A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students

To complement a bookmark to an article about this paper I posted yesterday, here’s a link to the paper itself, by Lane Fischer, John Hilton III, T. Jared Robinson, and David A. Wiley. I don’t have much to add to the comments I made previously, save that a very large amount of the focus and discussion of the paper itself is on the merits of the low (typically neglible) cost of OERs and consequent effects on access. The authors speculate that the occasional relative benefits seen for courses with OERs may relate to the fact that all students actually used those OERs, whereas some of those on courses with expensive textbooks may not have been willing or able to get hold of them. For somewhere like Athabasca, where textbooks are provided whether they are free or not, this would not be an issue (though it sure costs the university a lot of money to avoid OERs).

I’d really like to see a study of instances where OERs are not simple substitutes for textbooks but where the really big advantage – the ability to make changes – is made full use of. It is possible that there may be a systemic advantage in that which would mean OERs are generally better than paid-for textbooks. Of course, it would still not tell us very much, because textbooks are usually only a small part (and, in a fair number of courses, including all of my own, a non-existent part) of what makes for a good learning experience. In fact, I find it a bit worrying that, according to this study, they appear to matter as much as they do. It makes me wonder what all those expensive teachers are doing and worry about what kind of course design relies so heavily on textbooks that it should make such a significant difference.

Address of the bookmark: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x/fulltext.html

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

2 Comments on A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students

  1. Right on, Jon. We recently did a study that looked at perception of OER quality in K12 (though we did not get to student outcomes), which found that OER were better than non-OER and that adapted OER were better than off-the-shelf OER. Study here: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/2341/3405

    This study is by no means conclusive, but I really believe that the future of OER depends upon our ability to leverage and understand their value beyond cost savings, and future research should focus on this aspect of OER. (I’m actually presenting on this topic this week at Open Ed: https://openeducation2015.sched.org/event/b4e463736699616c7e4fd5d98d1d8a95#.Vki6Pa6rRmA )

    1. Jon Dron says:

      Thanks Royce – I’d read that and forgotten about it! But, yes, I totally agree: cost savings are important but they are not the biggest benefit.

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