Katie Rybakova Submitted photo

WATERVILLE — Katie Rybakova, Ph.D., Thomas College professor and chair of the Peter and Paula Lunder School of Education, was recently notified that her academic paper was accepted for presentation into the top education research conference in the nation, the American Educational Resource Association.

Rybakova’s paper, focused on the impacts of open education resources on student learning and supporting first-generation college students, is also a finalist for the best AERA Technology as an Agent of Change in Teaching and Learning paper of 2024, according to a news release from the college.

Rybakova will present her paper in a session for the 2024 AERA annual meeting in Philadelphia in April.

“What I’ve found is that a first-generation college student has a learning curve when it comes to attending college, and one of those learning curves is the unexpected costs of textbooks,” Rybakova said in the news release. “There are courses within our data that went from requiring a textbook that costs almost $200 for one class to costing nothing to students. That’s a huge cost savings; $200 for a college student can go a long way. And that’s just for one course!” she said.

“When we think about equity, do we think about the population in Maine that is food impoverished or come from a home of trauma and/or poverty? By using OER, we acknowledge that we may be working with students who need that equity to access education and learning. My passion has always been teaching and learning, and to me, breaking down the barrier of cost to learn is so important,” she said.

Rybakova’s paper is based on her involvement as project manager for the last five years of using open educational resources in a primarily first-generation institution; almost half of Thomas College students identify as first-generation college students. This data shows that OER-enhanced courses produce more engagement among students, equivalent success academically compared to traditional coursework, and a large cost-savings benefit for students.

“It’s a crucially important topic because it promotes not only educational equity but also living into the 21st century expectation of course materials remaining dynamic versus static. We can’t expect to be successful as educators if we are teaching the same thing in the same way every year, year in and year out,” said Rybakova.

Rybakova’s expertise is in curriculum and instruction. She’s been a professor at Thomas College for seven years. In her role as project manager for various OER projects, Rybakova collects data and spends time having conversations among interdisciplinary faculty about the benefit of not only the conversion from textbook to OER resources but also how teaching changes when making that shift. “It’s often a shift from more traditional teaching styles to teaching styles we know from the research are more engaging, motivating, and thus, result in higher learning potential and academic success,” she said.

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