HAVERHILL — Northern Essex Community College is continuing its efforts to replace high-priced textbooks with free educational materials of the kind that have saved 16,000 students nearly $2 million since 2014.

With the goal of making classes more affordable and inclusive, the college has joined a consortium of six Massachusetts colleges that are sharing in a three-year $440,000 federal grant to encourage the use and development of free Open Educational Resources (OER).

OER are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.

Called Remixing Open Textbooks through an Equity Lens (ROTEL), the grant will support faculty and librarian efforts to create and adapt OER materials that are accessible, intentionally inclusive and representative of the student population, said Sue Tashjian, NECC’s coordinator of instructional technology and co-chair of the Massachusetts OER Advisory Council.

“Often times, minority students don’t see themselves represented in the course materials,” she said. ‘’The materials created through this grant will be inclusive of the students’ local and lived experiences.”

She said examples include ensuring images in teaching materials reflect diversity; ensuring names used in examples or exercises represent various ethnicities, genders and races and that the materials avoid the use of negative stereotypes.

The college will be accepting grant proposals from faculty starting Sept. 20.

The college hopes to create 25 new open textbooks a year for total of 75 over the course of the three-year grant. The grant will provide stipends of up to $5,000 for faculty who adopt, adapt, or create open textbooks and will also cover funding for professional development including a year-long mentoring track (Textbook Success Program) and five training webinars for faculty.

Since then, Tashjian estimates the use of free and low-cost course materials has saved 16,000 NECC students nearly $2 million.

“We know that the cost of higher education is a barrier for many students, especially community college students,” she said.

NECC students can easily find courses that already make use of OER by checking the box for “free access: low-cost/no-cost textbooks” while searching the course catalog.

For more information and questions about this grant and OER, contact Sue Tashjian stashjian@necc.mass.edu.

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