First-year student Liya Seleshi has been interested in educational equity since her family emigrated to Denver from Ethiopia. But she didn’t know exactly what OER stood for before she joined the Colorado OER Council as a student representative. Having just attended the first council meeting, the CU Denver student is getting a quick education about OER’s importance.
OER stands for Open Educational Resources, which are free teaching, learning, and research materials (usually online). OER includes digital articles and textbooks, as well as audio and video lessons intended for K12 and higher education. Additionally, OER includes teacher and professor resources such as lesson plans, syllabi, quizzes, and activities. The official UNESCO definition specifies that OER resources “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.” The idea behind OER is simple—to increase educational access.
From SGA Student Representative to OER Council Member
Seleshi is a first-year student majoring in public health and a member of CU Denver’s Student Government Association. Before she started college, she was active in her Aurora high school’s student council, eventually serving as vice president. Her greatest achievement there was to create Africa Night, an event highlighting the different countries and cultures of the continent. “My high school had a lot of students from the African diaspora—Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Morocco, Eritrea,” she said. “Africa is not a monolithic place.”
As an immigrant, Seleshi has had some educational challenges herself. “I’m a first-generation college student, and I come from a low-income family,” she said. “I think what drew me to the council was their mission to close the equity gap with those who couldn’t afford higher education.”
Part of the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE), Colorado OER Council came about after the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 17-258 in 2017 to define and encourage the use of OER materials. In 2019, CHDE and OER Council received the WOW Award, which recognizes “organizations who implement exceptionally creative, technology-based solutions to contemporary challenges in higher education.”
Pandemic Positively Influenced Use of OER
Seleshi believes the COVID-19 health crisis has helped everyone understand the vital need for OER materials. “I think the pandemic has definitely pushed teachers and students to use open educational resources,” she said. “Professors and institutions are doing everything they can to offer everything online. They’re doing the best they can to reduce the education equity gap.”
Seleshi, who is the only student representative currently on the council, will continue to participate in monthly meetings, alongside educators from statewide public and private colleges and universities. Although she’s at the beginning of her work with the council, she is already impressed. “It’s inspiring to see that the OER Council has a wide-reaching grant program and is evaluating the impact it has on student success, faculty, and institutions,” she said. “I am thrilled to be part of an organization that wants to improve the student experience and help close gaps in education.”