04:43 PM

Babson Research Group Releases Latest OER Survey

The Babson Survey Research Group recently released their latest survey, Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in US Higher Education, 2017. Babson surveyed more than 2,700 faculty on their opinions and usage of open educational resources (OER) and commercial materials. While OER adoption levels increased to 9% in 2016-2017 (up from 5% in 2015-2016), overall awareness of OER is still low.

In particular, Babson presented faculty teaching large enrollment introductory-level courses with a list of commonly used commercial textbooks along with an open textbook alternative from OpenStax. Babson found that the rate of adoption of OpenStax textbooks among faculty teaching large enrollment courses is now at 16.5%, a rate that Babson says rivals that of most commercial textbooks. This is an increase over the rate observed last year (10.8%).

Below are some other important highlights:

Selecting Educational Resources

When faculty were asked which factors were most important when selecting required materials, comprehensiveness of resource (89% reporting as “very important” or “important”), cost to the student (89% reporting as “very important” or “important”) and easy to find (82% reporting as “very important” or “important”) were rated most important.

Cost to Students

Nearly all faculty surveyed (90%) reported that cost to the student was a “very important” or “important” factor in selecting required course materials. Researchers found a wide cost difference between disciplines, with the average cost of materials for health and related fields was $182 and conversely, the average cost of materials for computer and information sciences was $68. The average price per course materials is reported as $97 (across all course levels).

Awareness of OER

While those who consider themselves “very aware” of OER grew from 5% in 2014-2015 to 10% in 2016-2017, the majority (56%) of faculty surveyed said they were “not aware” of OER. The survey also pointed out that many faculty only have a vague understanding of what constitutes OER; some confuse “open” with “free” and assume that all free resources are OER. Others confuse “open resources” with “open source” and assume that OER refers only to open source software.

Awareness of Licensing of Open Educational Resources

Babson asked faculty about their awareness of three legal permissions: Copyright, Public Domain and Creative Commons. The vast majority (96%) reported at least some degree of awareness of the copyright status of their classroom content. Also high was the awareness of public domain was reported at 91%. However, only 71% of faculty reported any awareness of Creative Commons licensing, up slightly from 65% in 2014-2015.

Digital vs. Print

Faculty themselves are quite mixed as to whether they prefer print or digital materials. Roughly equal numbers of faculty report preferring print materials (32%) and digital materials (29%), and 39% were neutral. Researchers found a possible disconnect between faculty and students – faculty consistently mention using digital materials as a means to reduce costs, while also reporting that their students still strongly prefer print materials.

Potential Barriers

Faculty surveyed identified a few barriers that kept them from adopting OER. The effort needed to find and evaluate suitable materials encompassed the largest barriers. Half of faculty (50%) reported “difficult to find what I need” and slightly less (47%) reported “lack of resources for my subject” as most critical barriers to adopting OER. Babson reports this was the top issue for each of the three years the question has been asked. Newly asked in the 2016-2017 survey, 29% of respondents mentioned “concern about updates” as another potential barrier.