Course Materials Adoption: A Choice White Paper

A Choice survey of some 88,000 instructors reveals some interesting misconceptions about the definition and purpose of open educational resources.

The third Choice white paper, “Course Materials Adoption: A Faculty Survey and Outlook for the OER Landscape,” examines two important questions: first, how do instructors discover, evaluate, and select materials for classroom instruction, and second, what, if anything, is different about the criteria or methods employed when the instructor sets out to use open educational materials? These topics were the subject of a Choice survey deployed earlier this year to some 88,000 undergraduate instructors, the responses to which by almost 1,400 faculty members have been analyzed by Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian at Temple University. The results of the survey have important implications for the work of academic librarians committed to the use of OER.

The survey itself was divided into two parts, one for users of commercial texts, the other for those who use at least some OER. In both sections instructors were asked who makes the adoption decision for his or her course(s), how the adopted materials were discovered, and what the important factors were in selecting these materials. Instructors using at least some OER were asked, additionally, who made the decision to adopt OER and, if the instructor herself, what factors prompted this decision, what types of OER are used, and what sources were consulted in locating these materials.

Not surprisingly, the conclusions of Bell’s study are harvested primarily from this second group, OER users. Among his key findings, three in particular are especially significant. First, even self-professed users of open educational materials often had difficulty understanding the difference between OER and sources that are merely free. When Choice followed up with instructors who offered to share lists of the OER used in their courses, the lists included TED talks, YouTube videos, lecture notes on the LMS, and resources licensed and paid for by the library. Free to the user, certainly; oftentimes open access, yes; but not necessarily OER.

Second, from the overwhelming preference for the textbook as the “flagship” open educational resource, it seems likely, to me at least, that in adopting OER what many instructors have done is simply swap out a commercial textbook for a “free” one, without exploiting or even understanding the tremendous potential for the transformation of teaching and learning inherent in open educational resources. In line with this, the survey responses clearly identify “cost to the student” as the driving factor, after textbook quality, in the selection of OER.

But in what is perhaps the most important finding, instructors consistently rated librarian recommendations at or near the bottom, in percentage terms, of factors influencing the adoption of course materials, whether commercial or open. Bell suggests three scenarios that might account for this in the OER selection process. From least to most desirable they are (1) librarians are failing to adequately communicate their knowledge and role in OER discovery, evaluation, and selection; (2) librarians have not traditionally been involved in faculty textbook selection and thus are not obvious sources of information about OER; and (3) it is still early days, and faculty are not yet aware of the resources librarians can bring to bear on the process. Regardless of which of these factors predominates, the clear implication of all of them is that much work remains ahead for the library community if our goal of more open systems of education is to be fully realized. —MC

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About the author:

Mark Cummings is the editor and publisher at Choice