Colleges should embrace open educational resources – experts

Experts on a panel about OER in higher education said people need to raise awareness of open, digital content that is available as an alternative to costly textbooks.

Students have to deal with a mountain of costs when they reach college – but experts say openly-licensed, digital educational resources can help drive down textbook and other expenses.

“Students are increasingly choosing courses based on the cost of materials, or, in some cases, they’re not purchasing materials at all, which obviously impacts academics,” said Jeff Selingo, a moderator on a recent panel about open educational resources, known as OER, in higher education.

But panelists said that state leaders and colleges are starting to take note of the wider availability of content online that can make access to materials more equitable. One of the barriers is getting professors and faculty to break tradition with assigning the same materials for years.

“Faculty overwhelmingly select their own teaching resources, and are unaware of OER available,” Selingo said. According to a recent survey, he added, only one-third of faculty reported that they were aware of OER.


Faculty may also trust traditional textbook companies more than digital content on the web.

“Textbook companies don’t just simply offer content,” said Michael Horn, principal consultant at Entangled Solutions and a co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, which studies online learning. “From a professor’s standpoint, they align [the content] to core objectives and help them lesson plan.”

But, according to another study from Intellus Learning, an OER platform that allows colleges to quickly identify and catalogue online resources, more than half of professors surveyed said they spend more than 30 hours searching for content for a course, and more than eight hours revising the content each term.

“Faculty members are taking inordinate amounts of their own time to prepare for a course,” said Bev Perdue, a former governor of North Carolina, which is going to roll out digital-only textbooks in the 2017-18 academic year for all public schools in the state.

Mark Triest, president of Intellus, agreed. “I think today there is a large and growing amount of high-quality OER content, but one of the big challenges remains: How do you find that quality OER content?”


Leslie Kennedy, director of affordable learning solutions for California State University, said they were making inroads with professors and state lawmakers to adopt OER. She said the school received additional state money to expand adoption of low- or no-cost materials “to support graduation and close achievement gaps.”

“Many of our faculty are focused on their students’ cost burden, and their concern for inclusive access to all their students for course materials,” she said. “There is an increase in positive perception by faculty.”

Kennedy said there are also policies in place to deal with copyright issues, since teachers and students can often lift material from the web and then customize or remix it for their own purposes. According to experts in the field, companies are loosening their restrictions on content that can be copied and repurposed for educational reasons.

“The success is that faculty are reflecting on improved teaching and learning experiences as a result of looking for lower or no-cost materials,” she said. “And they’re also rethinking their instructional styles and course set-up. That’s a positive outcome we’re seeing.”

Reach the reporter at and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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