This guest post is authored by Antara Gupta as part of our series in support of Open Education Week. Because we can’t limit ourselves to just one week, we’re excited to celebrate open education throughout the month of March.
Antara Gupta is a third-year Neuroscience major also pursuing certificates in Spanish and Social Inequality, Health & Policy. She is an active member of the Natural Sciences Council, Health Science Scholars DEI Subcommittee, and Delta Epsilon Mu. In her free time, she loves cooking, thrifting, and exploring new coffee shops!
College is celebrated as a haven for life-long learners. It is a bustling site for exploration and ingenuity, a place where you can discover something new about yourself or about the world. Students come in with big dreams such as:
Learning how to start a business.
Working in a renowned lab.
Taking a class with a celebrated film professor.
But ahead of many stands a looming barrier. Textbook fees. Lab fees. Online homework portal fees. On average, a full time undergraduate student spends approximately $740 on books and supplies during the academic year. Oftentimes, these funds are not advertised until after the student has already enrolled in a class. This puts low-income students at a significant disadvantage as they face apprehension that a class they enrolled for will potentially put them over their budget. How can we call such an environment a “bustling site for exploration” or a “haven for life-long learners” when concrete boundaries – on top of tuition – exist?
Fortunately, these problems have been noticed by the UT community, and the university– along with multiple organizations–are doing their due diligence to make changes. S.B. 810 requires that UT identifies courses which have open educational resources (OER), and a list is generated on the Co-op website for each semester.
But UT hasn’t just stopped there. As a member of the Natural Sciences Council (NSC), I remember being introduced to the initial versions of S.R. 1808, a bill to directly identify OER classes on the course schedule. As someone privileged enough for additional class fees to not be a major concern when deciding my semester schedule, it was eye-opening to learn about and consider the struggles that many other students go through. I was shocked that we had not implemented something like this already. However, NSC along with other college councils took steps to change this and voted in favor of the bill. With the implementation of this bill, any class with a total cost of less than $45 will now be identified on the course schedule as providing OER. This initiative will make open educational resources more transparent and accessible by allowing students to skip the process of searching for such classes through the Co-op website or through their own research.
S.R. 1911 has further incentivized OER classes by supporting the creation of a University-Wide OER Faculty Award Program for professors who provide low-cost or free materials for their classes. Additionally, to continue dialogue and create an open forum for discussion, the UT Austin OER Working Group meets periodically to discuss current issues and initiatives related to OER. They invite anyone (students, staff, and faculty) to come and provide input during the meetings. Learn about how to join if you’re interested in getting involved.
UT has made strides in improving access to education for our university students. Through open education week, we are able to celebrate the progress and highlight faculty who have been integral in this process. However, our work here is not done. As we continue on our journey, we must remember that education – especially for tuition-paying university students – must be treated as a right, not a privilege.
Want to learn more about OER and opportunities to advocate for course materials affordability? Contact Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (firstname.lastname@example.org)