COLUMBIA — Parents' eyes lit up Wednesday when UM System President Mun Choi announced an initiative to move the system towards adopting open educational resources. Or, more simply, free books.

Choi made the announcement at about 1 p.m. in the MU Student Center, which was busy with parents, incoming freshmen in Summer Welcome groups, and current students. Members of the Board of Curators, Representatives Allen Andrews, R-Grant City, Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, and Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, and Interim Chancellor Garnett Stokes were on hand.

Open educational resources are published with open access copyrights, are free for students and can be distributed and used for little to no cost. Instructors also can write and add chapters to tailor textbooks to specific courses. They are accessed online, usually as PDFs, and can be revised and updated fairly quickly, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The UM System and MU will partner with OpenStax and with faculty members to develop open educational resources for students.

"We're very pleased about this initiative," Choi said, "and we're going to see more and more courses roll out open source materials."

Choi also praised the UM System's use of Auto Access textbooks to increase textbook affordability for students. 240 courses across the UM System use Auto Access textbooks, saving students around $7 million annually. 

 Auto Access Textbooks

Open Educational Resources

  • Available online for any student enrolled in a course
  • Reduced cost
  • A collaboration with publishers, bookstores and professors
  • Available online for anybody, whether enrolled or not
  • Free to access
  • Independently created by instructors, can be edited at any time

According to data on College Board, a student getting a four-year degree will spend an average of $5,000 on books and supplies.

Resources in action

Steve Keller's Chemistry 1320 class will be the first to adopt open educational resources in the fall. Other classes are expected to follow suit, said Student & Auxiliary Services spokesperson Michelle Froese.

Keller's class will utilize an Auto Access book in the fall as he works to develop an open access book for the spring semester.

Keller hopes to use ChemWiki from the University of California at Davis to "piece together a textbook completely electronically and completely free." 

"They have entire courses that are completely free with individual textbook sections that can be arranged in any order," Keller said.

He praised the flexibility open educational resources offer educators when designing their courses and said that they also allow students to use their textbooks more efficiently.

"They read textbooks like novels and it isn't supposed to be that way," he said, noting that online textbooks with interactive homework features guide students to exactly where they need to be in their reading to learn concepts.

In the spring, four classes in the Department of Health Sciences — which includes MU's largest major, health sciences — will adopt open educational resources.

"The reason OER is such a great match in health sciences is that the knowledge base is changing faster than traditional course materials can keep up," Megan Gill, spokesperson for the Department of Health Professions, said in an email after the announcement. "OER gives our faculty an opportunity to keep the learning environment fresh and engaging, and gives them the flexibility to apply current materials and current events to history and theory in an area of study that changes literally every day."

Savings and incentives

Freshmen and underclassmen can expect to benefit most from open educational resources.

"Let’s shoot for the moon! Why not have all of our freshman courses available through open source?" Choi said. General education courses such as psychology, chemistry and philosophy, he said, have widely available resources online. Dual enrollment courses available throughout the state could also utilize open educational resources, he said.

Grace Atkins, who led the interest group on open educational resources for two years, said that introductory courses had the most open educational resources available, which is good for students because those books tend to be the most expensive and are used by the largest number of students. However, she added that the lack of material available for more specific courses and upper-level courses is "all the more reason to incentivize our faculty to make them."

The University of Connecticut implemented an open educational resource policy while Choi served as provost there and offered instructors $1,000 for transitioning to open source materials and $250 for reviewing open books related to their courses.

Faculty members at MU will be offered incentives ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, Choi said. Incentives would depend on the amount of time and work put into the development of open educational resources and would also be available to graduate student instructors.

The UM System is planning to establish a group to to put ideas about open educational resources into action. The group will include faculty, students, a team of librarians, bookstore personnel and campus instructional design staff from all four campuses, Froese said.

The initiative will launch this summer.

Supervising editor Katherine Reed.

  • Summer 2017 general assignment reporter, fall 2018 writer for Vox. I am a junior studying arts & culture journalism. Reach me at or (901) 216-9147.

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