The growth of open educational resources (OER) may prove transformative in the way online learning has been. Textbook costs have skyrocketed to the point that finding an alternative is no longer simply an issue of saving students money but of preserving educational outcomes as students forgo textbooks they cannot afford. A Virginia State University study found that, due to cost, only 47 percent of students purchase textbooks for their courses (Feldstein et. al., 2012).
Despite that low figure, Julia and Jeff Seaman found that only 9 percent of faculty use open resources in their courses (Seaman & Seaman, 2017). The problem is awareness. The faculty who use OER usually only do so because of a chance encounter with them at a conference or a colleague’s recommendation. Institutions that want widespread adoption of open resources among faculty should formally implement programs to encourage faculty to add OER to their courses and support faculty efforts to do so. Luckily, a few schools have launched such programs, and these can serve as guides to other institutions looking to launch OER initiatives.
Probably the biggest barriers to faculty adoption of open resources are lack of knowledge of where to find them and the perceived time required to search for them. Moreover, faculty commonly assume that OER will be of lesser quality than traditional textbooks—that the resources are compiled by novices rather than qualified academics and not vetted, which is not the case.
Thus, the first job of any institution looking to get faculty buy-in for open resources is education, and I suggest the library be given it rather than the IT department. Why? This is not a technical issue; it’s a content and pedagogical issue. The library can put together a workshop for departments to demonstrate where and how to find open resources. Such a workshop could profile the many educational institutions offering OER, including MIT’s Open Courseware program, the Open University, OpenStax at Rice University, and the Commonwealth of Learning OAsis. It might also address how many states and Canadian provinces are putting out open resources developed by colleges and universities and highlight the many repositories that aggregate OER from a variety of sources.
Far from a lack of resources, the reality is that there are so many OER that they can be overwhelming to search. For this reason, it is important to support faculty in searching open resources. The College of the Canyons solved this problem by hiring students and former students to search on faculty members’ behalves (Lieberman, 2018). Today’s students are well versed in search and have little trouble navigating new websites. Plus, many institutions already have work-study programs in the budget. Faculty send in lists of their current resources, and students compile potential open resource alternatives. Faculty then pick what they want to use from the suggestions. Individual faculty might also employ graduate teaching assistants to search for OER.
In 2016 Florida International University came up with a badging system to encourage faculty to adopt OER (FIU Online, n.d.). It first established a target of having total educational resources for a course cost no more than $20 per credit. It then invited faculty who met this target to apply for an “affordability counts” medallion that would be awarded to their course and displayed on both the syllabus and learning management system. One would hope that these badges are also displayed in the course catalog and elsewhere outside the course itself; they cannot really motivate students to choose the course if the student needs to already be enrolled to see it.
Fifty-four courses received the medallion in the program’s first year; today that number is 150. The program initially targeted online courses, perhaps because these faculty are already attuned to electronic resources, though the hope is to expand it to face-to-face offerings as well. Other institutions that adopt similar programs might find that courses with these badges draw students away from courses without badges, thus incentivizing faculty who teach electives to offer them as well. This could eventually snowball into widespread adoption by faculty around the institution.
Perhaps the most radical and potentially most effective means of gaining faculty buy-in is with financial incentives. The University of Idaho tried just that when it offered grants of up to $2,000 to faculty who adopted OER for their courses (Staben, 2019). But Chuck Staben, the university’s president, wants to go even further: to implement a revenue plan whereby the academic department, teaching center, and library would each receive a percentage of students’ total textbook savings according to the formula “5 percent/2.5 percent/2.5 percent, respectively.”
Given that student savings do not go into the institution’s pockets, where would this money come from? Staben suggests that even a small increase in student retention due to the program would be sufficient to pay for it. Plus, a state-supported institution can lobby its legislators to earmark money for OER initiatives on grounds that they save taxpaying students money.
Hopefully, many more institutions will begin implementing OER programs to save students money and increase retention.
Feldstein, A., Martin, M., Hudson, A., Warren, K., Hilton, J., III, & Wiley, D. (2012). Open textbooks and increased student access and outcomes. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/?p=archives&year=2012&halfyear=2&article=533
FIU Online. (n.d.). Affordability Counts framework. Retrieved from https://dlss.flvc.org/documents/210036/1254784/Affordability+Counts+-+FIU.pdf/967c9a4a-d93e-a7b1-24f3-77db6996c7bf
Lieberman, M. (2018, June 20). Trial and error: Students and alumni lead OER factory. Inside Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/06/20/students-lead-curation-oer-materials-professors-college-canyons
Seaman, J. E., & Seaman, J. (2017). Opening the textbook: Educational resources in U.S. higher education, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/openingthetextbook2017.pdf
Staben, C. (2019, February 13). A new way to motivate faculty adoption of OER. Inside Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2019/02/13/encourage-faculty-adoption-oer-share-savings-departments-and
John Orlando, PhD, edits the Online Cl@ssroom portion of The Teaching Professor for Magna Publications.