Peeking around the corner into 2023, the barriers preventing faculty from more widespread adoption of OER are the usual ones: time and money. Further, Oregon’s statewide OER program is working with faculty who are worn out by the ongoing pandemic and responding to heightened student needs.
Beyond these obvious constraints, though, here are four big challenges we’re thinking about right now.
Do these resonate for your program? Do you have something different on your mind? Comments are open!
Open Oregon Educational Resources will continue to collect and report on student savings data. These are relatively straight-line impacts where project funding results in student savings that compound over time (example: Continuing Savings from Past OER Grants).
We are also starting to share findings that relate to student outcomes resulting from our large-scale projects ensuring that materials are not just affordable, but also high quality: relevant, aligned with course outcomes, accessible, and designed with an equity lens. These are squiggly-line impacts that are more complex to describe and advocate for.
One place where we’re already doing this is in reporting on the Equity & Open Education Faculty Cohort model, designed by library faculty member Jen Klaudinyi at Portland Community College. Participation may result in student savings, but that’s not a data point that we’re tracking for this program. Instead, we’re looking for evidence of change in course materials or teaching approach. With support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we partnered with RMC Research to assess the impact of this model. Instruments to assess faculty and student impact are available to adopt/adapt, and we are almost ready to share the findings from RMC’s final report.
This year we will be getting more practice at communicating why this kind of program is a good use of our resources, even when it don’t directly result in student savings.
Funding models for OER beyond Gen Ed
Research on the cost of textbooks in Oregon shows that we have made the greatest gains with lower-division transfer course materials (Six Years of Community College Cost Savings: Impact of statewide funding for textbook affordability and Two Year Followup: Course material costs for four-year degrees at Oregon’s universities). It is an obvious choice to invest in these courses because they result in the highest impact based on enrollment; community college, university, and accelerated high school students all see the benefit.
CTE and upper division course materials are comparatively niche areas that encompass a wide range of topics and approaches. Each investment will see a relatively low return in student savings. Yet the impact for workforce development and degree seekers is collectively high, as Dylan DeLoe, Library and Learning Support Assistant, Blue Mountain Community College, pointed out in his guest blog post The OER Movement Needs a Change.
Open Oregon Educational Resources currently offers some support for CTE courses through a specific OER grant funding stream via the Community College and Workforce Development Office of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. We can also advise instructors to seek local or external funding for worthwhile projects. Yet this unmet need needs more consideration for a stronger support model.
Translating open materials: Even more challenging than we expected
In 2021, Open Oregon Educational Resources took on an ambitious two-year project to translate an open textbook into Spanish with the support of GEER II funding.
Blueprint for Success in College and Career, Oregon Edition includes a chapter on college writing, updated resources for Oregon-based student support, and equity-focused revisions designed to support Oregon students from all backgrounds. Plan para el éxito en la universidad y la carrera profesional, the Spanish translation of the Oregon edition, is complete and shared with an open license.
Interest from pilot instructors, however, is lower than we projected based on responses at the time the project was proposed. We believe that translating OER into languages other than English continues to be an area in which we can support Oregon students. However, we also need to learn more about culturally responsive review and ancillary production in order to gain greater use and instructor buy-in next time.
Breakdowns communicating costs to students
Students need one place to find an accurate list of assigned course materials and their costs. Students go to the bookstore to look for this information and it is unrealistic to expect otherwise. However, there are several barriers that prevent the bookstore from providing the information that students need.
- Bookstore software may not enable listing of materials that are not for sale.
- Example: course reports “no text required” instead of a link to free or library resources.
- Bookstore wording may be confusing.
- Example: link to purchase a hard copy of an OER without providing a link to the free online version with an explanation that print copies are optional.
- Faculty may not report course materials adoptions in time for the bookstore to display the information when registration opens.
- Example: faculty distrust the bookstore and direct their students to outside vendors on the first day of class.
- Example: faculty are hired after the bookstore’s adoption reporting deadline.
Unfortunately, this issue is the most boring hill to die on in the entire world. Yet lack of accurate course material information creates friction for students that can have follow-on impacts on enrollment, retention, and completion. Students may enroll in a course because of the “no text required” tag, only to find that it is a reading-heavy course that doesn’t fit their learning style or capacity. Students may receive their assignments on the first day of class and then have to wait several weeks for a needed accommodation. Students may lose trust in institutional information systems if they find inconsistent, inaccurate, or contradictory messages across multiple platforms.
Oregon’s community colleges and universities are looking at these issues and making efforts to clearly communicate course material requirements and costs to students. Areas of focus will include faculty messaging, considering student user experience, and software changes to meet the need.
One thing is certain: we are not alone in facing this challenge! CCCOER recently shared the blog post OER Textbooks: Campus Communication Challenges, which shares the results of a survey in which the majority of respondents reported difficulties communicating about free/open course materials via the campus store. This is not a problem that we will solve in 2023, but it would be nice to start 2024 with the problem better defined and some plans for solutions in development.