NSights Blog

Open Educational Resources: Escaping excessive costs

University Libraries used an "escape room" to raise awareness among students about affordable textbooks

During the University Libraries’ “Escape the Room” event in early October, close to 100 students came together to solve clues challenging them to think, discuss ideas and collaborate in order to solve a puzzle addressing the high cost of textbooks for university courses.  The event was designed to educate students on Open Educational Resources, OERs, in order to spark conversation between students and faculty in an attempt to lower or eliminate altogether the high cost of textbooks and educational materials. The escape room event took place over four consecutive nights inside the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center’s Knowledge Nook.

Students participating in the event unlocked clues and used tools to lead them to spelling out the penultimate escape room message: “Textbook Broke.”

Are you curious about the final clue, “Textbook Broke?” I sure was.

When University Libraries librarian Teresa Schultz began describing her idea for the OER fall semester fairy tale-themed escape room event, I wondered how students would home in on the clues. Would they leave with an understanding of how to advocate for affordable and no cost materials, including textbooks?

During the event, I watched as one group of friends paired off to unveil the names of publishers hidden in a jigsaw puzzle, while others discovered clues in a newsletter regarding publishers’ recent record-setting quarterly profits.

The cost of textbooks increased more than 1,000 percent between 1977 and 2015. Today the average university student spends $1,240 annually on textbooks and supplies according to Education Data Initiative (educationdata.org), and the extravagant costs have taken a toll.

In a recent report describing a survey of more than 5,000 college students from across the country, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund found that 65 percent of students did not buy at least one textbook in 2020 given the astronomical cost.

Why use/offer OERs?

OERs are materials that are free to use, meaning faculty can reuse, adapt, and modify material as needed, and students can access class material without the pressing financial burdens associated with high-cost, expensive textbooks.

Students who are interested in advocating for OERs at the University can:

Faculty can also benefit from using OERs. They offer content and flexibility. For example, instructors can use the most applicable and interesting parts of textbooks as well as share their own material. Faculty can also partner with the University Libraries to adapt one of their courses away from high-cost textbooks to free OERs. 

Because the Libraries recently received a $15,000 grant from the Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records, the organization will soon start offering a workshop series for university faculty, where the librarian team will work side-by-side with faculty to adapt a class to use OERs in order to help students save money as well as ensure equitable access to important class material.

All University faculty are encouraged and are welcome to participate in the first-ever Open Education Workshop Series. Faculty are asked apply in advance to participate. Selected applicants will receive up to $1,500 for participating in the program which includes workshops and tailored support to convert at least one class to no-cost materials for students. For information on how to apply, contact Librarian Teresa Schultz for details.

The “Escape the Room” event was created by University Librarians Teresa Schultz, Amy Shannon, Tati Mesfin, and Elena Azadbakht.

Nicole Cheslock photo
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