The All-OER Path

A new study of 38 community colleges participating in an open education resources (OER) initiative says that students in OER courses engage with the content as well or better than students in non-OER classes using traditional course materials. It’s reported in Community College Daily

The study from Achieving the Dream gauges the progress of the colleges participating in its $9.8 million OER Degree Initiative, which helps the colleges develop the infrastructure to launch OER course pathways in disciplines such as general studies, health science, biology, social science and criminal justice, among others. The goal is to bring to scale the number of students who can complete a degree using only OER, according to the article.

So far the movement toward OER appears to rely upon voluntary participation by faculty. This is a crucial aspect of any successful effort to make the switch. Instructors report a great deal of variety in the quality and availability of the free material. Those who teach know the importance of choosing the most appropriate texts and other resources for their particular classes.

At most colleges, teachers of the same courses decide collectively what books to require. Adjunct instructors may or may not be part of this decision. At large schools, including most universities, it would probably be impossible to allow each teacher of introductory classes to choose his or her own materials—especially with traditional books. However, with OER, one can imagine much greater latitude. In fact, the OER movement could result in unprecedented options for teachers.

Some past surveys have indicated that students prefer traditional texts, but if you ask students the right question (especially bringing in the cost factor), you get a different response. The article acknowledges that the new information in the study is tentative. One persistent difficulty is using “volunteers” in surveys—students and faculty—who bring enthusiasm to the project, and hence may skew the results of any questionnaire.