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.
In addition, faculty using OER who leverage expertise at their college — from technology specialists to librarians — are more likely to report changes in how they teach as a result of OER.
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.
Aside from creating better student engagement, another expected benefit of OER is that the learning materials are less expensive for students than traditional textbooks and supplies. That seems to be the case for the participating colleges — students saved about $134 per course or between 5 percent and 22 percent of annual textbooks costs — but the study cautions that these are just preliminary estimates and more research is required to determine exact savings.
Another key element to the success of OER degrees is how well faculty embrace and adapt using OER. Despite some challenges, 71 percent of surveyed instructors at the participating colleges said they are very or somewhat likely to promote OER to colleagues. Eighty percent of the instructors have been involved in introductory-level courses in the program’s first year, and the initiative is on track to make OER degree programs available to at least 76,000 students over three years.
“OER has the promise of improving student engagement with course materials and can re-energize faculty engagement in course design and spark more dynamic approaches to teaching,” says Karen Stout, president of Achieving the Dream and a former community college president.
One key question regarding OER is how much time instructors need to research, develop and gather resources. The study emphasizes that teachers need adequate time to locate and vet OER materials. Sixty-three percent of instructors said that developing a course with OER takes at least one-and-a-half times as long as a traditional course.
The largest investment needed to launch a complete OER degree pathway — which typically is at least 60 credit hours or 20 courses — is converting the courses to OER. The report also notes that seeking instructors with OER experience helps to accelerate participation.
The study identifies key challenges for adapting OER, which include licensing, course mapping and technical issues. Other hurdles include creating systems and policies to support OER, and identifying funds and resources to sustain the programs.
Participating colleges will continue to roll out their OER degree pathway programs through 2018.
“As the initiative proceeds, we expect that participating colleges will seek to make progress not only in developing the required set of courses but in institutionalizing OER uses and supports within their institutions,” the report says.
Achieving the Dream plans to release a report on the economic and academic effects of its OER initiative in 2019.