Open Educational Resources | Feature

5 Hurdles to OER Adoption

Here are five obstacles that OER champions are facing in higher education and a few tips to work past them.

In their quest to incorporate open educational resources (OERs) into today's college classrooms, OER advocates are coming face to face with technology issues, faculty pushback, information overload, and myriad other obstacles. As the use of digital, non-copyrighted, educational materials proliferates, the number of challenges has also grown.

Below are five hurdles that come up most often and some tips for overcoming them.

Faculty Doesn't Know what To Do with OER
Being able to effectively communicate the scope and capabilities of OER is a critical job for the movement's champions, according to  James Glapa-Grossklag, dean of educational technology, learning resources, and distance learning at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA.

Simply asking faculty members to develop open course materials or write their own textbooks doesn't cut it, said Glapa-Grossklag. Start by outlining the scope of each OER project, he said, and then work closely with instructors to ferret out materials from the most appropriate OER repositories.

"Look for quality materials that have already been peer-reviewed, used by other institutions," Glapa-Grossklag added, "and that fall within the scope of what you're asking instructors to engage in."

Not Everyone Trusts Free Resources
"We live in a free market, consumer society where free stuff is often looked upon as being 'too good to be true,'" remarked Glapa-Grossklag, who said he sees that sentiment as a key challenge for OER champions in the higher ed space.

Accustomed to shelling out big bucks for textbooks and curriculum materials, both teachers and students need to be educated on the fact that reputable, quality OERs are as good as--if not better than--their costly counterparts.

To break though that barrier, Glapa-Grossklag said OER champions should continually communicate the larger, global nature of the OER movement while also demonstrating how such resources are not only more accessible, but also "equally as good at promoting student learning as the expensive, publisher-produced materials."

Expectations Around OER Quality are Extremely High
Although some OERs measure up favorably with their free-market competitors, there's still a quality versus cost proposition associated with them. In fact, Brian Jacobs, a former Cornell University professor and president of virtual bookstore Akadémos, said open content will have to become "as good as or better than commercially-produced materials" in order to achieve mainstream success.

"OER should be a source of inspiration for innovation and creativity in the world of college course materials," said Jacobs. "When that happens the sky will be the limit for the OER movement."

Jacobs said he sees Rice University's OpenStax College, which publishes free, high-quality textbooks in core subjects via a non-profit publisher, as a step in that direction. "This is a great starting point for preserving the character of OER, which should be free to use, remix, and redistribute, while maintaining a premium emphasis on quality," said Jacobs. "That's the combination that the OER movement really needs to adhere to."

Institutional Processes Aren't Always Flexible
Something as simple as the textbook ordering process can be a significant hang-up for OER champions who are trying to infuse more open resources into the college classroom.

A faculty member who doesn't use the bookstore's standard electronic order form for the upcoming semester may get placed on the "naughty list," even though he or she is just using more OERs that are available online at no charge. The same goes for official course outlines, said Glapa-Grossklag, which typically include a list of "recommended textbooks." Such a structured list may not be readily available for the instructor who is infusing more OERs into his or her classroom.

Getting around the institutional processes isn't always easy, said Glapa-Grossklag, who tells OER champions to communicate regularly with faculty members and confer with other schools that may be dealing with similar challenges.

There Is no Effective Discovery and Assessment Tool for OER
The high volume of OERs available online is both a blessing and curse for the movement's champions, said Jacobs. "It's not enough for institutions, foundations, and even the federal government to produce these open resources," said Jacobs. "There has to be a way for the OERs to be discovered, evaluated, and used effectively in the classroom."

Until a tool is developed to help faculty easily and quickly assess OERs, compare them to commercial materials, and pinpoint the best possible resources for particular subject areas, Jacobs said the challenge will continue to plague OER champions. "This is a very important issue that needs to be addressed in order for OER to become more mainstream."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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