Open Educational Resources
Costs of attending college continue to rise, placing an increasingly tough financial burden on students their families. In addition to tuition, housing, and meal plans, the cost of textbooks has also been steadily increasing. Baylor estimates undergraduate students will spend $695 per semester on textbooks and supplies (baylor.edu/estimator.com). The cost for textbooks has seen over a 700 percent increase since 1977 (Popken, 2015). The financial burden of course materials that keeps low- and middle-income students from completing college gained attention and formal recognition at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting in 2002 (Luo et al., 2020). As a response to this issue the term “Open Educational Resources” was coined to refer to learning resources that are free or low-cost and flexible. OER is formally defined by UNESCO as “teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities– retaining, remixing, revising, reusing and redistributing the resources.”
Providing free course materials to students initially may seem like a “no-brainer.” However, adoption of OER is low in higher education due to several issues and concerns. This guide addresses these concerns while providing research-based evidence regarding benefits of OER, tips for implementation, and online resources for adopting OER in your classroom.
Does free or low-cost mean poor quality?
Absolutely not. Faculty who have adopted OER have judged the quality to be the same as or even better than copyrighted, costly material and textbooks (Belikov & Bodily, 2016; Cozart et al., 2021; Kılickaya & Kic-Drgas, 2021). A study also found students obtain the same learning outcomes as they did with traditional textbooks (Kılickaya & Kic-Drgas, 2021). This makes the case that using OER will not hinder the quality of material provided to students to assist in their learning.
What other benefits are there of OER besides the cost-saving benefit?
Research on OER has found faculty and students prefer OER over textbooks. There are several reasons for this. Textbooks are often outdated and OER provide up-to-date and relevant resources. OER are also flexible and customizable, especially in comparison to the traditional textbook. In a textbook you may be unsatisfied with a chapter or two, but you must use it anyways to cover the material. In OER you are in control of all aspects of course material. Because of the creative commons copyright governing most OER, you don’t have to use an OER in its entirety; you are able to select and use only the portions you. You also can modify portions you are not completely satisfied with. This flexibility and customizability afforded by OER give teachers control in the selection of course material. Using OER can also provide students with multiple formats and delivery methods for learning.
Are OER only available digitally?
This is a common misconception. While you are likely to find OER online or in a digital format, it does not mean these materials cannot be printed and distributed (Martin & Kimmons, 2020). OER are available in the public domain or licensed in way that provides everyone with free and endless permission to engage in the material through the 5R activities mentioned above, including redistributing.
What are challenges with OER?
First, let’s break these down into different levels of approaches with OER. A teacher can adopt, adapt, or create OER. With each different approach comes specific challenges. Adopting OER is simply finding an OER and using it in your course materials as is. The main challenge with this approach is finding the OER. Fortunately, there are directories and repositories such as OERTX, MERLOT, OER Commons, and Open Textbook Library. This Baylor site will lead you to a list of other directories/repositories and OER search tools. In addition, the link has guidance documents for OER adoption at the bottom of the page.
Adapting an OER is when you find OER and decide to modify it by revising, editing, or adding to it. This is approach will require more time and effort. After you find and select an OER, you’ll need to take the time to modify that resource to fit for your course and learning objectives. This may take some trial and error, but it will give you an added level of control over course content.
Creating an OER is the most time-consuming and difficult option. This approach requires the creation of an OER that will be available for all at no cost. It will most likely take months to years to complete, depending on the amount to time you are able to dedicate to it. In the end, you will have completed a resource you had full control over in addition to providing a cost-saving, high-quality benefit to numerous individuals who may not have otherwise been able to access the material.
What can I do to minimize challenges with OER?
To incorporate OER with any approach, faculty need to develop a realistic and flexible plan that involves collaboration with others of diverse skill sets (Tillinghast, 2020). Faculty who are experts in specific topics within a subject can provide guidance in selecting an appropriate OER, provide suggestions for modifications to an OER, or be willing to co-create an OER in an area you are less familiar with. In addition, being aware of what resources are available to you eases the process. A great place to get started is Baylor’s dedicated OER page. Baylor also provides a grant program to support you and your ideas to adopt, adapt, or create OER.
But I use the ancillary material the comes with the textbook, what should I do?
No need to panic! OER can still be an option for you. There are OER ancillary materials available in depositories such as OpenStax. While not all course subjects will have OER supplemental materials, it is worth the search, and the options are increasing constantly. Pressbooks is also designed to help you find OER textbooks and related materials. Openverse is another site designed to help you locate stock photos, illustrations, videos, and other media OER.
Where do I begin my search for OER within my discipline?
A 2016 study found that one of the top three barriers to adoption of OER was lack of discoverability. Faculty’s inability to easily find OER repositories caused frustration and negatively impacted their perceptions and adoption of OER (Belikov & Bodily, 2016). As mentioned previously, Baylor has a resource page for faculty, here you will be able to find OER repositories and directories. You may also contact your liaison librarian for assistance in helping you identify OER for your specific subject or course. University of Houston-Victoria, Virginia Tech, and University of New Hampshire among others have also set up OER repositories by subject/discipline. Another great place to get started is Openstax from Rice University. Openstax has one of the most fully developed peer reviewed OER Textbooks platforms, mainly for core subjects introductory courses, including ancillary materials for instructors.
Research has showed that faculty who have support from their institution are able to more readily and easily overcome the typical barriers faced in OER adoption (McGowan, 2020). Luckily for you, Baylor is so supportive of your efforts to use OER that they have set up a resource page dedicated OER designed to help faculty incorporate OER in their courses. Furthermore, if you are interested in adopting, adapting, or creating OER, Baylor provides a grant program aimed at encouraging faculty to reduce the financial burden on students by using library content, OER, or other low- or zero- cost materials. Baylor appreciates your effort in helping reduce the barriers of attaining a higher-education that affects low- and middle- income students. For more ways to incorporate inclusiveness when designing your course please check out the Inclusive Teaching Guide.
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. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.8.3.308
Cozart, D. L., Horan, E. M., and Frome, G. (2021). Rethinking the Traditional Textbook: A Case for Open Educational Resources (OER) and No-Cost Learning Materials. Teaching & Learning Inquiry. 9 no. 2. http://dx.doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.9.2.13
Kılickaya, F. & Kic-Drgas, J. (2021). Issues of context and design in OER (open educational resources). Education Tech Research Dev. 69, 401-405. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09852-8
Luo, T., Hostetler, K., Freeman, C., & Stefaniak, J. (2020). The power of open: Benefits, barriers, and strategies for integration of open educational resources. Open Learning, 35(2), 140-158. doi:10.1080/02680513.2019.1677222
McGowan, V. (2020). Institution initiatives and support related to faculty development of open educational resources and alternative textbooks. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and E-Learning, 35(1), 24-45. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680513.2018.1562328
Popken, B. (2015, August 6). College textbook prices have risen 1,041 percent since 1977. NBC News. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/freshman-year/college-textbook-prices-have-risen-812-percent-1978-n399926
Tillinghast, B. (2020). Developing an Open Educational Resource and Exploring OER-Enabled Pedagogy in Higher Education. IAFOR Journal of Education, 8(2), 159–174.
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