New study at 8 colleges will look at boosting OER use

Achieving the Dream and SRI Education, which saw sparkling results from long-term research, are seeking 'innovative practices' from institutions on open educational resources.
By: | May 11, 2021
(Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash)(Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash)

Achieving the Dream began its Open Educational Resources Degree Initiative five years ago, hoping to give students more accessible and less expensive pathways to completion.

It is hard to deny the impact that OERs have had on the 38 two-year colleges that took part in the initial three-year study: those that participated saved students more than $10.5 million in costs of free or inexpensive resources vs. proprietary textbooks.

But one of the most surprising results it released last December – and one that had some faculty skeptical at the outset – is that students earned more credits by utilizing classes that featured open educational resources over those that didn’t. Instructors seem to embrace them, as well.

“Anecdotal interview data revealed that many faculty participating in the initiative began teaching in innovative ways after adopting OER,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream.

The groundbreaking initiative led to the adoption of 6,600 OER-based courses, with more than 2,000 faculty members and more than 150,000 students taking part. But recognizing that this could be the start of a long journey to adoption for many other institutions, officials at Achieving the Dream said it is ready to do more.

Along with nonprofit SRI Education, ATD has chosen eight colleges that will serve as participants in another research endeavor that will try to improve the OER experience. The organizations say they “will be looking for evidence of innovative teaching practices, such as open pedagogy and culturally responsive teaching practices.”

ATD and SRI will be focused on outcomes from the spring and summer 2021 semesters and expect to release those results in the early part of 2022. Those data and recommendations will serve as a foundation for a “set of tools and resources to help faculty effectively integrate new teaching practices with their openly licensed materials.”

The eight colleges taking part include four that were in the previous study – Bay College in Michigan, Montgomery College in Maryland, Pima Community College in Arizona and West Hills College Lemoore in California. The others are Foothills DeAnza College and San Diego Mesa Community College in California, Houston Community College in Texas, and Kingsborough Community College in New York. Each institution submitted a grant proposal and was chosen because of its ability to deliver OER degree programs.

The goal of OERs is to help boost student persistence and graduation rates by helping defray costs and provide quick access through OERs, which have open intellectual licenses, are readily available and often free to students. They can be any materials from full courses to simple modules or videos … and even textbooks.

However, it is not inexpensive for colleges and universities to attempt to launch OER-based courses and degree programs. In fact, SRI noted in its December report that it cost around $575,000.

But the benefits of adoption are significant. Student achievement was notably higher at the colleges that adopted it, and the potential for sharing of resources grows with each institution that adopts it and in turn is willing to share its content. From the study, 40% of students said that OER courses would help them afford a postsecondary education.

For those looking to expand their OER offerings, SRI Education and Achieving the Dream offered a number of suggestions in its December report.