Opening the Textbook:
Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-16
I. Elaine Allen, Ph.D.
Professor of Biostatistics & Epidemiology, UCSF
Co-Director, Babson Survey Research Group
Jeff Seaman, Ph.D.
Co-Director, Babson Survey Research Group
Selecting Educational Resources
Cost to the Student
Awareness of Open Educational Resources
Awareness of Licensing of Open Educational Resources
Awareness of Open Textbooks
Educational Resource Decision Process
The Process of Textbook Adoption for Introductory Courses
Cover design is by Mark Favazza (www.favazza.com).
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Report available at: www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/oer.html.
This research would not be possible without the assistance of a number of organizations. First, we wish to thank The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for their considerable help in framing the project, as well as their support of the data collection, analysis, and report creation. Their background and knowledge of open educational resources and contacts within the OER community was invaluable in defining the focus of the study. We also wish to thank the Global Healthy Living Foundation for their support in the administration of the Hewlett Foundation grant.
It may be a surprise to some that a commercial publisher would support a study that includes a strong focus on open (non-commercial) resources. Pearson has provided such support and done so without any conditions or special access to the results; they see what you see. Their resources allowed the construction of an expansive, nationally representative faculty sample.
Finally, the report presents results derived from a nationally representative sample of higher education faculty. We want to thank the thousands of faculty members who took the time to provide us with their detailed and thoughtful responses. We understand that you are very busy people, and appreciate your effort very much. This report would not be possible without you, and we hope that you find it useful.
Babson Survey Research Group
Most higher education faculty are unaware of open educational resources (OER) – but they are interested and some are willing to give it a try. Survey results, using responses of over 3,000 U.S. faculty, show that OER is not a driving force in the selection of materials – with the most significant barrier being the effort required to find and evaluate such materials. Use of open resources is low overall, but somewhat higher for large enrollment introductory-level courses.
Selecting Teaching Resources
Š Almost all (90%) of teaching faculty selected new or revised educational materials for at least one course over the previous two years.
Š The most common activity was changing required materials for an existing course (74%), followed by substantially modifying a course (65%). Creating a new course was the least common activity (48%).
Š The most common factor cited by faculty when selecting educational resources was the cost to the students. After cost, the next most common was the comprehensiveness of the resource, followed by how easy it was to find.
Š There is a serious disconnect between how many faculty include a factor in selecting educational resources and how satisfied they are with the state of that factor. For example, faculty are least satisfied with the cost of textbooks, yet that is the most commonly listed factor for resource selections.
Š Virtually all courses (98%) require a textbook or other non-textbook material as part of their suite of required resources.
Š Required textbooks are more likely to be in printed form (69%) than digital. Faculty require digital textbooks in conjunction with a printed textbook more often than using only digital textbooks.
Š Only 5.3% of courses are using an openly licensed (Creative Commons or public domain) required textbook.
Š For large enrollment introductory undergraduate courses openly licensed OpenStax College textbooks are adopted at twice the rate (10%) as open licensed textbooks among all courses.
Š There has been very little change in the past year in the proportion of faculty who report that they are aware of copyright status of classroom content.
Š Awareness of public domain licensing and Creative Commons licensing has remained steady.
Š Faculty continue to have a much greater level of awareness of the type of licensing often used for OER (Creative Commons) than they do of OER itself, and it is clear that they do not always associate this licensing with OER.
Open Educational Resources
Š Faculty awareness of OER has increased in the last year, but remains low. Only 6.6% of faculty reported that they were “Very aware” of open educational resources, with around three times that many (19%) saying that they were “Aware”.
Š The level of faculty awareness of open textbooks (a specific type of OER) was somewhat lower than that for open educational resources; only 34% of faculty claimed some level of awareness.
Barriers to OER Adoption
Š The barriers to adopting OER most often cited by faculty are that “there are not enough resources for my subject” (49%), it is “too hard to find what I need” (48%) and “there is no comprehensive catalog of resources” (45%).
Š There has been a decrease in faculty concerns about permission to use or change OER materials, and increases in concerns about the quality of OER and that it is timely and up-to-date.
Š Most faculty do not have experience searching for OER materials and cannot compare the ease of finding OER with traditional materials. Only 2.5% thought that it was easier to search for OER.
Š The number of faculty claiming that they would use OER in the future (6.9%) is of the same order of magnitude of those already using open resources (5.3%). A larger group (31.3%) reports that they will consider future OER use.
The objective of this study is to better understand the process by which faculty members select the educational materials that they employ in their courses. The educational resource that people are most familiar with is the required textbook: faculty members select one or more books that all students are required to use through the duration of the course. Faculty also employ a wide range of other materials, some of which are supplemental or optional, and others that are required for all students. This study deals with only core (required) materials, using the following definition:
Items listed in the course syllabus as required for all students, either acquired on their own or provided to all students through a materials fee; examples include printed or digital textbooks, other course-complete printed (course pack) or digital materials, or materials such as laboratory supplies
In addition to examining the overall resource selection process, this study also explores two particular classes of educational materials: those classified as open educational resources (OER) and a sub-set of OER known as open textbooks. The Hewlett Foundation defines open educational resources (OER) as:
OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.
The study also examines the extent to which faculty are aware of and/or adopting open textbooks. These textbooks are alternatives to the traditional commercial textbook, defined by the OER Commons as:
An emerging development in OER is open textbooks, which are textbooks that are freely available with nonrestrictive licenses. Covering a wide range of disciplines, open textbooks are available to download and print in various file formats from several web sites and OER repositories. Open textbooks can range from public domain books to existing textbooks to textbooks created specifically for OER. Open textbooks help solve the problems of the high cost of textbooks, book shortages, and access to textbooks as well as providing the capacity to better meet local teaching and learning needs.
An important aspect of the examination of the use of educational resources is the licensing status of such materials – who owns the rights to use and distribute, and does the faculty member have the right to modify, reuse, or redistribute the content? The licensing mechanism that faculty are most familiar with is that of copyright. As noted by the U.S. Copyright office, copyright is:
A form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for "original works of authorship", including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. "Copyright" literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work. … Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.
Of particular interest for this study is the copyright status of the primarily textual material (including textbooks) that faculty select as required materials for their courses.
Copyright owners have the right to control the reproduction of their work, including the right to receive payment for that reproduction. An author may grant or sell those rights to others, including publishers or recording companies.
Not all material is copyrighted. It may be ineligible for copyright, the copyright may have expired, or the authors may have dedicated it to the public domain.
Public domain is a designation for content that is not protected by any copyright law or other restriction and may be freely copied, shared, altered and republished by anyone. The designation means, essentially, that the content belongs to the community at large.
An intermediate stage between the traditional copyright (with “all rights reserved”) and public domain, where no rights are reserved, is provided by a Creative Commons license. A Creative Commons license is not an alternative to copyright, but rather a modification of the traditional copyright license that grants additional rights.
A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. A CC license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created. CC provides an author flexibility (for example, they might choose to allow only non-commercial uses of their own work) and protects the people who use or redistribute an author's work from concerns of copyright infringement as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license by which the author distributes the work.
For purposes of this report the term “open-licensed” will be used for material that has either a Creative Commons license or is in the public domain (which, strictly speaking is not an “open” license, but rather the absence of a license).
Selecting Educational Resources
“To my students cost is the most important thing. To me, content is the most important.” (Full-time Mathematics Faculty)
"The cost of textbooks is a joke. How do we stop this?" (Part-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
“The most important reason I have for picking a resource: How good are the activities and homework? To elaborate: How much opportunity is there for students to think?” (Full-time Interdisciplinary Studies Faculty)
"Having digital materials that integrate with the LMS with a single sign-on is imperative." (Full-time Social Sciences Faculty)
"I need the material to be customizable since I can't cover every topic during the course of a semester. I also like a variety of supplemental materials." (Full-time Social Sciences Faculty)
"Better access to robust, engaging, current and attractively priced learning materials for undergraduate business students is a critical component in reinforcing the value of the university experience." (Part-time Business Faculty)
What is the process by which faculty members select materials to be used in their courses? What factors lead them to pick one resource over another? All teaching faculty survey respondents were asked which of a series of factors were important to them for their decision making in determining what resources would be required for their courses.
The characteristic mentioned by the greatest number of faculty for judging educational materials was the cost to the students; nearly one-half (50%) of faculty said cost was “Very important,” and an additional 37% reported that cost was “Important.” After cost, the next most common factor was the comprehensiveness of the resource (48% reporting it as “Very important” and 29% as “Important”). This was followed by how easy it was to find the resource (32% reported that it was “Very important” and 38% as “Important”). No other factors were selected at rates close to these top three – faculty recommendations, how adaptable/editable the resource was, and the inclusion of supplemental material were all mentioned as “Very important” or “Important” by a total of at least 40% of the respondents. The final group of factors, reported as “Very important” or “Important” by nearly 30% of the respondents, were the ability to work with the institution’s Learning Management System (LMS), familiarity with brand/publisher, and the inclusion of test banks.
Cost to the Student
“I would like to find material at low cost, but high quality is more important.” (Full-time Mathematics Faculty)
“At a time when we are concerned about the cost of a university education and student debt, a $246 text is obscene.” (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
“I am extremely conscientious of student cost and have attempted to use alternative texts but have found them to be marginal in quality.” (Full-time Mathematics Faculty)
“The cost of texts is out of control. If I could find more open resources, I would use them gladly.” (Full-time Communications Faculty)
"The text is far too expensive--I am the author of the textbook, and the publisher is charging more than twice the price that we had set." (Full-time English Language and Literature Faculty)
Is this answer a “feel good” response, or do faculty really base their decisions on the cost of the resources that they select? We know that the pattern of responses match those seen in other studies, with one finding 86% of faculty ranking the cost of material for students as a top issue in selecting course materials – nearly identical to these results. However, faculty actions may belie their stated level of concern; if cost were primary in their decision process we would expect to see far more low cost and no cost textbook options, both open and commercial, to have been.
It is critical to understand that while faculty are more likely to include cost than other factors in selecting educational materials; this does not mean that they consider cost the most important factor. The difference is subtle, but important. A typical faculty member reports five, six, or more factors as important to their selection process – cost is only one of them. The relative important of these factors varies by faculty member and by course for a particular faculty member. More faculty include cost in the list of factors that they consider, but for many it may be the least important.
In our previous study, when faculty were forced to select their top three factors from a list as opposed to rating each factor, only 2.7% included cost among their top three. This rate is far below that for other factors, such as working with the LMS, ease of finding OERs, and comprehensive content. A low rate on a forced priority selection indicates that faculty do not consider cost as a primary factor, but rather one to be considered only after their other criteria have been met.
Based on a reading of the open-ended comments in this study, it appears that faculty consider cost ceteris paribus – all other things being equal. Comments from faculty reinforce the idea that cost to the student is important, but only after content, relevance, quality, and presentation have been considered. Cost alone is not sufficient to drive the resource selection. A further issue is that faculty may not be aware of the cost of the materials that they select: a study by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) found that 28% of faculty reported that they did not typically know the prices of the books that they assigned.
Regardless of how faculty factor cost into their decision-making process, it is clear that they are not satisfied with the current state of affairs related to course material cost. Faculty satisfaction with cost is lower than that for any other factor.
The impact of cost in the selection of educational
materials, especially required textbooks, is clearly ripe for further study.
Awareness of Open Educational Resources
“I am curious and intrigued by these educational resources; but simply do not know enough about them to effectively evaluate them.” (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"Only heard of OER in last 1-2 years, generally unaware of what available" (Part-time Social Sciences Faculty)
"I don't know anything about Open Resources. My main concern would be that they're vetted properly, and that there was a sufficient presence in my discipline for them to be useful. But I'm definitely open to them." (Full-time English Language and Literature Faculty)
"I use all OERs in ALL of my courses and do not see significant barriers to any faculty member using them." (Full-time Social Sciences Faculty)
“I would like to know more about OER that will help enhance learning for my students as well as giving me some variety of teaching material.” (Part-time Humanities Faculty)
As noted in our previous report, the exact wording of the question is critical in measuring faculty’s level of OER awareness. Many academics have only a vague understanding of the details of what constitutes open educational resources. Many confuse “open” with “free,” and assume all free resources are OER. Still others will confuse “open resources” with “open source,” and assume OER refers only to open source software. Because of these differing levels of understanding, the phrasing of the awareness question needs to be specific. The question should provide enough of the dimensions of OER to avoid confusion, without being so detailed that the question itself educates the respondent sufficiently that they could claim to be “aware.”
Multiple question wordings were tested for the prior reports in this series. A question with broad definitions but no examples was found to be more precise than a question just using the term “open educational resources.” Adding a series of detailed examples of OER was even more precise, but proved too leading for the respondents and artificially boosted the proportion that could legitimately claim to be “aware.” The version used here was found to have the best balance in differentiating among the different levels of awareness, while avoiding leading those with no previous knowledge of the concept. This question wording has been used for the past two years so that year-to-year comparisons can be made.
When faculty members were asked to self-report their level of awareness of open educational resources, a majority (58%) said that they were generally unaware of OER (“I am not aware of OER” or “I have heard of OER, but don't know much about them”). Only 6.6% reported that they were very aware (“I am very aware of OER and know how they can be used in the classroom”), and around three times that many (19%) said that they were aware (“I am aware of OER and some of their use cases”). An additional 17% of faculty reported that they were only somewhat aware (“I am somewhat aware of OER but I am not sure how they can be used”).
Awareness of Licensing of Open Educational Resources
"I am against freely giving faculty intellectual property. It is tantamount to working for nothing. The Universities don’t want to pay us and the book companies don't want to pay us." (Full-time Engineering Faculty)
“I am always surprised that not a lot of my students are aware of free public domain resources available to them for self-study. I am constantly having them look for information online and try to read more and find resources in the public domain in addition to the prescribed text book and digital resources. (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"I have attended several seminars on OER and Open Textbooks and therefore know a considerable amount about what is available, how it can be used, limitations and reliability. However, in general, I think faculty are not as informed about Creative Commons classifications and the limitations on copyrighted materials." (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"How do the authors of the open/free materials get paid for their work?" (Full-time Social Sciences Faculty)
As described earlier, faculty members may have only a “fuzzy” understanding and awareness of open educational resources. By asking additional questions about the related details, we can begin to understand how precise that understanding and awareness might be. Since licensing and the ability to reuse and remix content is critical to the concept of OER, examining the difference between faculty who report that they are aware of OER and faculty who report that they are aware of both OER and Creative Commons licensing provides us a good indication of the depth of understanding of OER among faculty members. If faculty who report that they are unaware of Creative Commons licensing are removed for any of the “Aware” categories of the measure of OER awareness, we create a much stricter index of OER awareness.
The level of OER awareness drops when we apply this stricter definition, but only somewhat. Those classified as “Very aware” dips from 6.6% to 5.9%, “Aware” from 19% to 16%, and “Somewhat aware” from 16% to 12%. The overall proportion classified into any of the “Aware” categories changes from 42% when awareness of Creative Commons is not required to 34% when it is required.
Faculty at two-year institutions report consistently higher level of awareness of OER than faculty at four-year institutions. Faculty at two-year institutions claim higher levels of being “Very aware” (7.4% versus 4.5%) as well as a greater fraction saying that they had any level of awareness (41% versus 32%).
Awareness of Open Textbooks
"I've never heard of these open textbook resources, but they sound incredibly useful. My colleagues and I often share ideas and resources, and this sounds similar, but on a much broader scale." (Part-time English Language and Literature Faculty)
"'Open textbooks' sounds, at least from the title, like an assault on copyright. If academics are going to continue to edit and publish textbooks, copyright must be protected." (Full-time English Language and Literature Faculty)
"If you can help us disrupt the textbook-industrial complex, please do so!" (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"I have no interest in destroying the business model for academic publishing." (Full-time Communications Faculty)
"Increasingly, it is becoming evident that the model of publishing text for higher education is grossly overpriced. To this extent, I expect that increasing numbers of us will move away from using large publishers. Honestly, they come across as crooked, greedy and dishonest...not much unlike the healthcare industry and associated insurance." (Full-time Education Faculty)
"Sometimes, you get what you pay for. While open textbooks are a good idea, it takes considerable time and effort to produce a quality product. Who will subsidize this?" (Full-time Education Faculty)
In addition to questions about awareness of open educational resources in general, faculty were asked about their awareness of open textbooks. A definition was provided to faculty as part of the question:
Open textbooks are textbooks that are freely available with nonrestrictive licenses. Covering a wide range of disciplines, open textbooks are available to download and print in various file formats from several web sites and OER repositories.
The faculty level of awareness of open textbooks was somewhat lower than that seen of open educational resources, as only 34% of faculty claimed some level of awareness. Of these, 6.9% reported that they were very aware (“I am very aware of open textbooks and know how they can be used in the classroom”), with around twice that many (12%) saying that they were aware (“I am aware of Open Textbooks and some of their use cases”). An additional 15% of faculty reported that they were only somewhat aware (“I am somewhat aware of Open Textbooks but I am not sure if they are appropriate for my needs”). Nearly two-thirds of faculty (66%) report that they were generally unaware of Open Textbooks (“I am not aware of Open Textbooks” or “I have heard of Open Textbooks, but don't know much about them”).
Educational Resource Decision Process
Previous studies in this series have demonstrated that faculty are the key decision makers in finding, reviewing, and selecting educational resources. Academic administrators play a role in some types of institutions (two-year Associates institutions and for-profit institutions), but even here faculty make up the overwhelming majority of decision makers.
While it is clear that faculty hold the locus of control of these key decisions, it is not obvious how frequently they engage in this process. Some faculty report that they are always looking for new material for their courses, with no formal beginning or end to their decision process. These faculty change educational materials whenever they find an alternative sufficiently better than what they are currently using. Other faculty tell us that they review their courses one at a time, often on a rotating schedule.
In order to better understand the frequency of (and factors that impact) the decision about core educational materials, it is necessary to understand when the specific decision is being made. Faculty in this study were asked about three different activities that represent the faculty member making a decision on the required materials for a particular course: creating a new course, substantially revising an existing course, or adding or changing required course materials. The specific question wording used was:
Over the past two years, either working alone or with others, have you...
Created a new course (A course that was not previously listed in the course catalog)
Substantially modified an existing course (Examples include making a substantive change in the content included in the course, changing the delivery method (e.g., converting a face-to-face course to online) or a similar change of this magnitude. Do not count the normal fine-tuning to a course during its delivery or the typical term-to-term refinements that all courses go through)
Added or changed required course materials (Items listed in the course syllabus as required for all students, either acquired on their own or provided to all students through a materials fee, examples include a printed or digital textbook, other course-complete printed (course pack) or digital materials, or materials such as laboratory supplies)
Deciding on new or revised educational materials is a very common occurrence for teaching faculty. The vast majority (90%) reported that they had performed at least one of these activities over the previous two years, and large numbers had done more than one. The most common activity was changing required materials for an existing course (74%), followed by substantially modifying a course (65%). While creating a new course was the least common activity, almost one-half of faculty (48%) had performed this action over the previous two years.
The release of a new edition of a faculty member’s current book or program, typically every 2-3 years, may act as a trigger for a faculty material review. This is consistent with the observed 74% rate for “changes course materials.” Over half of all survey respondents said that they had both substantially modified an existing course as well as having changed the required materials for another course. One-third (33%) of the respondents reported that they had performed all three types of activities.
The reasons for faculty engaging in the decision process varied considerably, ranging from the need to fill a gap in the curriculum to just being bored of teaching the course the same way for multiple years:
"I was dissatisfied with the level at which students were acquiring (or more accurately, failing to acquire!) essential course content." (Full-time Social Sciences Faculty)
"A new monograph altered my view of the subject sufficiently to believe a complete revision of the course, including texts, to be worth undertaking." (Part-time Social Sciences Faculty)
"An old instructor left and took the materials with her" (Part-time Allied Health Faculty)
"Better course book became available as open education resource so was free to my students. This lowered their costs substantially which was desirable plus it is available so allows easy accessibility to my students." (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"Always like to keep courses up to date" (Full-time Education Faculty)
"As an old instructional designer, I get bored with teaching the same class the same way after a couple of times. I need to make it "new for me" to really enjoy it. It is also better (at least I always hope so) for my students." (Full-time Computer Science Faculty)
"I inherited the course from a colleague and wished to update the framing of the course to reflect what I saw as current trends in the field." (Full-time Business Faculty)
"Students requested the course; department faculty felt it was a course that should be added to the catalog." (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"The course had been taught the same way for some time and failure rates were high. We wanted to try something different." (Full-time Mathematics Faculty)
"A student asked me if such a course existed at our school. The answer was no. I decided to design this course. I proposed it to my department. They accepted it." (Part-time Fine and Applied Arts Faculty)
The factors that influence a faculty member’s particular resource selection decision for one course may be very different than for another course. The availability of different resource options, the timeliness of the course material, the level of the student, the time since the course was last revised, as well as a host of other factors can influence that decision. To allow this research to focus on a single decision, the respondents who reported that they had performed an educational resource selection process over the previous two years were asked to select only one course to consider for their responses to a series of questions about those resource selections.
Because one of the concerns of the impact of educational resource selection is the impact on students, faculty who made resource decisions for more than one course were asked to select the one course with the largest enrollment for their responses. If more than one such course had the same level of enrollment, they were then instructed to select the course they were most familiar with. Faculty were then asked a series of resource-related questions about this specific course.
The courses being considered were overwhelmingly undergraduate courses (77%) and those delivered face-to-face (75%), with 13% blended and 12% online. Faculty classified these courses primarily as an “Introductory course” (41%), but intermediate (28%) and advanced level (29%) courses were both well represented.
Required textbooks were more likely to be in printed form (69%) than digital, with digital textbooks more often required in addition to a printed textbook (19%) than courses requiring only digital textbooks (8.5%). Over three-quarters of all the reported courses require a textbook of some variety.
Advanced courses were less likely to require a formal textbook than introductory or intermediate-level courses. Courses taught using some online component (either as a blended course or fully online) had the highest rates of requiring a formal textbook, and the largest proportion of these textbooks being digital (either in conjunction with a printed text or using only digital textbooks).
Digital textbooks are much more likely to be either Creative Commons licensed (7.9%) or public domain (12%) than their print alternatives. While the overwhelmingly majority of digital textbooks are copyrighted, the relative proportion of openly licensed (Creative Commons or public domain) material is five times higher for digital distribution than it is for printed textbooks.
A large proportion of non-textbook printed material is reported as public domain (44%), as is a majority of the digital-formatted required non-textbook materials (52%). Compared to textbooks, a much larger fraction of this type of material is licensed as Creative Commons (15% for printed, 19% for digital).
When summed across all courses reported by faculty for this survey, only 5.3% report that they are using an openly licensed (Creative Commons or public domain) textbook of any variety. Of these, 2.1% are using an openly licensed textbook, but are not using any openly licensed non-textbook material, while 3.2% are using both an openly licensed textbook as well as openly licensed non-textbook material. The proportion of required non-textbook material that is openly licensed is far higher, with 39% of faculty reporting its use: 3.2% in conjunction with an openly licensed textbook, and 36% using non-textbook material alone.
Most types of courses have open-licensed usage rates close to the overall rate of 5.3%, with the only exceptions being graduate-level courses (10%), online courses (7.2%), and courses that faculty classify as “Advanced” (7.0%).
Higher education faculty are not yet major users of open-licensed material for their required textbooks, with only about one course in twenty having an open-licensed textbook selected over the previous two years. This rate tracks very closely to those who report that they are “Very aware” of open textbooks (5.3% reporting use, and 6.9% reporting that they are aware).
Turning our attention to the adoption of non-textbook materials paints a very different picture, with nearly eight times as many faculty reporting using open-licensed non-textbook resources than having adopted an open-licensed textbook.
"My biggest hindrance to switching to more open books and OERs is simply the amount of time it takes to find all of these resources on my own. I've gotten to know more common sites to help in these searches, but I've not taken the time to really decide to make the big switch from what I have now (mostly publisher and self-created materials) to the available OERs." (Full-time Social Sciences Faculty)
"I have a concern about the peer reviewed nature of the open access texts. I also think that authors who use their expertise and knowledge to create a textbook are entitled to making money off of them. Why is it okay for people outside of education to publish books and make money, but not educators?" (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"I'd love to be given a redirection towards good catalogs of open-education resources, along with some sort of feedback from users who have successfully (or unsuccessfully!) incorporated them into their courses." (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
Previous reports in this series have shown that both faculty and academic leaders believe that one of the most serious issues facing wider adoption of open educational resources is the effort needed to find and evaluate suitable material. Faculty opinions in this study show that this has not changed. The three most-cited barriers to adopting OER all relate to the availability and difficulty in finding suitable resources. Nearly one-half of all faulty report that “there are not enough resources for my subject” (49%), it is “too hard to find what I need” (48%), and that “there is no comprehensive catalog of resources” (45%).
The limited distribution and awareness of OER is also a factor in the fourth-ranked barrier (30%) – other faculty known to the respondent are not using OER. Concerns about quality (28%) are also present among faculty members. Given the limited awareness of Creative Common licensing, it is not surprising that faculty also report (21%) that they have concerns about permissions to use or change the materials. Other potential barriers, while present for some, were not as widely reported as a concern by the survey respondents.
The lower level of concern of those aware of OER about “permission for use” and “knowing other faculty that use it” most likely comes from their personal exposure to OER, and their greater knowledge of the nature and scope of OER materials. The greater concern about quality for this group should be troubling for the OER community: is awareness of OER confirming concerns about its quality, or does greater OER awareness mean that traditional publishers are being more aggressive in arguing against it?
There has been a decrease in faculty concerns about permission to use or change OER materials, and an increase in concerns about the quality of OER and that it is timely and up-to-date. There has also been an increase in faculty reporting that OER not being used by other faculty represents a barrier.
The Process of Textbook Adoption for Introductory Courses
"In introductory chemistry fads alter the organization of texts over periods of decades, but the content remains the same. A comparison of common texts (which I did a few years back) demonstrated that all of the most popular texts are effectively interchangeable, down to the examples." (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"For large enrollment courses we are considering free, online textbooks that others have made available. Many students at the freshman level do not purchase expensive text books, so we will experiment with this approach in the 2016-17 academic year." (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"We are looking into adopting OpenStax Precalculus to decrease cost to students. However, we are concerned with the content and its rigor. The book lacks depth in a number of topics. Also, there are some faculty who would like a textbook that has online homework for students." (Full-time Mathematics Faculty)
Faculty members who were creating a new course, substantially modifying an existing course, or selecting new required materials were asked about the specifics of the course for which they were responding. Additional questions were then presented to those faculty who were responding about one of the following large enrollment undergraduate introductory courses:
Š Principles of Economics
Š Macro Economics
Š Micro Economics
Š Algebra and Trigonometry
Š College Algebra
Š Anatomy and Physiology
Š College Physics (Algebra Based)
Š University Physics (Calculus Based)
Faculty responding about one of these courses were presented with a list of the most commonly used commercial textbooks (up to eight) for that specific course, along with an open text alternative from OpenStax College, a non-profit OER publisher based out of Rice University. OpenStax has been developing texts and ancillaries designed to meet the scope and sequence requirements of introductory courses since 2012, and have an OER offering for each of the above-listed courses.
Faculty respondents were asked to indicate if they were aware of each book, if they considered the textbook for their course, or if they adopted the text.
Faculty teaching introductory undergraduate courses are aware of, on average, 5.5 of the listed textbooks. Of these they considered only 2.8 for adoption, and adopted an average of 1.2 texts per course. The vast majority adopted only a single required text, and a few selected two, three, or more. The average adoption rate for a textbook in its corresponding course was 17%. There is considerable variability in adoption rates behind this average; some textbooks are clear market leaders with rates near 50%, while others have rates of only a percent or two.
The adoption rate for open-licensed OpenStax textbooks among these large enrollment courses is lower than the average for commercial texts, but is twice that of the rate for open textbooks in general. OpenStax textbooks are adopted at a rate of 10% among large enrollment undergraduate introductory courses, compared to the 5.3% rate seen for open-licensed textbooks across all courses.
Is the lower OpenStax adoption rate (10%, as compared to 17% for a typical textbook) due to less awareness, fewer faculty considering them, or being rejected at a higher rate if they are considered? The answer is that all three factors play a role; OpenStax textbooks are close to, but slightly lower than, the rates for commercial textbooks for each of these steps.
Looking across all textbooks, faculty claimed to be aware of 82% of listed textbooks. Slightly more than one half of the textbooks that faculty were aware of (52%) were then actively considered in the adoption process. Of those considered, 41% were then adopted. Comparing the OpenStax alternative shows a lower level of awareness (70% compared to 82% overall). Likewise, OpenStax texts have a somewhat lower rate of consideration (44% compared to 52%) and a lower rate of selection for adoption (32% compared to 41%). The result is an overall lower adoption rate of 10% for OpenStax textbooks as compared to all introductory courses textbooks (17%).
Faculty teaching large enrollment introductory courses have ratings similar to their peers teaching other courses, when considering the importance of the various factors in determining their required material selections. Those who have decided to use an OpenStax textbook, while very similar on most dimensions, show some clear differences. Among the OpenStax group, having ancillary material (test banks and supplemental instructor materials) is far less important for their decision making process. On the other hand, they rate resources being “easy to find” as more important to their selection that do the faculty teaching introductory courses who have not adopted an OpenStax text.
In general, faculty teaching large-enrollment undergraduate level courses report very similar goals and concerns as do faculty teaching other types of courses. The adoption rate of open textbooks for these introductory courses is roughly twice that for all courses, probably reflecting the emphasis that open textbook developers have had on these large enrollment courses. It can be expected that the open text adoption rate will continue to increase for these courses, as most of the open alternatives are new to the market and have only begun to compete against well-established commercial texts with their long histories and substantial marketing support.
"I don't know anybody who is using open source textbooks, and I don't have the time at the moment to research what will work best." (Part-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"I am interested in open resources, but have not had the time to explore them. That has been more of an issue for not adopting them than anything." (Full-time Social Sciences Faculty)
"I have not even checked for open resource educational materials since I lack the time to investigate what is available and how I can use it. " (Full-time Agriculture and Animal Science Faculty)
"I have used OER in the past and do so currently but it is very difficult to find OER materials to use and incorporate into my classes." (Part-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"Textbooks sent to me with data supporting why this text is a good one to use summarized on one page would help me determine if I should spend time looking into it or not." (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"A resource that lists available course materials along with cost, list of supplementary materials, and reviews by other faculty members. It would be nice to have an independent website that offered this for materials from multiple publishers/sources." (Full-time Mathematics Faculty)
The top three barriers that faculty cite impacting their adoption of open educational resources are related to the ease of finding and selecting the appropriate resource. How do these issues compare to finding and selecting traditional resources? Is the effort required to find appropriate OER materials substantially higher than that for traditional materials, or do faculty have concerns for both types of resources? To probe this issue, faculty were asked to rate how difficult it was to search for traditional resources using a four-point scale, and asked the same question about searching open educational resources.
Nearly two-thirds of faculty reported that searching for resources from traditional publishers was “Easy” or “Very easy,” with 17.5% saying it was “Difficult.” Very few faculty (1.7%) considered the ease of search for resources from traditional publishers to be “Very difficult.” Interestingly, a sizable proportion reported that they didn’t know. Does the large proportion reporting that searching is easy reflect that results of years of traditional publishers providing review copies directly to key faculty members? If so, then OER providers may need to understand this lesson, and do a better job of delivering their materials directly to faculty members, rather than relying on faculty to search for and find the best resources.
There is no corresponding support network for open textbooks that can mirror the extensive network provided by commercial publishers. It requires much more faculty effort to search out open textbooks, especially since many faculty are unaware of the very existence of such alternatives.
Discoverability continues to be an important issue for openly licensed resources. All of the top three mentioned barriers relate to the difficulty or inability to find appropriate resources, and faculty ratings of the ease of searching provide further support for this point. Proponents of OER can take a “glass half full” approach and rightfully claim that a majority of those who rated the ease of searching OER and traditional resources report OER to be as good as (or in a very few cases, better than) traditional resources. The “glass half empty” approach is that nearly half of faculty report it was harder to find OER resources.
“Knowledge is free. The future of education must be in OER.” (Full-time Mathematics Faculty)
“I only learned about things like OpenStax during this academic year. I love the idea of open-source projects, and I would certainly be willing to try using an open text for a course I'm teaching. I think I would be able to convince others in the department that doing the experiment would be a good idea." (Full-time Natural and Physical Sciences Faculty)
"I am curious about the use of the open resources and would like to know more about them." (Part-time Business Faculty)
While the overall proportion of faculty who claim that they “Will” use open textbooks in the next three years is small, it would mean a doubling of use if all those who say they will actually did so. The growth potential is even greater if any fraction of those claiming that they “Will consider” open textbooks did decide to adopt an open textbook. It must be noted, however, that this expressed interest may be due to the exposure to the concepts of OER and open textbooks in this survey; faculty without this exposure may be less likely to consider or adopt OER and/or open textbooks. The level of interest and the conversion rate for the general pool of faculty may be far lower.
A national faculty sample is used in this analysis, designed to be representative of the overall range of faculty teaching in U.S. higher education. A multiple-stage selection process was used for creating a stratified sample of all teaching faculty. The process began by obtaining data from a commercial source, Market Data Retrieval, which has over one and a half million faculty records and claims that its records represent 93% of all teaching faculty. All teaching faculty (defined as having at least one course code associated with their record) were selected for this first stage. Faculty were then randomly selected from the master list in proportion to the number contained in each Carnegie Classification, to produce a second-stage selection of teaching faculty members. This sample was then checked against opt-out lists, as well as for non-functioning email addresses. Approximately 12% of all email addresses were removed at this stage. The number of email addresses that were still receiving mail but no longer actively being used by the individual being addressed (e.g., moved or retired) is unknown. Spam filters at both the institution and the individual level also captured an unknown proportion of these emails.
Institutional descriptive data come from the National Center for Educational Statistics’ IPEDS database. After the data were compiled and merged with the IPEDS database, responders and nonresponders were compared to ensure that the survey results reflected the characteristics of the entire population of schools. The responses are compared for 35 unique categories based on the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
A final set of textbook selection questions was directed at faculty members who had recently been through the decision process for a large enrollment undergraduate course. These faculty were presented with detailed lists of possible textbooks that they may have considered, to determine which books they were aware of, considered, and which they finally adopted.
As noted in our previous report, a critical issue in measuring the level of OER awareness is exactly how the question is worded. Many academics confuse “open” with “free,” and assume all free resources are OER. Still others will confuse “open resources” with “open source,” and assume OER refers only to open source software. Because of these differing levels of understanding, the phrasing of the awareness question needs to be specific. The version selected (listed below) was found to have the best balance in differentiating among the different levels of awareness, while avoiding leading those with no previous knowledge of the concept. This is the same wording as used last year, so that year-to-year comparisons can be made.
How aware are you of Open Educational Resources (OER)? OER is defined as "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others." Unlike traditionally copyrighted material, these resources are available for "open" use, which means users can edit, modify, customize, and share them.
m I am not aware of OER
m I have heard of OER, but don't know much about them
m I am somewhat aware of OER but I am not sure how they can be used
m I am aware of OER and some of their use cases
m I am very aware of OER and know how they can be used in the classroom
Based on our testing, the results from this question may still slightly overstate the level of OER awareness, but this was considered a better option than leading the respondent. By using a series of additional questions, the results from this question can be adjusted to remove those who might have thought that they were aware of OER, but when probed did not have knowledge of all of the aspects that make up the concept.
Because licensing for remixing and reuse is central to the concept of OER, a question about the respondent’s awareness of different licensing concepts was asked of all respondents before any questions about OER awareness itself:
How aware are you of each of the following licensing mechanisms?
By combining the responses from the OER awareness question with those of the licensing questions, a combined index of awareness can be constructed. This process was also used in our previous report, so that year-to-year comparisons can be made.