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
"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.