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3 legitimate reasons why faculty aren’t using OER

By Meris Stansbury, Managing Editor, @eSN_Meris
September 3rd, 2015

Issues of definition, copyright, and ease of use are stalling widespread adoption.

OER-facultyFaculty across institutions aren’t using Open Educational Resources (OER)—and the few who are often don’t know they’re using them, says an industry report. And the main reasons why faculty won’t use OER has to with concerns about definition and copyright understanding.

This data comes from a Babson Survey Research report that aimed to determine whether or not faculty (who chief academic officers, and faculty themselves, say are the main adopters of classroom materials) are using OER.

After surveying a national sample of over 2,000 faculty members, the report highlights that 75 percent of faculty are unaware of OER. It also revealed that, if it were up to faculty, they’d be 67 percent unaware.

That’s because many faculty who think they know OER don’t provide the right explanation of what OER is via open-form questions.

Also, according to the report, while only about 33 percent of faculty claim to be aware of OER, nearly 50 percent report that they use OER. There are even some faculty who said that they were “not at all aware of OER” who report that they have used it…once the concept is explained for them.

The cause for these seemingly perplexing findings is a general confusion among faculty (and institutions overall) as to what defines OER and the copyright uses attached to OER.

“There appears to be two causes [of the confusion],” say the report’s authors, Elaine Allen, professor of Biostatistics & Epidemiology at the University of California San Francisco, and Jeff Seaman of the Babson Survey Group: “the lack of faculty understanding of the term ‘Open Educational Resources,’ and the fact that faculty often make resource choices without any consideration to the licensing of that resource.”

Problem 1: No, It’s Not Open Source

Many academics have only a vague understanding of what constitutes OER, notes the report, which has to do with new technology-enabled materials currently on the market.

For example, some “confuse ‘open’ with ‘free’ and assume all free resources are OER,” say the authors. “Still others will confuse ‘open resources’ with ‘open source’ and assume OER refers only to open source software.”

To clarify not only to survey respondents, but also to raise awareness to the public, the report provides the definition of OER based on the Hewlett Foundation’s definition: “Teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

Problem 2: Not All Copyright is Created Equal

Allen and Seaman probed faculty to see what characteristics they considered to be part of OER, which weaves seamlessly into the basic definition and understanding of OER.

The most common response was that OER was free (70 percent), that it could be remixed and repurposed (54 percent), and awareness of OER’s Creative Commons licensing was the attribute least selected (28 percent).

According to the report, most faculty report that they are aware of copyright licensing of classroom content (77 percent) and public domain licensing (68 percent), but fall short on awareness of Creative Commons licensing.

“While the level of awareness of Creative Commons might lag behind that of copyright and public domain, it is still double the level of awareness of OER. It appears that faculty have a much greater level of awareness of the type of licensing often used for OER than they do of OER itself. However, they do not always associate this licensing with OER,” emphasizes the report.

Problem 3: Too Much Time Needed

“Many educators are enthusiastic and interested in new technologies but do not have the time to develop them themselves,” said one full-time education faculty member and survey participant; “we need to know where to go for high-quality resources that fit with our course goals and that can be easily adopted by us and our students.”

Survey results reveal that both faculty members and academic leaders would prefer to have a single OER clearinghouse. For example, 57 percent of faculty who said they are aware of OER stated that the lack of a comprehensive catalog of resources is a barrier to OER use.

“The lack of a catalog and the difficulty of finding what is needed are the most-often cited barriers,” explain the authors. “All three of the most-mentioned barriers are related to the ease of finding appropriate material.”

However, the report also highlights that, when compared to traditional materials, faculty rate ease of discoverability for OER at the same level.

“So why is it that issues of finding and evaluating OER tops faculty’s list of potential barriers for OER adoption? The answer appears to be that faculty see barriers for the adoption of any new teaching resource—OER or traditional,” notes the report.

For more information on what kinds of OER faculty use most; awareness, and use, of OER by gender, age, and department; as well as the future of OER use in higher education, read the full report, “Opening the Curriculum, Open Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education” here.

An infographic of the report’s findings can be seen here.


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