A recent survey of Manor College faculty indicated that the vast majority now use Open Educational Resources in the classroom. What exactly are Open Educational Resources (OER)? The materials vary, but essentially: textbooks, research materials, and other educational assets that can be accessed digitally by students, often for a low cost or as free open-license content. As college costs continue to rise, the benefit of having inexpensive or even free textbooks is obvious.
Dr. Cherie Crosby, Manor’s Professor of Education Programs, headed the survey to find out how prevalent OER usage really was at the college, and the degree to which the college was best serving its students financially. Manor College faculty’s quick adoption of OER is ultimately in keeping with the school’s mission to provide students an affordable pathway to education.
Higher Ed is Slow to Embrace OER, Despite Advantages
Manor’s Fall 2018 survey polled 53 faculty members from a wide range of disciplines, and an overwhelming majority reported that their courses use OER materials. This is in contrast to most colleges and universities—national surveys indicate a far lower rate of adoption.
How does Manor stack up? The Babson Survey Research Group polled nearly 3,000 instructors, and discovered that a mere 9% of faculty nationwide are using OER for their classes. In addition, only 30% report even being aware of open educational resources. The Fall 2018 survey further found that Manor faculty were using a wide variety of OER, including open source textbooks, openly licensed videos, articles, powerpoint presents, and more.
For Many Students, Cost is a True Barrier to Education
For students who attend school with the help of financial aid and scholarships, the hefty bills associated with traditional textbooks are no small burden. The College Board estimates that the cost of books and supplies for undergraduates now totals an average of $1,430 per year.
A recent study detailed by Inside Higher Ed indicated that 85% of students had not purchased textbooks by the first day of class—and 90% of these students, in turn, cited cost as the reason. High costs delay students receiving their learning materials—a choice with a clear impact on grades and, ultimately, students’ ability to progress with their degrees. Additionally, U.S. News and World Report recently highlighted OER as a way for students to help reduce the cost of their degree.
Accessibility is Key to Success
“Our faculty are paying close attention to the costs of books and classroom materials; they are working hard to ensure quality free and very low-cost materials are available,” said Manor College President, Dr. Jonathan Peri, in a recent email to the Manor community. As a member of Pennsylvania’s State College Textbook Advisory Committee, which is charged with developing recommendations to improve the affordability and accessibility of college textbooks statewide, Peri is elated with Manor College faculty’s initiative with Open Education Resources: “We are able to offer opinions through the lens of experience. While textbooks are always on reserve for students at the library, the college has gone one step further by making sure class materials are accessible anytime, anywhere.”
So why have Manor College faculty adopted OER so quickly, compared to other colleges and universities nationwide? Faculty are acutely aware of the financial burdens associated with traditional textbooks, and are actively engaged with creating cost-effective solutions that better serve their students.
“The benefit of OER is that it removes financial barriers and levels the financial impact for our students. Without access to coursework, students can’t be successful,” explained Dr. Crosby.
Will the Rest of Higher Ed Catch Up?
While the national numbers may not seem all that rosy, Higher Ed as a whole is slowly coming on board. Data gathered by Inside Higher Ed shows that, while the national rate is low, it has improved from 5% in the 2015-16 school year to 9% in 2016-17. Dr. Crosby aptly summarizes the need for institutions to push forward, despite the challenges: “It all comes down to: how can we best serve our students?”