Open Educational Resources: Good for Affordability; Better for Learning

Steven J. Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University

Despite a growing conversation in higher education about open educational resources (OER), the fact remains that many faculty know little about OER or encounter various barriers keeping them from integrating these learning materials into their courses. We know this thanks to a recently published survey, Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-2016, from the Babson Survey Research Group. According to the report’s introduction:


Survey results, using responses of over 3,000 U.S. faculty, show that OER is not a driving force in the selection of [learning] materials – with the most significant barrier being the effort required to find and evaluate such materials. Use of open resources is low overall, but somewhat higher for large enrollment introductory-level courses.

Higher education media reporting on this study focused on two findings:

·       faculty remain largely unaware of OER

·       cost is a primary factor for faculty in choosing learning materials.

Only 25% of faculty indicated awareness of OER, still a slight increase from 2014-2015. One way to increase faculty awareness of OER is to…well…write an EDvice Exchange post to discuss what OER are, promote the value of OER as affordable learning material and address concerns faculty share about OER.

What Makes it OER?
What exactly makes an educational resource open? It takes more than being freely available on the Internet. To qualify as OER learning material should pass the Five R’s Test. That is, can you determine if the content can be:

Retained – you have the right to retain the content by virtue of downloading, storing and managing it;
Reused – you have freedom to use the content as you wish for reuse on the web, a course site, etc.;
Revised – you can adapt, adjust or otherwise modify the content;
Remixed – you can merge the content with other material to create something new;
Redistributed – you can share copies of the original or revised/remixed content with others.

“Openness” happens when faculty create and share learning content they develop for their students, be it a quiz, a video tutorial, course notes, slides or even entire monographs. How can educators be intentional in giving their materials OER status? One way is to contribute the resource to a repository of open and sharable learning resources, such as MERLOT. Alternately, assign a Creative Commons License to the content. This signals the material is available for any of the Five R’s without needing the author’s explicit permission. It looks like this:

The symbols indicate this content requires anyone using it to provide attribution (BY), refrain from using it for any commercial application (NC) and must share it freely with others (SA). The Creative Commons website has a license generator that simplifies the process of assigning a license to content.
Why Do So Few Faculty Use OER?
The Babson Survey asked faculty to indicate important factors in choosing learning materials. 87% of faculty ranked “cost to the student” number one. If cost is a prominent decision factor why aren’t more faculty choosing OER to eliminate the cost to students? Another survey question offers some insight. When asked about the barriers to adopting OER faculty cited numerous concerns. The top five were:

·       insufficient resources in my subject

·       too difficult to find resources

·       no comprehensive catalog of resources

·       not used by other faculty I know

·       not high quality

These are certainly valid concerns, but far from insurmountable obstacles to introducing OER into many courses across the disciplines. The successful integration of OER into nearly 50 courses participating in Temple Libraries Alternate-Textbook Project demonstrates this. In exchange for receiving an award of $1,000, faculty agree to eliminate their traditional commercial textbook. Courses from the humanities, social sciences and physical sciences have all managed to identify and adopt OER as learning material.

While there is no single finding tool for all OER, subject specialist research librarians are well versed in locating OER and can assist faculty across the disciplines to identify OER. While only faculty can determine the quality of learning material, librarians can point to peer-reviewed open content.

Are You Getting the Results?
When it comes to learning materials, what matters most is whether students are achieving course learning goals. Even the highest quality learning materials are of limited benefit to students if they are unable to afford it. Seven out of ten students reported that they have not purchased a textbook at least once because of the expense. Faculty participants in our Alternate-Textbook Project, in their final project evaluations, typically report high satisfaction with student learning with OER and supplementary licensed-library content. When all students have equal access to learning materials they are better prepared for class. When faculty have greater control over learning content they find students are more engaged with the learning materials.

While there will always be courses for which a commercial textbook is the best choice of learning material, the increase in and improved discoverability of OER make it a more realistic option for faculty who wish to provide their students with affordable learning content. Your colleagues at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching  and Temple Libraries are available to assist you in exploring OER for your course. You may also learn more and explore OER resources with Temple Libraries’ Guide to OER.


Let's Exchange EDvice!
Are you using OER resources in your course? Tell us more about how OER are working for you and your students! If you aren't using OER, what do you see as the most convincing argument for implementing them? 

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