Report: Faculty want more OER-here’s why

OER offer cost savings and high-quality materials, according to new reports and research.

Community college faculty show high levels of interest and engagement in OER and are likely to promote its use to colleagues, according to preliminary results from a national effort to expand community college degree programs.

The study, Launching OER Degree Pathways: An Early Snapshot of Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative and Emerging Lessons, was released by Achieving the Dream (ATD) and conducted by SRI International and the rpk GROUP.

The report indicates that faculty at colleges participating in ATD’s OER Degree Initiative are changing their teaching and that students are at least as or more engaged using OER courses than students in non-OER classrooms.

Eighty-four percent of faculty members surveyed said students in the new OER courses had the same or a higher level of engagement with the learning materials as compared to courses they have taught using traditional course materials.

Meanwhile, faculty with experience in using open resources who received assistance from technology specialists and librarians in developing their courses were most likely to report changes in their teaching, the report says.

(Next page: Key findings and top barriers)

Participation across campuses involved a broad range of faculty from multiple disciplines. The expansion of open resources use across participating colleges was led by grassroots faculty, instructional designers, librarians and technology specialists as well as top-level administrators, the report notes.

Early research also indicates that students saved, on average, about $134 per course or between 5 to 22 percent of annual student textbook costs in those colleges. Researchers noted, however that they cannot yet estimate actual savings to students, given that not all students purchase textbooks at full price, and some OER savings may be offset by other costs. (A detailed report on costs is currently being developed by rpk GROUP.)

As a result of these and other experiences, more than 7 in 10 instructors (71 percent) say that they are very or somewhat likely to promote use of OER to colleagues (42 percent very likely, 29 percent somewhat likely).

“Advancing widespread adoption of OER is a key student success strategy,” says Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of the community college reform organization Achieving the Dream. “OER gives all students a chance of being equally ready on day one of class and has the promise of cutting costs to students, especially when deployed in full degree pathways. Equally important, 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.”

Other key findings include:
The use of OER builds on faculty members’ interest and previous experience in using OER. While more than half of the instructors participating in the ATD initiative had not used OER before, most (83 percent) had experience teaching online and hybrid courses that make use of similar digital resources. Targeting faculty with previous experience with developing and/or teaching OER courses helped accelerate participation and gave OER-savvy faculty members the ability to influence development and implementation of the degree program from the beginning, the report says. Personal interest (80 percent), encouragement from a department chair or administrator (55 percent) a stipend (29 percent) and recommendations from colleagues (27 percent) top the list of factors supporting faculty involvement.
Quality of materials drives selection. The top three factors faculty cited for selecting required course materials were quality of materials, cost to student, and comprehensive content and activities. The ranking of these criteria differs remarkably from the 2014 Babson survey findings, in which only 2.7 percent of faculty members identified cost as one the top three factors, compared to 70 percent in this survey. Adaptability/editability of content was ranked relatively low on the list of criteria for selecting course content.
Cost savings rank high in perceived benefit. Instructors remain more likely to point to cost savings than other improved outcomes as the chief benefit of initiatives to date.

The report also identifies key challenges to address to ensure that open educational resources can improve student outcomes in the nation’s community colleges. These include the need for faculty to have adequate time to locate and vet OER materials; for colleges to create systems, policies, and incentives to support OER use; and for identifying funding to sustain the program.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione
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