OER in 2016 and Beyond

Five reasons faculty and students need Open Educational Resources.

GUEST COLUMN | by Brian Jacobs

CREDIT panOpen

Open educational resources (OERs) have immense potential to foster much needed change in higher education, supporting innovation, growth and sustainability. And while OER use is still a small fraction of overall textbook adoptions, there is good reason to think this will change in the coming years. Two recent developments, for example, support the view that OER is now transitioning from high level discussions to practical initiatives.

First, the White House and the Department of Education launched the #GoOpen campaign and announced several commitments to encourage OER adoption in K-12 schools — the reverberations of which already permeate higher education. Secondly, major foundations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates

Innovation through emerging technologies and the content they support is a vital means of improving student learning outcomes. 

Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation adopted policies to publish the work of their grantees under a Creative Commons license. This move collectively grants $1.9 billion, according to the organization Creative Commons, and sets a precedence for how learning and research can be shared in many sectors.

Such announcements support the view that OER will continue to flourish in 2016. For faculty who are still unsure of the value of such materials, however, below are five reasons why they – and their students – should be thinking about OER in 2016 and beyond.

Reason 1 – To Solve Textbook Affordability

The College Board estimates the average student spends $1,300 on textbooks and supplies. For students already burdened by rising tuition costs, these high prices are a tipping point. The result? Sixty-five percent of students forgo purchasing required textbooks altogether, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The same group notes adopting OER can save students $128 per course, per semester, positioning the resources as a way to overcome a significant cost barrier for students.

Reason 2 – To Access and Discover Trusted Resources in Less Time

Students and faculty already access OER all the time – think YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, Vimeo, etc. Rather than scouring the Internet for open resources, having vetted and reliable content all in one place saves time and makes it easier for faculty to be thoughtful about curriculum integration. The daunting number of open resources is a patchwork containing textbooks, curricula, videos, assessments, and other educational content. Emerging platforms that are organized and trusted encourage faculty to come back frequently to customize and contribute content.

Reason 3 – To Prepare Students for a Dynamic Job Market

Whereas the traditional publisher model assumes knowledge is static and that teaching focuses on a single text, OER supports dynamic pedagogy, allowing faculty to customize materials based on present day changes to fields and industries, and access curricula shared by faculty nationwide. As students continue to equate the value of college with employment prospects, OER could have a major impact.

Reason 4 – To Complement Wider Use of EdTech

Educators are increasing turning to learning technologies as their demonstrable efficacy in the classroom becomes apparent. More broadly, the campus environment is shifting to infrastructure that supports digital learning environments, such as flipped classrooms, blended learning classrooms, and MOOCs. Such a development requires the support of high-quality and dynamic digital materials. OER, with its inherent flexibility and adaptability, is an excellent complement to these new digital learning environments.

Reason 5 – To Provide Digital Tools Students Want and Faculty Need

According to a study by the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research, only 12 percent of students say they learn most when there is no online component in their course. The study found students prefer to do certain activities online, such as take tests and quizzes, complete their homework, and undertake writing assignments, rather than face-to-face. OER supports all of these activities, can help create a more engaging classroom environment, and help higher education institutions remain competitive through innovation that directly addresses students’ preferences. For faculty, the right OER solution can provide a dashboard of helpful analytics to measure student progress and adapt curriculum to the needs of individual classes or students.

Innovation through emerging technologies and the content they support is a vital means of improving student learning outcomes. What’s clear now is that OER will play an increasing central role to this end—fostering a creative and entwined use of content and software. As we look now to 2016 this role will intensify, to the benefit of educator and learner alike.

Brian Jacobs is the founder and CEO of panOpen, a newly-launched platform that makes open educational resources more accessible for students, faculty and institutions.

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