should care about OER. What is the big deal about OER, and tell me a little bit about why we should care about it.

0:08:39 - Taylor Perkins

Yeah, absolutely. Great question. And just one thing that I wanted to circle back on with OER, because I just I get this question a lot is, even after explaining that concept, the question is like, what exactly does OER look like? And so we've been talking about textbooks, and I think that's that's easy for us to envision. Okay, I need a textbook for my course, but I do want to stress that OER can take any form. So virtually any content that you can think about that's used in education can be an OER. So it could be video, audio, it could be a podcast, it could be a video game simulation, it could be an entire course. So OER really covers the gamut of, again, anything that could be used in an educational setting. So, yeah, sorry, Kim, getting back to your question about why we should care about OER, gosh, there are so many reasons and I will try to be as succinct as possible. I already touched upon one, which is cost savings, right? So, case in point, the student who contacted the library there is there. There's no cost associated with OER, and so we're eliminating that cost burden for students who may be encountering that in their educational journey.

But beyond that, the benefits of OER and, again, just trying to keep it brief access. So OER can provide access to education where it may not otherwise exist. Students can access OERs anywhere in the world and at any time, and another thing that I want to stress with that is it can have access beyond the course, so they're not just tied to that course and I can only access my course materials while I'm in this course. It exists beyond the course and the other benefit of that is a time savings and an ease of implementation for instructors. So we have our students benefit from being able to access that resource, but we have our instructors, who may be building the courses or instructional designers really any constituent who's involved in the course development process saving time by just easily implementing that resource. Another benefit is adaptability. So OER, as I mentioned it, can be adapted and created to fit any context, so you could actually bring in issues that are affecting current practice in disciplines and you can customize that OER to represent a variety of peoples and cultures.

Another benefit that I want to highlight is collaboration. So OER can encourage collaboration and innovation among educators. Faculty burnout is real, so how about an opportunity to author content on a subject that you are passionate about? There's academic freedom in that, to redefine the textbook if you will. And one other thing with that is there are also a lot of grant opportunities out there for OER and we've actually had some opportunities here at National and hopefully I'll get a chance to talk about that.

But trying to stay on task with the question and again, just trying to wrap this up, another benefit is the enhancement of course content. So you don't need to adopt an OER textbook necessarily. Perhaps a commercial textbook does meet the needs of the course. But why not supplement that course by pulling in some video? That's OER? Or pulling in some infographics or maybe even data sets that you want students to play with.

Another benefit is showcasing research. So again, OER is going to showcase research to the widest possible audience, the entire world. That's the definition of open education. So it helps universities to position themselves as proponents and thought leaders in OER. And then the last benefit that I want to touch upon, certainly not least, is student retention. So I think least is student retention and a sense of belonging. So a sense of belonging directly impacts student retention. You could have course materials that directly connect with the lived realities of your students. And just circling back to the cost savings. Low or no cost course materials have been tied to higher enrollment, so some universities are now promoting programs and courses as zero textbook cost - it's known as ZTC for short - and there has been research showing that ZTC programs lead to student retention.

0:13:46 - Kimberly King

Wow, and that's really great from a marketing standpoint to make sure that students know that now too, that that cost will be covered. And, as you said, there is that sense of belonging and really just kind of putting their passion at play and giving them that sense of fitting in too, because if you don't have those funds and you know, you just feel like you're on the outside looking in and constantly stressing about how they're going to be able to afford, afford those resources. So I love what you're doing is where's the best place to start to explore or discover OER?

0:14:24 - Taylor Perkins

Kim, that's a great question. So we've talked about OER and how fantastic it is, so I'm sure our listeners are wondering well, where do I actually find the OER? And basically I don't have a great answer for you. Unfortunately, there is not one magical Google type search engine for discovering all of OER. The truth is, there are fantastic OER collections that reside at specific universities or specific institutions.

However, with that said, there are some OER repositories that have helped to bring a lot of those collections together, so I would like to highlight just one in particular. I think it's a great starting point for just sort of getting your feet wet with OER and any subject that you might be exploring, and that is the OER Commons, and you can get to that at, and I want to say that they've been around since the early 2000s and, as of present day, they have over 50,000 high-quality OER that you can explore. So they are going to have everything from textbooks to full-blown university courses that are totally open for, again, for you to explore and just to start to discover OER and exactly what it looks like.

0:15:54 - Kimberly King

So that kind of leads me to the next question. You just answered it, I think. But the and that's, is it discoverable everywhere, and are there any quality control? Is there quality control in place?

0:16:09 - Taylor Perkins

Yeah, thank you, Kim. That's honestly a great question, because if OER is going to receive pushback in any area, it's around quality. So if it's free it can't be that good, right? Or can the resources really be considered authoritative if anyone can create them? So I did want to highlight a report that it was published not too long ago titled OER Mythbusting, and this is one of the myths that they sort of debunked, and I just want to say that a resource intrinsically being open, so being OER, or we'll say, being closed, so being a commercial textbook that you would have to pay for it, doesn't inherently affect the quality of the resource. You have leaders and subject matter experts who are creating OER the same as they're creating those commercial textbooks. And another factor to keep in mind is that many OER are being developed through the same rigorous production and peer review processes that traditional textbooks are being put through as well. So if I could, I'd like to highlight just one example.

There's an excellent collection it's tied to Rice University called OpenStaxs, and that's Stacks with an X, but OpenStaxs requires all of their openly licensed college textbooks - so that's what they specialize in - They require that all of their textbooks go through a process of peer review. And their goal was to make their textbook publishing process mirror traditional textbook publishers. So they have subject matter experts from across the country collaborating to publish these textbooks and then the textbook has to go through this extensive peer review and editorial process prior to publication and then they put it out there and anyone can use it. Another amazing benefit of their textbook because we actually hear this a lot from national faculty as well just being a concern is well, with a traditional textbook, you get these ancillary materials, so you get lectures, you get test banks, you get quizzes, so on and so forth. So OpenStaxs has mirrored their publishing process to include all those materials as well. So, yeah, they are super valuable. I would recommend checking them out as well. They are located at OpenStaxs, again with an X, so s-t-a-x dot org.

0:19:06 - Kimberly King

Great, that's a great resource as well. How can you use OER in the classroom?

0:19:14 - Taylor Perkins

Yeah, yeah, great question. So… actually, I'd like to start by talking about a specific legal case, if I may. So much of OER before I jump into this legal case. Much of OER comes with something called a Creative Commons license, and I will circle back to that, but the legal case that I wanted to highlight- This was a case in 2008. It was Cambridge University Press versus Patton, and basically what happened is three major publishing bodies - that I would argue, almost every library and university has to have - So Cambridge University Press, Sage Publications and Oxford University Press, they filed a lawsuit against Georgia State University and what they claimed the university did was they claimed the university had made over 6,000 works and so we'll define works as textbooks, journals, so on and so forth that they made those available to students through an e-reserve system for course use.

So basically, the library took all that content, they made it available electronically to the students and they said here, this is for your courses, you can download it, print it, whatever you need to do with it. And so these major publishing bodies, they claimed that the university invited the students to basically use these materials however they would like, without permission of the copyright holder. So this was a nightmare scenario for any university and truly any university library and the major publishers. They faced a lot of backlash. Some said that they lost sight of their mission, so their mission is supposed to be furthering education and scholarship. So it was honestly a very fraught case and I won't make you wait with bated breath. The case finally closed in 2020 and Georgia State University was the prevailing party.

But I mention all of this because at the crux of this lawsuit, we have supposed violation of copyright when it comes to course materials. So the great news is, OER typically comes with little to no copyright restrictions. As I mentioned, most OER are going to be licensed under Creative Commons, and so that license it basically grants the public permission to use the creative work and it directly answers the question what can I do with this work? So you don't have to guess about how you can utilize this work. So, just to really spell it out, when it comes to the classroom, you could take an existing OER, so you could take it as it is and adopt it for the course apples to apples or, depending on the Creative Commons license, you might be able to make tweaks to it so you can add some content. You could omit content. Maybe you want to mix up the content. There are certain subjects that you want your students to be familiar with sooner and again. You can do all of this without fear of facing copyright infringement.

0:22:40 - Kimberly King

Interesting. This is such a great topic and, again, it's very relevant, especially in this day and age. We have to take a quick break, so stay with us. We're going to have more in just a moment. Don’t go away. And now back to our interview with National University's Taylor Perkins, and we're talking about Open Educational Resources, OER, and it's been so fascinating hearing all about this. And, Taylor, how is National University using the OER in the classroom?

0:23:11 - Taylor Perkins

Yeah, thank you so much for asking this, Kim. So we are definitely implementing OER at National University and the truth is, many universities are taking advantage of OER, but we're doing something truly unique at National, and I can attest to that. So I recently attended the annual Open Education Conference and saw a lot of exciting, innovating talks, but virtually no university is doing what we're doing at National. So I had the tremendous opportunity to hire on a team. As you mentioned at the beginning, Kim, we're a team of Open Educational Resources and Curriculum Support Librarians, and our team is deeply embedded in every single course development. So we have faculty and we have subject matter experts who are designing our courses at National University, and we are actually embedded in every single course development. We're offering tailored, hands-on assistance to these individuals and we're helping them curate the best OER to match their curricular needs.

Now, with that said, there are two things that I want to stress. So, number one our subject matter experts are faculty. They are precisely that they are the experts on the subject. So we are never mandating resources, we're simply making recommendations and we're deferring to them. And the other thing that I do want to highlight is OER is exploding in some disciplines and subjects and it's lagging in others. So case in point nursing.

There are not many nursing OER resources at present. I say that because OpenStaxs, that OER collective that I mentioned a bit earlier. They are releasing a series of nursing OER textbooks next year, which is super exciting, but again, certain subjects are going to lend themselves more to OER. So what my team does again is that we make these quality recommendations for replacing commercial textbooks in our courses where it makes sense and where our faculty, the subject matter experts, feel that it will be most beneficial. And I'm happy to report that we were coming up on one year of my team being in place and with our unique embedded librarian approach, we have a 67% adoption rate of OER by our faculty, which is pretty amazing.

0:25:54 - Kimberly King

That's a high number, that's great. Yeah, I think people are kind of out with the old and with the new and that you know that the old dynamic just seems outdated now. So yeah, that's good, that's a good high number. What is the benefit of OER to the National University staff in particular?

0:26:15 - Taylor Perkins

Sure, yeah. So there are benefits, I would say, to faculty staff and students. With our staff, we actually had an opportunity and I sort of alluded to this earlier, but we had the opportunity to offer incentivization in the form of a monetary grant. So this was open to faculty and it was open to staff, and the grant was available to anyone who wanted to adapt or author their own OER. And we had amazing OER come out of this opportunity, this grant opportunity.

So again, we had both faculty and staff at National creating textbooks, creating video series. What else did we have? We had digital repositories, so they created collections of resources. We had handbooks, and all of this content is integrated, or it's being integrated as we speak, into National University courses. So obviously that's going to be no cost to our students. And not only that, but we're working to promote and publish that OER far and wide. So we're trying to get that OER that our National University faculty and staff have created out there on a global scale by turning to repositories like OER Commons. And then, lastly, just something that my team continues to take on, that we love doing we just love guiding and offering expertise to our faculty and staff and our students who are interested in publishing their own OER.

0:27:55 - Kimberly King

Oh great Wow. Nothing like on the job learning right as you're going through it.

0:28:00 - Taylor Perkins


0:28:02 - Kimberly King

So that sounds like the next question as well. So the benefits of OER to our National University students, that's one benefit. Yes, yes.

0:28:12 - Taylor Perkins

So I love that we're talking about our students last, because they truly get the most benefit out of the OER. So we've already mentioned the cost savings. It is important to highlight again. We're eliminating a barrier to education that some may face and, with that said, I am extremely honored. I would like to present the fruit of my team's work. So by recommending OER and by shifting away from these commercial publisher textbooks that are charging a per student fee, we managed to save our students nearly $500,000 last fiscal year.

0:28:51 - Kimberly King

Wow, that is extensive, my goodness. Good, that's great. And numbers talk don’t they? [crosstalk] so that's great. Absolutely. And what's the future look like for open education?

0:29:09 - Taylor Perkins

Right. So in terms of where OER goes from here and really what the future of open education looks like, it's largely dependent upon you and me. And so what do I mean by that? On a micro level, at National University, and I'm just I'm going to call out everyone who's listening to the podcast so if you're a faculty, if you're a staff, if you're alumni, if you're an active student, if you're a prospective student, I urge you to contribute. If you have subject expertise, if you have knowledge in a certain area, don't keep that to yourself. Consider sharing it with the world and adapt. Or. Author. An OER.

0:29:53 - Kimberly King

Wow, I can think of actually several professors who I've already spoken to and those in administration, so we just need to go back through this podcast and to take a listen to who has been offering their subject matter expertise, because it's been fascinating. It's been a whole learning curve for myself just being a part of this podcast, so I think you just put a major call out there, so hopefully you'll get some the phone ringing. Is there anything innovative that you want to highlight that I haven't asked you about?

0:30:27 - Taylor Perkins

Yeah. So, as I mentioned, I recently attended the Open Education Conference and one thing that I did see a lot of was student involvement and student advocacy for OER. So it's one thing to get staff and faculty excited about OER. It's another thing for students to recognize the tremendous benefit of OER and to be advocating for it at their universities. So one way that some universities are taking advantage of student buy-in and I would love to see us do this at National University is through something called renewable assignments, and so it's kind of exactly what it sounds like.

So with a renewable assignment, students do the work, faculty grade the work, but the work is inherently valuable beyond the class. So with a traditional assignment it's going to get discarded at the end of the course, but with a renewable assignment it continues to have a life beyond the class. So one form that it could take is the form of a textbook. So there are actually textbooks out there right now that have been a collaboration between the students and their professor. So again, I said I would love to see this happen at National. I mean, how amazing would it be for whatever students to say I went to National and I actually helped author the textbook for one of my courses, along with my professor and along with my peers, and not only that, but it's being used in courses at universities around the world. So again, I'm going to reiterate how we move forward into the future of open education. We contribute, we add our voices, we share our knowledge, we impact education worldwide in a way that's going to promote diversity, equity and openness.

0:32:30 - Kimberly King

I love that. How good would that look on your resume If you were a student in an OER type of classroom and you're helping, you know, contribute, as you said. So all in all, it's a win-win, I feel. Thank you for sharing your knowledge so interesting, and if you do want more information, you can visit National University's website at Thank you so very much for your time today.

0:32:54 - Taylor Perkins

Thank you so much, Kim.

0:32:58 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"OER can provide access to education where it may not otherwise exist. Students can access OERs anywhere in the world and at any time, and another thing that I want to stress with that is it can have access beyond the course." - Taylor Perkins, Click to Tweet
"So by recommending OER and by shifting away from these commercial publisher textbooks that are charging a per student fee, we managed to save our students nearly $500,000 last fiscal year." - Taylor Perkins, Click to Tweet