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Textbook affordability has become a goal for a broad range of advocates of affordable higher education. It is seen as an achievable way to make a potentially huge impact. However, the labor required to implement textbook affordability is a major factor that often goes uncommented upon in discussions of barriers to this implementation, which often focus on a lack of funding or training. We should be aware that the same structures that determine how labor is rewarded or even acknowledged are still in place, and how our academic relations of production affect perception of both OER and the labor involved in affordability work. This presentation will report on an extensive survey the scattered references in the literature to affordability labor issues to find out what trends are emerging and what narratives already exist as a way to set the stage for future research.

There haven’t been large scale surveys done on OER labor issues (compared to other surveys such as the Babson reports) that interrogate the experiences of instructors who are adopting, adapting, and authoring OER and doing other affordability work. These narratives are currently scattered in the literature mostly as basic descriptions of how a grant was distributed, how release time was negotiated, or what faculty motivations are for doing affordability work. There are also questions concerning whether current labor issues in academia are exacerbated by open education, such as deprofessionalization of work and unpaid labor by students.

Current research suggests that most of the affordability work is invisible. This invisibility manifests itself as undervaluing of the work that reduces costs and may improve retention and persistence for students. The promotion and tenure process rarely recognizes OER work, with the notable exception of the University of British Columbia, which recognizes “contributions to the practice and theory of teaching and learning literature” that specifically mentions OER. The promotion and tenure process itself may even hinder time investments in affordability work. Observations by other practitioners suggest that this labor can be coded as female, which may also provide a useful lens through which to critically analyze its devaluation. Without taking the nature of academic labor practices into account, OER advocates are in danger of replacing one inequitable system with another. Labor is an extraordinary investment, and yet sometimes is entirely left out of the equation in OER discussions.


Presentation for the 16th Annual Open Education Conference.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.