Press Release
Thomas College Professor’s Academic Paper on College Accessibility and Affordability Accepted into Top Education Research Conference in Nation MacKenzie Riley Young | November 13, 2023

WATERVILLE, MAINE, November 2023 — Thomas College professor and chair of the Peter and Paula Lunder School of Education Dr. Katie Rybakova 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 (AERA).  

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.

Rybakova will present her paper in an AERA Technology as an Agent of Change in Teaching and Learning (TACTL) SIG session for the 2024 AERA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in April.

Rybakova is proud of this accomplishment, and proud of the team at Thomas College who are helping make college more affordable and accessible for students through Open Educational Resources (OER).

“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. There are courses within our data that went from requiring a textbook that costs almost 200 dollars for one class to costing nothing to students. That’s a huge cost savings; 200 dollars for a college student can go a long way. And that’s just for one course!” said Rybakova.

“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 our pedagogy and teaching changes when making that shift. She says, “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.”

“Dr. Rybakova’s work highlights the positive impacts for students and faculty when we focus on access and affordability,” said Thomas College Provost Thomas Edwards. “In the college classroom, this combination translates into student engagement and student success. Professor Rybakova’s work has important implications for all students, but especially for the students we serve at Thomas.”

Rybakova said she thought it was a long shot when applying to present this paper at AERA but decided to try anyways.

“I was flabbergasted to get the notification that not only was it accepted but that it was selected as a finalist for the best paper of 2024 within the scope of Technology and Equity,” she said. “I’m proud to be representing Thomas in this way on a national stage among colleagues who often work for research-focused institutions. I’m most proud though of the cohort of faculty that have been working on OER coursework with me for five years. We have a strong knowledge base, have done incredible work together, and have made a difference for our students– we’re small but mighty!”

About Thomas College:   

U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks Thomas College as a top college in Maine for social mobility. Our clear career focus and one-of-a-kind Guaranteed Job Program™ makes it possible to advance faster in the arts and sciences, business, and education. Earn an undergraduate degree in three years and then choose from a variety of in-person or online graduate degree programs that can be completed in one-year or two. Located in Waterville, Maine, Thomas College is your pathway to a promising future, guaranteed. For more information, visit or contact MacKenzie Riley Young at [email protected] or 207-859-1313. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and TikTok