Extensive commercial textbooks are large, heavy, and expensive. Some students refuse to buy them. Others leave them at home when studying in class or while at the library.
Consequently, some universities are turning to Open Educational Resources (OER). These are high quality teaching, learning, and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose.
But does OER work? What impact does it have on students academically? Does it affect nontraditional students in particular? And what role does it play – if any – in student success?
To find out, we invited Dr. Nicholas Colvard, Lecturer and Academic Coach in the Division of Academic Enhancement at University of Georgia, to come on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss both the potential economic and academic benefits of Open Educational Resources (OER) and the results of their latest findings in regards to OER at University of Georgia.
The Goals Behind Open Educational Resources (OER)
OER can consist of text, media, or other digital assets. They are not solely limited to textbooks. OER materials are licensed in a way that gives users free and perpetual permission to engage is what users call the “Five R Activities,” or the “Five R Permissions.”
The Five Rs are retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute.
Retain means the individual has the right to make, own, and control copies of the content. For example, you can download, duplicate, store, and manage that resource to tailor it to your specific demographic or your specific student body.
You can also reuse it in a wide range of ways to fit the needs of your student group.
Revising allows you to have the rights to adapt, adjust, modify, or even alter the content itself in order to best encourage your students to use that material. For example, if you needed to translate some text into another language or render it approachable to students of different social backgrounds, you have the right and freedom to do so.
Remixing is allowing the user to have the right to combine original work with other revised content or other materials to create something unique. You can mash it up with other material you already have.
Redistributing gives you the right to share copies of that original work, along with your revisions or your remixes, with others. This “R” lets you, the user, contribute to the larger work of OER and to spread that curriculum far and wide.
Wanting to evaluate how courses employing OER are impacting student success metrics and student academic achievement, Nicholas and his team disaggregated student performance based on a few metrics.
“What we first wanted to break down was those that were federally determined to be receiving significant financial aid, or essentially federal Pell Grant recipients,” Nicholas told us. “Additionally, we looked at student ethnic origin. And finally, our study evaluated registration status of the students, so part-time versus full-time students.”
The results were encouraging.
“We feel like OER is helping to level the academic playing field for those students that may be historically underserved in higher education,” Nicholas said.
How OER Influences Student Utilization
Several studies besides the one Nicholas conducted at the University of Georgia show the positive impact OER are having on student engagement, participation, and classroom success.
“There are studies and student testimonials that speak to this specifically,” Nicholas said, “where students talk about how they can access their curriculum from their computer, from their mobile devices, when they’re in the car, when they’re in the library, when they’re at home.”
They’re not having to carry around or keep track of multiple books or lug large textbooks around, allowing for that ease of engagement in the material.
“Some students have reported using even the audio feature to listen to their books,” Nicholas said, “when they’re traveling to that university, especially those nontraditional students that are working a full-time job as well.”
That’s one way OER speaks to the attainment gap.
By simply ensuring that all students, regardless of their need or background, have access to course materials on the first day of class, the quality and extent of learning appears to improve.
The Future of OER in Higher Education
“Give it a chance,” Nicholas said. “You owe it to your students to provide a high quality material that ensures affordability, retention and completion, and quality of student learning for all.”
Schools can provide training workshops and initiatives to help faculty understand what OER are, and how instructors can begin to apply them into their classroom. Another good idea is to find an OER champion on your campus to help support faculty and administration in that process. Centers for teaching and learning, such as libraries, are amazing partners and resources in this process. Utah is doing that on a statewide scale at all levels from primary to post-secondary education.
“Recently,” Nicholas told us, “Congress approved the Perkins Career and Technology Education Act, and this bill includes for the first time provisions permitting OER as an allowable use of funds for state and local centers for technology and education activities.”
Starting small is fine. UGA did. Just target the largest classes having the biggest impact on your freshmen and sophomores. From there, you can start to expand out to some of those more specified, smaller courses with encouragement and increased perception or adoption from your faculty.
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