Open Educational Resources

OER Awareness Among Faculty Gaining Ground

The use of open educational resources (OER) could be at a turning point: It's beginning to shake off its fringe reputation and gain greater recognition among faculty and department heads. A recent Babson Survey Research Group study found "steady growth in awareness" among these individuals and predicted that adoption growth could accelerate.

The study analyzed responses from over 4,000 academics and found that 46 percent of faculty now know what OER is, up from 34 percent in 2014-2015.

Awareness of OER between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018

Awareness of OER between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018. Source: "Freeing the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2018" from Babson Survey Research Group

Just 13 percent of faculty said they used OER in any of their courses for required materials during the 2017-2018 academic year. But the report called those numbers a "large increase" over previous years. In 2015-2016, it was 5 percent. Among instructors teaching introductory courses, usage was slightly higher: 22 percent, compared to 8 percent two years previous.

Textbook cost is a big concern among the respondents. Nearly nine in 10 department chairs (89 percent) considered the expense of course materials a "serious problem" for their students. Among all faculty, 80 percent said the same, as did 87 percent of those instructors specifically teaching large-enrollment introduction courses.

Yet few respondents were aware of any initiatives to tackle textbook costs. Only 14 percent of faculty knew of such projects being undertaken at the institutional level, compared to 6 percent at the system level and 5 percent at the departmental level. Among those teaching introductory courses, awareness of such programs was slightly higher.

While most faculty (83 percent) expressed satisfaction with their choice of textbook, the majority also said they like to make changes to their textbooks. These include presenting content in a different order (70 percent), skipping sections (68 percent), replacing content with their own (45 percent), replacing content with materials from others (41 percent), correcting errors (21 percent) or revising textbook material (20 percent).

How faculty make changes to the textbook

How faculty make changes to the textbook. Source: "Freeing the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2018" from Babson Survey Research Group

How could publishers improve the textbooks in use by departments? More than two-thirds of department chairs (69 percent) identified reducing the cost for students as the primary answer. The next largest response (27 percent) was a tie among three answers: improving supplemental instructor materials; making content more up-to-date; and better integrating the textbook with the learning management system.

Also, for the first time ever in the ongoing research project, more faculty said they prefer digital curriculum (36 percent) over print (25 percent) in the classroom.

Looking to the future, among those not currently using OER, two-thirds (67 percent) said they'd consider doing so in the next three years. And an additional 6 percent said they definitely would.

"OER could provide an answer to the cost concerns that faculty have, while also supporting the 'revise' and 'remix' approach to textbook content that faculty are already using," observed Julia Seaman, research director for the research group, and co-author of the report, in a statement. "Growth of OER has been slow but steady for the past four years, held back by a lack of awareness of OER and a perceived lack of offerings. That said, factors like a growing acceptance of digital media and concerns over the cost of textbooks could accelerate the expansion of OER awareness and use in the future."

"Freeing the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2018" is openly available under a Creative Commons license on the Babson Survey Research Group website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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