April 14, 2021

New Report: “OER at Scale: The Academic and Economic Outcomes of Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative”

From Achieving the Dream:

A comprehensive study examining the impact of Achieving the Dream’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative reveals that community colleges that introduced OER courses across degree programs saw an explosion of OER courses on campus. The three-year initiative enabled 38 colleges in 13 states to offer 6,600 OER course sections over two and a half years, reaching nearly 160,000 students, the study said. Approximately 2,000 instructors participated in the development and delivery of these courses, substantially expanding the number of faculty with OER experience at participating colleges. Nearly 600 courses were redesigned, contributing to the availability of OER content.

The study—conducted by SRI Education and rpk GROUP and released at Achieving the Dream’s 2020 DREAM conference here today—found that students enrolled in OER courses earned more credits than non-participating peers and that the effort was cost-effective not just for students but for institutions. Students at the participating colleges saved $10.7 million on the cost of learning materials. As courses became established, institutions were in position to recover their costs or even, in some instances, generate income from the effort as more students signed up for the OER courses.

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The academic impact analysis, conducted by SRI, was based on results from 11 institutions that were selected as “research partners” at the start of the initiative in 2016. The analysis found that students who took multiple OER courses on average earned more college credits over time than otherwise similar students who took no OER courses. Overall, credit accumulation did not vary significantly for underserved students versus other students. Students who took OER courses had similar cumulative GPAs as other students, on average, according to the report.

”Increasing course accumulation is crucially important at community colleges, as studies reveal that students who have earned credit for more than 15 courses are more likely to persist in academic programs and graduate,” notes SRI’s Rebecca Griffiths. She stressed, however, that the study was not designed to determine whether increases in course attainment was caused by participation in the OER courses and this will need to be a topic for further study.

SRI also surveyed 300 instructors in 2016 and 900 instructors in 2018 to understand their background and experiences with OER and 2,400 students in 2017 to gain their perspectives and experiences in OER courses. Researchers conducted site visits at ten colleges to gain further insight from both groups.

In both surveys and focus groups, students mostly reported positive experiences in OER courses, the study said. Most students found OER materials accessible and well-aligned to learning objectives. Meanwhile, instructors reported that OER affected the way they presented and used materials in class, increased the relevance of those materials, and influenced their pedagogical beliefs overall. Instructors were more likely to report that OER influenced the relevance and use of instructional materials in their courses than their pedagogical strategies. Instructors were cautious in their assessments about the extent to which use of OER increased student engagement, preparation, and achievement in their courses. Forty-three percent of instructors thought their OER programs would “definitely” be sustained, and another 48 percent thought these programs may be sustained. Eighty-three percent said they would not return to using traditional materials in their courses.

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Research conducted by rpk GROUP indicated that the initiative saved students, on average, $65 per course on instructional materials, factoring in actual student purchasing patterns. Student savings totaled about $10.7 million across all participating colleges, money that students said they would use to cover other educational or personal expenses.
In surveys, 41 percent of respondents said OER courses would have a significant positive impact on their ability to afford college. More than half (53 percent) of students said they had not purchased required materials for a course at least once, and the most common reason was cost. The share of students reporting financial strain due to textbook costs was higher for Pell students and underrepresented minorities. On the other hand, relatively few students reported that they had withdrawn from a class or stopped taking courses for a semester or more due to costs (12% and 16%, respectively), the report said.

Researchers also conducted a cost-benefit analysis of OER implementation at five “cost partner” institutions and estimated that the institutions would recover their investments in OER or even generate income from the effort. While implementation costs at institutions ranged from $300,000 to $1 million, colleges spent on average $576,000, two-thirds of which was used to pay faculty to develop courses and one-third of which was used for general program support. The research reveals that the average cost of providing OER degree courses ($70 per student) declined rapidly as enrollment in redesigned OER courses increased.

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Colleges involved in the academic or cost impact studies included Alamo Community College, Austin Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Bunker Hill Community College, Central Virginia Community College, Forsyth Tech Community College, Herkimer Community College, Monroe Community College, Montgomery College, Pierce College, and Santa Ana Community College.

Direct to Complete Summary

Direct to Full Text Report:  OER at Scale: The Academic and Economic Outcomes of Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative (via Achieving the Dream)
75 pages; PDF.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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