Studies matter but faculty spending time and effort in making learning affordable for students matters more.

I facilitated a faculty, staff, and student panel discussion today re: OER at Penn State. One of the participants at the end of our session said he wasn’t convinced that OER was the way to go. He said there didn’t seem to be enough evidence that students were learning better and that there were improved learning gains by implementing OER as opposed to traditional textbooks. Of course I thought of a much better answer than what myself and our student panelist gave to him. The student cited a research study that analyzed other research studies of OER that showed equal or improved learning gains for students using an OER. I explained what our plan is for research into OER implementation and some possible comparative studies with students using a traditional textbook and those using an open textbook or open content in courses.

What I should have said and wish I had thought of was…. we don’t need studies to tell us that students are having a better learning experience with OER. When faculty adopt, adapt or author OER they are not doing an add on or a simple change. They are interacting with their course content and thinking about what content they need to help students learn. When faculty implement OER and low cost materials into their courses they are demonstrating that they care about their students. They are demonstrating that they care about advancing open education. They are contributing to the open movement. When faculty choose to work with OER and low cost content they are willing to put in some time and effort. Even when adopting, the OER project that takes up the least amount of time and resources, they are thinking about their students and thinking about their course goals, and how the open resource can help students to meet the course goals and lesson objectives.

They care.

Think back to your best educational experience. It could be an elementary, junior high, senior high, undergraduate, or graduate level course. What stands out in your memory?

I seriously doubt it was a kick ass textbook that you used. Most likely it is a teacher who cared. A teacher who “got” their students and made a connection. They could empathize with their students. They met their students at their current level of understanding and implemented methods of teaching that inspired, empowered, and motivated their students which resulted in learning. Maybe it was the classroom environment. Maybe it was how the teacher created a learning community. Learning is social and maybe your best teacher was someone who knew how to facilitate group work and really thought-out how to instruct and guide students to collaborate for a rich, deep, and meaningful learning experience.

From my work with faculty and OER I have never met a faculty member who wanted to provide something affordable and engaging to their students that didn’t care or put the students first into all course content decisions.

When faculty members take the time to find, and organize open resources, or find them and then add content, or re-mix to make something new, you better bet that they are thinking critically about what their students need to know. They are crafting a learning experience for their students. This is a perfect opportunity to revise their course and the way they are teaching it to their students.

Studies, statistics, data, yes it all serves a role. But when teachers care enough to put time and effort into making things affordable to their students they are doing something that proves without data that they care. They are paying attention to student needs and without that what are the students really learning? I think that means that OER has a few more points from the get-go than traditional materials when it comes to increasing learning for students.

I’ve recently heard stories from students and instructional designers who work with faculty that have sold their soul to publishers. They require students to purchase a pricey textbook and in turn the publisher sends them to a conference in a desired location, somewhere warm, expensive, and lavish. Or faculty who author their own textbooks and get paid for writing the book and require students to purchase that book, therefore getting paid twice. These faculty are not thinking about their students they are thinking about themselves. Faculty who take the time (especially those who author open resources) to go open, are not doing it for their own personal gain. They are the teachers who you will remember and I am beyond thankful every day that I work with those teachers.