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Exploring the Path to Education Equity: A Student Outlook on Open Educational Resources

    By Aamina Rehman, with an introduction by Jill Darling

    During the ‘22-’23 academic year, I participated in the Hub Affiliate faculty program with the goal of learning more about Open Educational Resources (OER). That experience led me to be invited to join the UM-Dearborn campus Open Education Committee to further explore OER and help to spread the word, especially among faculty who are looking for support in their OER endeavors. As I wrote in a recent Hub blog post, since I don’t use official textbooks and have only used bits and pieces of OER in my classes, my syllabi are largely filled with course materials that students can access for free by way of library resources, websites, and other means. But many faculty across disciplines also struggle with finding textbooks and materials that will benefit students and complement their pedagogical strategies and that students can afford or access for free.

    I love working with the other OER committee members because everyone is excited about, and invested in, non-profit, inclusive, and equitable access to resources that aid in student success. And I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to participate in helping faculty explore resources and share their stories about OER.

    When I joined the Open Education Committee, one of the people I met was Aamina Rehman, an undergraduate student who is passionate about educational equity and access. As a member of Student Government, Aamina brings an important student perspective and voice to the OE Committee, and she’s been active in creating educational materials and helping to organize events to engage students in conversations about Open Education. And the more students learn about OER and other kinds of accessible resources, the more they can potentially encourage their professors to incorporate free or low-cost course materials into their classes. What always strikes me about Aamina is her excitement and enthusiasm. I can feel her commitment to educational equity as a social justice issue. I also wondered when she began to develop these ideas and what led her to join the OE Committee, so I asked her. Below, she shares her story as well as some general information about what OER is, and ways students can approach faculty to talk about open and accessible resources.

    –Jill Darling

    Open Educational Resources (OER) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license (often a Creative Commons license). 

    The nature of these open resources means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt, and re-share them. Unlike traditional textbooks and course materials, OER is generally available for free (or in the case of printed materials, at a nominal cost) and the nature of open licensing means that they are adaptable and customizable for the specific needs of a community of learners and can include a more diverse array of voices and perspectives. 

    Advocating for education equity, such as in the case of OER, has been a passion of mine for several years now. It began in high school when we were learning asynchronously due to the coronavirus. My math teacher posted a flyer on Google Classroom about a program called “Math Corps,” aimed to teach math to middle schoolers from underserved areas at University of Michigan’s Ypsilanti site. After the application process, I was selected as one of the high school teaching assistants (TAs). Little did I know that that summer would transform the way that I viewed the education system. Through this program, I worked with students not only as a tutor, but as an older sibling, mentoring them in the field of mathematics as well as in their personal growth. The harsh realization that I came to was that although many of these students were so bright, they were failed by their education system. Some did not have consistent math teachers, and some were taught by substitute teachers throughout their middle school career, leaving many students with inadequate math skills despite their intelligence. This was exactly what the Math Corps aimed to mitigate against.  

    Ever since the summer of 2020, I have continued to work for this program. I was a high school TA at University of Michigan’s Ypsilanti site for a few years, before being recruited by Professor Dabkowski to work at University of Michigan-Dearborn’s new Math Corps site as a College Instructor, which I have been involved in for the past two years now. Through this program, we aim to address education inequity within the Dearborn middle school community and surrounding areas through not only teaching children mathematical skills, but also through acting as mentors by a “kids-teaching-kids” model. 

    I wanted to continue to address education inequities not only for younger children, but in the college environment as well. After expressing my interest to Student Government, the President elected me for the position of SG Representative for UM-D’s Open Education Committee with faculty and staff in 2022, and I have worked with the committee since. We aim to address textbook availability and price concerns through designing and awarding faculty grants for open resources, raising awareness about open education among the student body and faculty through sharing presentations and designing brochures, and working with national organizations such as Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), such that students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds can succeed in their courses. 

    As a psychology major, I have been required to use open resources for some of my courses, but not all. However, since serving on the OE Committee since 2022, I have witnessed the usage of OER grow firsthand, with professors from different fields requesting grants in order to copy, use, adapt, or re-share resources. I hope that through our efforts, OER will continue to be utilized by professors to allow for more cost-effective options for students. Through this, students may find college to be more affordable. The National Center for Education Statistics (2022) reported that students have a higher probability of attending college within three years of graduating high school only if they believe their family can afford the costs of their education. However, due to the costs of tuition, course resources, and the like, many students are unable to afford college. Simultaneously, many studies indicate the impact of educational achievement on mental health. A study conducted by Bauldry (2015) reported that individuals from backgrounds or groups less likely to obtain degrees, when completing even some college, showed greater protection against depressive symptoms than those from backgrounds more likely to obtain some form of higher education. As such, although education can and should be a choice, students should have the ability to view college as an option without concern about affordability, especially given its mental health impacts as studied. In the future, I hope to engage in clinical work that addresses these kinds of disparities, and working with education inequity has provided me with an outlook for how different factors can impact mental health. 

    If you are a student concerned with cost and accessibility of textbooks, you can talk to your professors about OER:

    • Professors need to hear from you directly about how the cost of textbooks personally impacts you and OERs they could choose instead.
    • Start with a personal story. The impact of your personal experience often outweighs any statistics. Talk about your story and how the cost of textbooks for their class has impacted you through a framework of care and respect. 
    • Share resources for more support. Let your faculty member know that there is support for OERs available on campus through the Open Education Committee (OEC), which can offer advice, guidance, and grants to fund adoptions and creation of OERs. Information is available at
    • Create solidarity with other students to drive systemic change. While your individual voice is important, students working together in a group can be even more powerful. Show up at office hours or coordinate with other students through Student Government to make your needs heard at a higher level.
    • If you are interested in or passionate about this topic, consider joining the OEC as a student representative.

    –Aamina Rehman

    Aamina Rehman (she/her) is a psychology undergraduate student in her third year at UM-Dearborn, and has held a passion for education equity and mental health awareness. She has worked for the Math Corps program for the past four years, and served as the Lead College Instructor this past summer at the newly founded UM-Dearborn Math Corps site. She is also involved in research with Dr. Leonard regarding relationship health and psychological couple dynamics. She hopes to continue addressing mental health concerns, relationship health, and education inequities in her time remaining at UM-Dearborn.

    Jill Darling (she/her) is a Lecturer II teaching composition & rhetoric and creative writing at UM-Dearborn, and has long been interested in critical and student-centered pedagogy, equity, access, and inclusion. Her project as a Hub Affiliate drew on these to explore Open Educational Resources (OER) and to consider the benefits of, and potential for, creating an OER text focused on essay writing. Darling is the author of Geographies of Identity: Narrative Forms, Feminist Futures (Punctum Books), the chapter “From Expository Blog to Engaged E-Portfolio: A Student-Centered Pedagogy in Process” in Engaging 21st Century Writers with Social Media, a number of academic and creative essays, collections of poetry, and more. 


    Bauldry, S. (2015). Variation in the protective effect of higher education against depression. 

    Society and Mental Health, 5(2), 145-161.

    National Center for Education Statistics. (2022, January 12). Students Are More Likely to Attend 

    College if They Believe Family Can Afford to Pay.