The answer is complicated. As Open Education Week wrapped up, I read a thought provoking press release and the research it discusses. The paper, by Phillip Grimaldi, director of research at OpenStax, Rice University’s peer-reviewed OER* publisher, and colleagues Debshila Basu Mallick, Andrew E. Waters, and Richard G. Baraniuk, examines the “access hypothesis” and the trouble with studying it — unless you identify which students would not have had access to the traditional textbook, your results will be somewhat murky, because it will include students for whom access was not a problem. As the press release notes:
“Using OER could potentially make a very significant difference in course outcomes for a student who couldn’t afford the traditional textbook, and would try to make do without it,” Baraniuk said. “In short, the ‘access hypothesis’ could very well be accurate, but since it’s only relevant to a certain percentage of any class, those benefits are washed out when measuring outcomes of the entire class.”
Saving students money, however, also contributes to their success. In a far less scientific (ok, not scientific at all) survey that we did this week with a white board in our college’s main entrance, we asked students to share what they would spend money on if they didn’t have to buy textbooks and access codes. Here is a sampling of their responses:
food (another entry was “food for my children”)
paying off student debt
visiting a loved one in another state
saving money to take another class
saving for an apartment
childcare so I could study or participate in group projects
clothing and shoes
So are OERs important to student success? Yes. Do they directly impact it? Sometimes. Do they make it possible for students to attend to their lives and responsibilities so that they are less stressed out and distracted by financial worries? Absolutely.
“Open Educational Resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them.OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.” (UNESCO).
OER is related to “textbook free” — a textbook free course or degree may include OERs but often includes library and other reading materials, placed on reserve or uploaded to Canvas (or other learning management systems) and used according to copyright and fair use guidelines.
What’s the difference between “free” and “open?” Open educational resources are licensed to be re-used, while free just means there is no paywall to access something. Both benefit students!