There are only so many ways to say that open educational resources (OER) save students money. You can read article after article or blog post after blog post, analyzing how researchers came to their conclusion and scrutinizing the differences in the dollar amounts. But at the end of the day, the most important point is that OER save students money. But what about the issue of quality? Will students learn just as much if it’s not a professionally published textbook written by a professor? In short, the answer is yes. A 2015 study conducted at UC Davis found that students who used ChemWiki, an alternative to a conventional textbook, showed no significant differences in individual learning gains from those students who used the traditional chemistry textbook. These results were calculated using scores from pre-tests administered at the beginning of the semester and final exam scores. While this is only one study, there are other studies that show similar results. (Check out this review from the Open Education Group that summarizes articles published about OER).
So if professors can save students money without sacrificing the quality of their education, why don’t more professors adopt OER? One issue is awareness. Many administrators and faculty members do not know that OER exist or have a misunderstanding of what OER encompass. Prior to starting in the Instructional Psychology & Technology (IPT) department at BYU, I had never heard the phrase “open educational resources.” Aside from awareness, it’s a big change for faculty members. How can you ensure the quality of the books? How do you even decide which open textbook or open resource to use? Well, thankfully there are peer-reviewed, open textbooks available for professors as a good starting point. And about making the decision, faculty members already have to choose a textbook in the first place. It’s a time investment they make weighing different textbook options from publishers.
Going back to the original point of this point: OER save students money. Instead of debating how much money, let’s realize that if they can do just as well in their courses and have some of the financial burden relieved, isn’t that worth it? And the most surprising thing may be how students re-purpose the money they would have spent on costly textbooks. A recent study (currently in review) found that a majority of community college students spent the money reinvesting in their education and taking care of day-to-day expenses like buying healthier groceries and paying bills.