A new report from the Babson Survey Research Group provides fresh evidence that open educational resources (OER) have made significant gains in awareness and adoption over the last year. The report is based on Babson’s fourth annual survey of U.S. faculty, which tracks an important set of benchmarks for faculty behavior and perceptions regarding OER and traditional course materials. The big takeaways are new metrics showing OER continues on an upward and accelerating trajectory, along with important signs that faculty are not only seeking more affordable materials, but also materials that offer more flexibility to revise and remix.
- Faculty awareness continues to rise, with 46% percent of faculty now aware of OER, up from 34% three years ago.
- The percent of faculty who use OER as a required course material in at least one course has more than doubled to 13% this year, up from 6% last year.
- More than a fifth (22%) of faculty who teach introductory courses use OER as a required material in at least one course.
- Of the faculty who do not use OER, nearly three-quarters (74%) were open to considering it.
- Nearly three-quarters (73%) of department chairpersons and most (61%) of all faculty “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” that the cost of course materials is a serious problem for their students.
- For the first time, more faculty expressed a preference for digital course materials (40%) than print (25%). While faculty earlier in their careers tend to have a stronger preference for digital, all career stages showed an increase.
- The majority of faculty report making changes to their textbooks, most commonly presenting material in a different order (70%), skipping sections (68%), and replacing content with their own (45%).
The authors highlight several important trends driving faculty interest in OER, including frustration with traditional publishers, the belief that cost has a negative impact on student access, and awareness of campus-level textbook affordability initiatives. While not covered in the report, several important milestones in the OER movement over the last year also likely contributed, including the first ever U.S. federal appropriation to support OER programs, widespread market penetration of OpenStax textbooks, and efforts to document student savings achieved through OER. While the authors do note some limitations to the findings—notably that some faculty may confuse other free or digital resources with OER—there is a clear overall trend that OER continues to gain ground.
Going forward, this report adds important evidence to the case for OER beyond student savings. While cost remains a key concern among faculty, traditional publishers are shifting toward lower-cost digital subscriptions that could—at least temporarily—alleviate some faculty concerns over affordability. However, growing faculty interest in digital materials and a desire to adjust textbook content to meet course needs strongly aligns with the benefits of open versus closed materials, along with the added benefits of long-term access for students and faculty control over modifications.
The study is based on a nationally representative survey of 3,288 faculty and 812 chairpersons during the 2017-2018 school year. To access all of Babson’s OER reports, including this one, visit https://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/oer.html.