Education is a powerful pathway to reducing inequality and furthering human progress. Unfortunately though, our systems of education often fail those who need them most. The advent of the Internet has kindled hope for universal access to higher education - and though a variety of economic and technical barriers impede that progress, open licensing in education presents an opportunity for significant improvement.
Open Educational Resources (OER), as defined by the Hewlett Foundation, are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. OER include a variety of materials: from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.
In K-12 education, many students sit in class with outdated, overused books – some more than decade old – and others are not allowed to take their book out of classroom. Even for those that have good materials, the books lag significantly behind the latest trends in effective teaching techniques. OER, on the other hand:
- Opens the door to higher-quality teaching. In a recent review by EdReports, an OER curriculum called Illustrative Math not only scored their highest-ever review score, it was also the only curriculum out of 53 alternatives to score Meets Expectations. In other research, OER has shown promise in improving student outcomes.
- Significantly reduces course material expenses on the district. The cost of purchasing textbooks for an entire school district can run in the millions, while OER is free. School districts like Mona Shores in Michigan and Williamsfield in Illinois have used OER to lower costs – while ensuring that their students have access to up-to-date learning materials whether they’re at home or in school.
In higher education, textbook costs are a major barrier for students and families already struggling to pay for tuition and board. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that textbook costs have increased at 4 times the rate of inflation in the past decade, often reaching $200 - $300 for a single book. In fact, a recent study found that a quarter of student financial aid recipients were found likely to drop out of classes if they can’t afford the textbooks, a third were likely to take out loans in order to afford books, and a third were likely to attempt their classes without books. In contrast, OER:
- Reduces costs for students and families already struggling to afford college. On average, OER is estimated to save students $100 per course – savings that a recent analysis revealed could add up to more than $1 billion per year.
- It strengthens academic freedom and teaching. Rather than traditionally published textbooks, which are often “use as-is,” OER is adaptable by professor and course. Educators are able to adapt existing content to better resonate with their students, bring in new content to expand learning avenues, or customize the material to their own teaching style.
- It maintains, if not improves, student outcomes. Data from Tidewater Community College shows greater student retention and performance when faculty members become more engaged with the classroom materials. Other journal-published analyses of OER programs at public institutions showed that students using open materials perform as well, if not better, than their peers using traditional course materials.
Already, thousands of teachers, faculty, and educators are using open educational resources in their classrooms. More than 110 school districts are participating in the #GoOpen initiative with the Department of Education, and open textbook publisher OpenStax lists 4900 schools and colleges as “adopters” of their OER.
At Creative Commons USA, we’re working to (1) improve access – reducing the financial burden of buying course materials on schools and students while ensuring equitable access to the resources students need to succeed; and (2) improve student success – introducing more effective learning materials into classrooms, and unlocking more innovative learning methods.
For more information about OER, and some examples, check out: