University of Houston Libraries welcomes Kate McNally Carter as the new open educational resources (OER) librarian.
Please describe your role at UH Libraries and discuss some of your professional goals.
I will be working under the direction of the OER coordinator, Ariana Santiago, to support instructors in the adoption, adaptation, and creation of OER in order to meet teaching and learning needs and advance the University’s student success goals. I will support and contribute to the planning, implementation, and assessment of OER program activities, including the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program (ATIP).
As the OER program continues to expand at UH, we are hoping to use a targeted approach to identify high-impact courses for OER adoption, continue to increase awareness of OER usage and its impact at UH, and increase transparency for students around which courses use OER. I am excited to join a university that has demonstrated investment in its core value of student success, and in my role I hope to further highlight the amazing work already being done by our faculty and support the continued growth of the OER program in order to help meet the University’s strategic goals.
Please share a bit about your background and interests. How do these inspire and shape your approach as a librarian?
Most recently, I worked as a research and instruction librarian at UH-Clear Lake; before entering the library field, I worked at San Jacinto College North Campus as an administrative assistant for the provost. I also have some experience working as a contractor for a textbook publisher. My experience in all of these roles has galvanized my passion for supporting equitable educational experiences and resources for students. I have witnessed and experienced firsthand the impact that financial insecurity has on student learning and engagement; one way to alleviate that burden is to reduce prohibitive textbook costs that can impede students at every stage of their educational careers.
OER are particularly powerful tools to address the high costs of higher education for a number of reasons. OER enable students to have immediate access to learning materials right from the beginning of their courses, and research has demonstrated that students with first-day access to course materials are more likely to achieve successful outcomes. In addition, OER also provide instructors academic freedom and autonomy to customize their materials in closer alignment with the course’s learning objectives. If course materials are openly licensed, instructors can easily adapt materials to fit their needs accordingly; this enables instructors to design their courses with intentionality while also centering student learning.
What are one or two ideas you’d like the community to know about OER?
In general, one misconception that we often hear is that OER are simply “free textbooks.” While this may be true in some cases, it’s important to contextualize this. First, OER are not just “free” or without cost; more importantly, OER are openly licensed learning materials. These open licenses allow users the automatic rights to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute the material, depending on the specific license applied to the work; this enables students and faculty to engage with the material in transformative and creative ways that are otherwise prohibited when using copyrighted materials. It’s also important to emphasize that OER come in a variety of resource types and formats, including lesson plans, instructional videos, tutorials, course modules, worksheets, activities, presentations, and more—it’s not just textbooks!
While there is a vast plethora of OER available for a variety of different courses and subjects, there are not always OER available to meet every instructional need. However, use of OER doesn’t necessarily need to take an all-or-nothing approach; in these cases, the library can assist with identifying library-licensed materials or other low-cost copyrighted materials that could serve as potential alternatives.
As OER usage becomes more prevalent in higher education, I think it is going to become even more important for us to consider the accessibility of resources and the representation of diverse populations in our learning materials. In the library, we have an opportunity to provide expertise in designing OER that meet accessibility guidelines for students with disabilities. We also need to advocate for OER that are representative of the student populations we serve; that means we need to ensure that instructors include diverse voices in their instructional materials, and if possible allow students to contribute their own lived experiences to the learning objectives. This gives our students agency, and ultimately empowers them to recognize the value they bring to the classroom, enriching everyone’s learning experience in the process. Systemic change is needed to break down systems of oppression in higher education that stifle creativity and innovation, and I’m excited for the role that OER can play in opening pedagogical practices and resources for students of all backgrounds and abilities.