Motivating for Open Education

Yesterday morning, two colleagues and I led an online presentation as part of our institution’s celebration of Open Education Week. The presentation was designed to describe our university’s efforts at developing an Open Textbook Initiative (OTI). We reviewed two years of work that laid the foundation for the initiative and discussed how each informed the overall development process. While I wrote about the beginnings of these efforts last summer, we organized our presentation around “critical incidents” and discussed the factors that led to the critical incident and how it foster the next stage of the OTI evolution. If you’re interested, the full presentation can be viewed here.

As I reflected more on our presentation today, I thought about how each of the critical incidents ultimately tied into faculty motivation. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post that reviewed Wergin’s 2001 article in Liberal Education titled Beyond Carrots and Sticks: What Really Motivates Faculty. In the article, Wergin identifies four common factors that motivate faculty on collegiate campuses. The article reviewed forty years of research and identified community, autonomy, recognition, and efficacy as the dominant factors influencing faculty motivation. Let me detail how each played a role in the development process.

Wergin writes that faculty possess a “desire to belong, to feel part of a nurturing community.” This is especially true with our Open Education group on campus. When we first started working together, we finally felt like we had “found our tribe.” We were no longer single innovators trying to work against the inertia of educational history. Finding a community of collaborators is so critical in any effort on campus.

While community is important, having the autonomy and independence to work alone is also vital in our faculty roles. “Professional autonomy,” Wergin writes, “is the freedom to experiment, to follow one’s own leads wherever they may go and do so without fear of the consequences.” The great thing about our Open Education group is that faculty have taken on leadership roles with different facets of our work. We have a grant writing team, a conference team, an education team, and so on. Each team allows for some autonomy while working for the collaborative objectives of the group.

Wergin writes that faculty want “to feel valued and to know that others see (our) work as worthwhile.” Through our Open Education efforts, we’ve worked to recognize those faculty who are taking risks. For example, I’ve used the website for the teaching and learning center I direct to feature faculty who are using OERs on campus. Check out my awesome colleagues Dr. Chris Stieha, Dr. Dan Albert and Dr. Alex Redcay. Each deserves recognition for their innovative efforts.

Efficacy, Wergin writes, “is a sense of having a tangible impact on our environment.” As we work to have our work be appreciated and recognized, we also want to know that our efforts made a difference and have contributed to some greater goal. This is the part that our group is currently working on. As we move forward with our Open Textbook Initiative, we plan to collect data to chart the impact of our efforts and to showcase how using Open Educational Resources can impact student learning.

Wergin, J. F. (2001). Beyond Carrots and Sticks: What Really Motivates Faculty. Liberal Education, 87(1), 50-53.


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.


Impacts of Open Educational Resources

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been trumpeting the use of Open Educational Resources (OERs) for years. For the most part, I promote OERs because they’re free for students and faculty to use. I work at a public institution that prides itself on being a pathway for first-generation college students and underserved students to get their undergraduate degree. Some of these students may have financial constraints that limit their ability to buy textbooks or other curricular materials that they need to be successful academically. When faculty adopt OERs in their classroom, they can provide some financial relief for these students.

On campus, I’ve been working with a group of faculty who are trying to raise awareness of OERs and promote more widespread use of OERs. Our efforts have mostly focused on the financial benefits of using OERs and how these can help students. For the most part, our efforts have not made much impact. Some of our faculty colleagues see OERs as being lower quality than the materials available from a publisher and worry of the academic impacts these may have on students in their classes. I try to explain that requiring a high quality, $200 book (or more) only benefits those students who can afford to purchase it. The others are probably trying to manage without it.

But I think I now have a new argument to make. In a recent issue of International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Colvard and Watson completed a large-scale study of 21,822 students enrolled in eight different courses over 13 semesters at the University of Georgia. In these classes, instructors chose to use OERs during some semester and non-OERs in others. The researchers examined student performance in the courses that used OERs and compared them to student performance in courses that used more traditional materials. Across the boards, students performed better in courses that used OERs. The researchers also disaggregated the data to examine how sub-groups of students performed in the classes. Summarizing their findings, Colvard and Watson write:

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(pg. 262).

The conclusion of the paper, however, is the critical part that I plan to share with my colleagues.

“This research suggests OER is an equity strategy for higher education: providing all students with access to course materials on the first day of class serves to level the academic playing field in course settings. While additional disaggregated research is needed in a variety of postsecondary contexts such as community college, HBCU, and other higher education settings to increase the generalizability of this notion, this study provides an empirical foundation on which to begin to change the advocacy narrative supporting OER. A new opportunity appears to be present for institutions in higher education to consider how to leverage OER to address completion, quality, and affordability challenges, especially those institutions that have higher percentages of Pell eligible, underserved, and/or part-time students than the institution presented in this study” (pg. 273).

I’m fortunate to work at an institution where the vast majority of my colleagues are motivated to “do right” by their students. This research clearly shows that using OERs can benefit students, not only financially but academically as well.

Colvard, N.B & Watston, C.E. (2018) The impact of open educational resources on various student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 262-275.

Five sites that offer open textbooks to faculty and students

Whether it’s President Obama’s plan for rating colleges based on their affordability or the College Affordability and Transparency Center’s College Scorecard developed by the US Department of Education, it seems like lots of people are focused on the rising costs of higher education these days.  This week, I thought I’d offer some sites for open textbooks.  These textbooks usually come at little to no cost to students and offer students a wide variety of digital formats to access the content (PDF, ePub, etc.).  With the growing use of mobile devices on campus, adopting an open textbook might be a great way to reduce a student’s out of pocket expenses for a semester.  Wondering whether an open textbook would be right for your course?  Check out Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know about Open Textbooks.

University of Minnesota Open Academics:

Created by the university’s College of Education and Human Development, this online catalog houses openly licensed textbooks that were reviewed by faculty members.  The site has catalogs over 80 complete textbooks in a variety of topics and content areas.

OpenStax College Textbooks:

Developed by Rice University, this site provides easy access to peer-reviewed digital textbooks at no cost to students or instructors.  While the library is small (only five books are currently offered), the plan is to build a comprehensive library of textbooks across disciplines.  The beginning offerings include texts on Physics, Sociology, Biology and Anatomy & Physiology.

College Open Textbooks:

Organized through collaborative efforts between Carnegie Mellon University, Florida Virtual Campus and several other institutions, College Open Textbooks offers texts aimed primarily for community colleges and other 2-year institutions of higher education and the first two years of 4-year institutions.  Texts offered through College Open Textbooks have been adopted nationwide by over 2000 different colleges and universities.

OER Commons:

OER Commons serves as a one-stop shop for Open Educational Resources.  The site includes over 600 open textbooks specifically designed for the post-secondary market.  In addition to curating open resources, the site offers training to faculty and connections to state curricular standards for K-12 environments.  It’s the ideal starting point for anyone interested in incorporated more open curricular materials in their classroom.


MERLOT offers over 2200 open textbooks developed by university faculty and available for free for students.  With its focus on multimedia educational resources, MERLOT houses open texts that typically leverage animations and simulations that expand text-based instruction.

Google Play heralds the tablet era on campus

A few weeks ago, Google announced a new addition to its technology suite:  Google Play.  Built as a competitor to iTunes and Amazon, Google Play is a veritable megaplex of content for the online shopper.  Books, music, movies and apps are all available for purchase and download.  Like Apple and Amazon does with their tablet owners, Google Play is providing a one-stop shopping experience for users who own Android devices.

While Google Play was designed to capitalize on the growing tablet market, this venture should also be seen as an important sign for educators: We are about to see a tablet explosion on campuses!  As tablet options grow and content becomes more available online, it is only natural that collegiate students will begin seeing the devices as viable devices for their use on campus.  Look at laptop ownership.  The ECAR National Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology  reports that 87% of collegiate students own laptops.  Laptops, however, are not ideal devices for collegiate students.  While laptops support content authoring, they are not natural reading devices, at least not as compared to books.  Or tablets.  Considering their functionality and their cost, I believe we are only a few semesters from seeing an explosion of tablet ownership in our classrooms.  And this isn’t just my opinion, either. The Person Foundation recently published a comprehensive report on tablet ownership and student access to digital media.  Some highlights from the study:

  • Tablet ownership has more than tripled among college students since March 2011, with one-quarter now owning a standard tablet (25%), compared to only 7% in March 2011.
  • More than six in ten college students agree that tablets help students to study more efficiently (66%) and help students to perform better in classes (64%).
  • 63% of college students believe that tablets will effectively replace textbooks as we know them today within the next five years.
  • 58% of college students prefer a digital format when reading textbooks for class.

Whether it’s with a Kindle Fire, an iPad, or with an Android tablet, collegiate students are becoming more comfortable with using tablet computers and seeing their use as vital to their academic success.  Google Play’s emergence heralds the coming tablet era on collegiate campuses.  The big question though, is: “Are we as educators ready?”