State legislators and administrators alike wonder why faculty aren’t clamoring to use Open Educational Resources. Though the academic community has been abuzz with talk of OER for years, research shows teachers have been slow to latch onto the trend.
One 2016 survey from Babson College found that only 6.9% of 3,000 faculty questioned planned to use OERs within the next three years. Why? An Independent College Bookstore Association survey of faculty at two and four-year institutions showed that 97.1% put their own assessment of quality above other criteria like cost or colleague recommendation when considering a textbook adoption.
That doesn’t surprise me.
I’ve heard non-teachers complain that two factors stand in the way of faculty shifting to OER: laziness and fear of change. Maybe. Faculty members are no less human than everyone else. Everyone bristles at change.
But I also think critics who expect faculty to leap from known, vetted scholarly sources to unknown OERs vastly underestimate the importance course materials play in the learning process. That is, those critics may have something in common with students who pass up a textbook under the assumption that they can “get the same stuff off the internet.” They might not understand the cost and labor that goes into scholarly research and writing.
Most students don’t truly learn the difference between a researched scholarly source and unvetted pap until they’re well into graduate school. Teachers take great pains to coach them along the way — and to avoid supplying them with anything that serves as a substandard model in the meantime.
Quality course materials — from literature and problem sets to design software and lab manuals — are fundamental to the learning process, which works like a triangle: teacher, student, text. If you remove or corrupt any one of those parts, you remove or corrupt the learning process.
Most professors — and K-12 educators — I know would prefer to see school costs lowered. However, they aren’t going to sacrifice that core component, that leg of the triangle, purely for the sake of saving money. If they’re going to make the OER switch, they need to know they can help save students money while maintaining superb learning materials.
If you’re enthusiastic about the possibilities OER offers students, if you’re convinced an abundance of high quality free digital resources is available online, then streamline the process for faculty. Ensure your teachers encounter those high-quality resources. Align with a knowledgeable digital course materials partner who can help faculty navigate the OER terrain.
Then offer small grants for faculty willing to experiment with a new OER textbook one semester. Have the grant winners give presentations on what they learn to others. For teachers, word of mouth is a top driver of course materials choices. If all goes well, they’ll think the OER initiative was their idea from the start.