Researching OERs

Over the course of the last year or two, there has been a lot of work happening on our campus with regard to Open Education Resources (OERs). Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written about OERs a number of times over the years.  In 2013, I shared a comprehensive list of sites that offer open textbooks. Looking at the options now, the open textbook landscape is pretty impressive, especially considering that these textbooks usually come at little to no cost to students. They also offer students a wide variety of digital formats to access the content (PDF, ePub, etc.). While there are lots of benefits for students, open textbooks can be beneficial for instructors. With the low entry cost, instructors could assign a chapter or two from on text and another from a different text. Depending on the Creative Commons licensing of the texts, an instructor could even cobble together their own unique text from others. From a practical point of view, using open textbooks (and other OERs) can be really impactful across a collegiate campus.

But, what does the research say? I’ve been looking at this a little more lately with some colleagues on campus. We’re working on an OER implementation program and looking for research to support more widespread OER use. For example, this summer, I shared a research article published in International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education that examined OER implementation at the University of Georgia. Through a large-scale study of 21,822 students enrolled in eight different courses over 13 semesters, researchers found that students performed better in courses that used OERs. Summarizing their findings, the researchers wrote:

OER improve end-of-course grades and decrease DFW (D, F, and Withdrawal letter grades) rates for all students. They also improve course grades at greater rates and decrease DFW rates at greater rates for Pell recipient students, part-time students, and populations historically underserved by higher education(Colvard, Watson and Park, 2018, pg. 262).

While this is an impressive finding, our group wanted to look at OER implementation a little more broadly. After examining a bunch of articles, I thought I’d share a few to help others who may be considering OER adoption, either in their own classes or through some larger scale program on their campuses. If you have some other references to share, be sure to leave a comment below.

Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(4), 573-590.

If you’re new to the OER game, this is an excellent primer to the subject. This article synthesizes sixteen different studies that examined the influence of OER on student learning outcomes in higher education settings and the perceptions of college students and instructors of OER. Looking across the different studies, Hilton found that students generally achieve the same learning outcomes when OERs are utilized in collegiate classes. While they perform equally as well, students in OER classes are able to save a great deal of money. This may be why Hilton found the students and faculty generally hold positive perceptions regarding OERs.

Hilton III, J. L., Robinson, T. J., Wiley, D., & Ackerman, J. D. (2014). Cost-savings achieved in two semesters through the adoption of open educational resources. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 15(2).

This is one of the most referenced articles on open textbook adoption. This study examines the cost savings at eight colleges through the adoption of OERs. The 3,734 students enrolled in courses that used open textbook saved collectively over $338,000 in textbook costs. Based on this research, the authors estimated that if 5% of the 20,000,000 collegiate students saw similar savings through greater open textbook adoption, they would save approximately one billion dollars per year.

Belikov, O.M., and Bodily, R. (2016). Incentives and barriers to OER adoption: A qualitative analysis of faculty perceptions. Open Praxis, 8(3), 235 – 246.

Through a survey of 218 US faculty members, the researchers found the top barriers to and incentives for OER adoption. Before adopting an OER, faculty felt that they needed more information about OERS and wanted to be able to find OER repositories more easily. Faculty also reported confusion over what constitutes an OER from other digital resources. To foster OER adoption, participating faculty stressed focusing on student benefits, outlining pedagogical benefits and providing more institutional support for faculty.



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