Posted by Kiri Dali Kiri Dali

by: Cindy Domaika, Manager of Open & Instructional Resources, Nicolet College

How does a college bookstore become an integral part of an OER program on a college campus? Can they provide more than a print on demand service or print copies of OpenStax textbooks and textbook prices for data points?

This is the story of how a typical college bookstore went from being the “typical college bookstore” to the starting point of the OER program on our campus and the valuable lessons learned on how bookstores can contribute to all college programs regardless of where they stem from.

Here’s how it all started. I was the bookstore manager when our college president tasked me with researching OER during a meeting. Not knowing anything about it, I dove in and started Googling everything I could. I won’t recap here all the benefits of OER because I could now go on for days about it. Let’s just say I was sold and thought I was in a good position to advocate on behalf of our students because I saw daily the struggles they go through to try to get their course materials.

Bookstores are in a position where we have, or should have, relationships with the faculty on campus. We know the course materials, that is our job. We generally know who is using what and how willing someone is to try something new. The fact of life is that new editions come out or textbooks go out-of-print. I used to struggle with how to deal with this and now I look at it as an opportunity. This is how I got my first two OER adoptions.

Fall 2017 was going to be our pilot semester with OER. While working on textbook adoption requests for fall, that spring I ran across a couple of new editions and out-of-print notices. I thought to myself that the faculty are going to have to change their textbook or their course to fit the new edition or a new textbook so why not try out an OER textbook? When sending out their information I also sent out links to a few OER textbooks I had run across in my research and asked the faculty to take a look at them. Shockingly, both faculty liked the books and adopted them for the fall 2017 semester. This approach worked well that first semester and continues to work well.

By the time all was said and done during our pilot semester, we had fifteen different courses using free or open resources by twelve different faculty. OER was really starting to take off at Nicolet, primarily by word of mouth.

I wanted to build off the success of the first semester and by then I knew a great deal more about OER. We held OER sessions at a faculty conference to help get the word out about what we were doing and what OER was about. But I still had some bookstore knowledge to put to use.

Working with students can be a humbling experience. We get to see them at their best and we also see them when they are frustrated and downright angry. Buyback is one of those times when they can be downright angry – and for good reason. They bought a $100 book and they can’t sell it back because it went to a new edition (or insert reason) and their instructor only used one chapter. We hear those comments – A LOT. These are the faculty I went to next. These are the faculty that can benefit from OER. From either an existing OER textbook, a remix of something or maybe articles from the library databases. But we need to be actively listening to our students and know that there is an alternative solution out there. Bookstores are in that position, we just have to listen.

I mentioned data points in my opening. We can provide a lot of data for people working with OER beyond prices. Our college is currently listing low cost and no cost courses in our course schedule and the information is coming from the bookstore. We have to list textbooks that are associated with courses. Why not share that information with the registrar (or appropriate department) or work with them to help students make more informed choices when registering for classes? I talked about listening to students. Listen to them when they come in and complain about buying books or are returning books at the beginning of the semester.  What are they saying about who is utilizing their materials? What are the sell-thru rates of books? Yes, I realize online sales make this difficult but are students returning books right away because the faculty are saying they won’t need them? We had faculty here who thought they were required to list a textbook but didn’t really use it.

One year after the pilot semester in the fall of 2018 our institution had 44 courses using free or open course materials and we have now reached a savings total to our students of over $250,000. Our program has grown immensely over the last two years and now falls under the Teaching, Innovation, Learning, and Technology team. I still am involved with the bookstore and course materials but get to spend a good part of my time working with OER.

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