This post was contributed by Chauna Ramsey, Eng/WR instructor, Hood River Valley HS and Columbia Gorge Community College. Chauna teaches in the College Now dual credit program where high school students earn college credit while taking approved courses from qualified instructors.
As a public high school English teacher of 22 years, I have not had much access to curricular resources. When I began teaching, I was startled to find that I would be teaching out of the same textbook I’d studied from when I was a senior in high school. Now I know that this is not at all uncommon; in fact, having a six-year-old textbook is not bad at all. The textbook I am currently supposed to use was adopted during my third year of teaching, so it’s almost twenty years old. Yes, twenty.
I say I am supposed to use a twenty-year old textbook because my administrators said they had to justify the expense of adopting a textbook, so we were firmly and repeatedly told we must use the book 85% of the time. Maybe that was the administrators’ decision; maybe it was a law. Whatever it was, it was ignored by me 85% of the time. The books still sit on the shelves in my classroom, though, and my students all learn to run over and grab one when the administrators drop in for an unannounced observation. It’s turned into a bit of a joke, but the pained looks on the faces of administrators when that happens? That’s not a joke. And the requirement—ignored or not—to use a twenty-year-old textbook is absolutely no joke.
When I started teaching college classes, I required students to buy the textbook other instructors were requiring their students to buy because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Then I used it for a term, or tried to, before realizing that my own handouts, assessments, and daily assignments were far more useful—not to mention more engaging—than those in the $100 textbook I had forced students to buy. Oops. After that one term, I went back to relying on curriculum I developed (legally) and curriculum I “borrowed” and photocopied (illegally).
I guess my point in all of this is to explain why I ended up informally becoming an early adopter of resources which were often educational but rarely “open,” flagrantly breaking copyright law for over twenty years by photocopying anything and everything I thought could be useful in the classroom. I felt justified. Righteous, even. Then, just last year, I found myself at an OER conference in Portland, led by Amy Hofer, where, over the course of the day, my righteousness melted away as I slowly realized that for twenty years I’d been committing exactly what I had always told my students was the worst of all academic sins: plagiarism. I’d been stealing everything of curricular value I could find and fancying myself the Robin Hood of Hood River Valley High.
Since then, with the enthusiastic guidance and support of Columbia Gorge Community College’s librarian and OER superhero John Schoppert, I’ve been part of an Open Oregon Educational Resources OER grant that has allowed me to modify and post my American Literature courses on the OER Commons website at Survey of American Literature: Eng 253 and Survey of American Literature: Eng 254. By using resources that are openly licensed and in the public domain, my students are saving over $10,000 per year. Well over half of my students are low income; in my Writing 90 classes, it’s more like 80%. These students can barely afford to pay the $89 College Now program fees for 8 credits–I often collect single dollar bills from them, and every year somebody pays at least partially in change. These are kids whose parents don’t have checking accounts, let alone a credit card. I have no doubt that if they were required to pay $100 for a textbook, many wouldn’t sign up for the classes at all. Most of my students don’t know OER saves them $100, and that’s okay. I know it.
I’m now the recipient of another Open Oregon OER grant that will allow me to share the grammar and mechanics materials that I’ve developed. I’ve also presented OER overviews to groups of teachers at my high school and instructors at CGCC inservices. I like being part of what feels like a really significant, positive, necessary movement that saves students money and encourages educators to collaborate, and I can’t wait to see where the OER movement goes next.