What Do Faculty Think of Open Educational Resources?

While many faculty are enthusiastic users of OER in their classrooms, others are still wary of the quality and effectiveness of free online course materials.
What Do Faculty Think of Open Educational Resources?

BECAUSE SO MANY of their students struggle with the cost of course materials, more professors are opting to use free open educational resources (OER) in their courses, rather than expensive traditional textbooks. But other faculty worry that the quality of OER might not equal that of traditional textbooks, according to a report conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

In "Freeing the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2018," the research group points to a significant increase in educator awareness of OER. Forty-six percent of professors and instructors now say they are familiar with OER, up from 34 percent three years ago. But while 61 percent of faculty surveyed either agree or strongly agree that their students struggle with the cost of course materials, less than 20 percent say that their institutions have adopted initiatives to bring those costs down.

Faculty who use OER argue that these digital materials don't just make education more affordable. They're also wide-ranging, regularly updated, and easily customized.

"The availability of electronic material that is in the public domain is so vast. I have created entire courses with all materials made available without cost to students," says one full-time professor in business administration. "This will become more common over time. Publishers will have to add value with ancillaries such as study aids, homework managers, [and] access to relevant online interactive exercises and videos."

The majority offaculty surveyed, including those who do not use OER, often take other steps to lower costs for their students. For example, they choose less expensive texts, encourage students to rent textbooks or purchase them used, or place copies of course materials on reserve at the library.

"Faculty's increased awareness of OER could be a natural extension of these efforts, says Julia Seaman, research director for the Babson Survey Research Group. "OER could provide an answer to the cost concerns that faculty have, while also supporting the 'revise' and 'remix' approach to textbook content that faculty are already using."

Some faculty express dislike or outright distrust for OER. Says one professor, "Students buy the electronic copy but then borrow printed copies because it is easier to read." A math professor argues that OER is not closing the achievement gap for underserved populations, noting that providers such as Pearson offer products that come with more powerful resources, better metrics, and other beneficial features.

Other faculty report that students who rely on OER do not master the material as well as those who learn via traditional materials. "OER in business seems to be consistently outdated and, in some cases, inaccurate," says one business department chair. "Faculty have tried unsuccessfully to implement them into their courses."

However, some respondents who aren't using OER express a willingness to do so as their quality improves. "If there were to become OER resources available, I would completely use them if they met the rigor and standard of the print materials I am currently using," says one medical faculty member.

Widespread integration ofOER has been "held back by a lack of awareness of OER and a perceived lack of offerings," Seaman notes. "That said, factors like a growing acceptance of digital media and concerns over the cost of textbooks could accelerate the expansion of OER awareness and use in the future."

Read the 48-page report, which is based on a survey of more than 4,000 faculty and department chairs, here.