Will OER Breathe New Life Into Higher Education?

Published by Joana Jebsen
on Jan 24, 2020

Lowering the cost of required course materials and textbooks has been the goal from the beginning of the open educational resources (OER) movement. But with OER moving more mainstream, are we seeing other benefits as well?

“OER Embrace” (Inside Higher Ed, September, 2019) shared that early data among some California community colleges suggests increased student success. Consider the following stats:

Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) courses saw grades 3% greater than traditional courses overall, with an 11% decrease in failing grades and a 7% increase in “A” grades.

In this same article, Mindy Boland, director of OER services for the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) states, “Often what happens is faculty using

OER in their courses have a much deeper connection with the content they’re using. They’ve actually really taken the time to develop a course specifically for their learners.”

OER advocates at Boise State University (Boise State) agree, seeing OER as a “boon for faculty” and adding “a diversity of voices to the canon and more flexibility in course design.” Rob Nyland, eCampus Center research and innovation team manager at Boise State indicates that “Faculty members can customize them [OER], blend resources from many sources and teach the classes they want to teach.”

James Glapa-Grossklag, a dean at College of the Canyons, concurs with Boland’s and Nyland’s views, “We hear again and again and again from our grantee colleges that their instructors are thrilled to be able to select, revise and share instructional materials freely and legally,” he said. “Feedback from their students about these materials is not only that they’re grateful for the price barrier to have been removed but also that they feel that the course materials have been designed specifically for them.” (OER Embraced, Inside Higher Ed, September, 2019)

Could what started as a movement to make higher education more affordable and more accessible also be the key to unlocking greater student retention? Think about it. Reduced costs, increased faculty and student engagement all work against some of the prime factors causing the decrease in retention rates in Higher Ed.

So, given its many benefits, how widespread is OER? When O’Donnell Learn (ODL) talked to over 170 higher ed leaders in 2019 as part of a research study to better understand nationwide learning design initiatives, we found that many schools are involved in or planning OER initiatives.

We also heard that one of the big challenges with OER adoption (and other learning design initiatives) is the ability to implement it, to find and work with willing faculty, and then to keep the momentum going and scale across disciplines, departments, schools, campuses, even.

What began as a movement to make higher education more affordable and more accessible might just be what breathes new life into the future of higher education as well.

That’s why ODL is excited to be part of the conversation of how to help jumpstart OER initiatives. Our solutions help institutions build capacity without creating expensive overhead, while also helping accelerate the time-to-launch (and to scale) strategic learning transformations.

Additional Reading about our new partner PanOpen: Houston Community College System Partners With panOpen To Expand OER Usage Across All Campuses “The introduction of the panOpen platform means that faculty throughout HCCS will have greater options for robust and fully supported tools to aid in their use of OER.”

Joana Jebsen is the President of O’Donnell Learn, a leading learning experience (LX) design firm dedicated to helping learners achieve their goals and flourish in life. ODL is passionate about partnering with institutions and their faculty to deliver learner-centered design and innovation.


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