The Research Digest, April 2015, Issue Number 46

The Research Digest highlights new research in learning and teaching. This month, we are highlighting recent work on the benefits of open access textbooks and courseware. This issue was developed in conjunction with April’s issue of Best Practices on The Open Access Classroom. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, or have any suggestions for us, please send an email to To access past issues of the Research Digest, visit the LTO website.

New research on open access textbooks and courseware:

OpenTextbooks and Increased Student Access and Outcomes
European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 2012

Abstract: This study reports findings from a year-long pilot study during which 991 students in 9 core courses in the Virginia State University School of Business replaced traditional textbooks with openly licensed books and other digital content. The university made a deliberate decision to use open textbooks that were copyrighted under the Creative Commons license. This decision was based on the accessibility and flexibility in the delivery of course content provided by open textbooks. More students accessed digital open textbooks than had previously purchased hard copies of textbooks. Higher grades were correlated with courses that used open textbooks.

Open Educational Resources: A Faculty Author’s Perspective
MathAMATYC Educator, 2012

Abstract: As the coauthor (with Susan Dean) of a formally for-profit and now open (i.e., free on the web) textbook, “Collaborative Statistics,” this author has received many questions about open educational resources (OER), which can be summarized as follows: (1) What are OER?; (2) Why do you support, actively promote, and speak about OER?; (3) If a book is available for free, then is it really any good?; (4) How can I find good OER for my courses?; and (5) Why should I (the person asking the question) bother when I might need to do more work if I choose an OER? The OER movement originated at MIT in 2001. According to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of the largest financial supporters of the OER movement, “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 or repurposing 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.” (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007) In simple terms, OER are freely available on the web for the world to use and even modify without compensation going to the original author(s). OER are available in multiple languages. They are sharable and reusable. They can be modified and reformatted. Most OER materials grant a set of rights to users that are much less restrictive than those items with standard copyrights. Some of the rights are to use the textbook without charge, copy the textbook giving appropriate credit to the author, and distribute the textbook noncommercially. Many creators also grant rights to add, remove or alter content in the textbook, copy and distribute the textbook, and use the textbook commercially. Benefits to students by using OER include: (1) improved learning with embedded hyperlinks; (2) reduced educational costs; and (3) a variety of access methods.

One College’s Use of an Open Psychology Textbook
Open Learning, 2012

Abstract: The high cost of textbooks is of concern not only to college students but also to society as a whole. Open textbooks promise the same educational benefits as traditional textbooks; however, their efficacy remains largely untested. We report on a case study about one community college’s adoption of a free online psychology textbook. During the fall semester 2011, 690 students used this book. Compared with students using a traditional text in the spring of 2011, students who used the free online textbook scored higher on departmental final examinations, had higher grade point averages in the class and had higher retention rates.

The Adoption of Open Educational Resources by One Community College Math Department
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 2013

Abstract: The high cost of textbooks is of concern not only to college students but also to society as a whole. Open textbooks promise the same educational benefits as traditional textbooks; however, their efficacy remains largely untested. We report on one community college’s adoption of a collection of open resources across five different mathematics classes. During the 2012 fall semester, 2,043 students in five different courses used these open access resources. We present a comparison between the previous two years in terms of the number of students who withdrew from the courses and the number that completed the courses with a C grade or better. Our analysis suggests that while there was likely no change in these educational outcomes, students who have access to open access materials collectively saved a significant amount of money. Students and faculty were surveyed as to their perceptions of these materials and the results were generally favorable.

The Open Course: Through the Open Door–Open Courses as Research, Learning, and Engagement
EDUCAUSE Review, 2015

Abstract: Over the last decade, as educators have increasingly experimented with social technologies and interactive pedagogies, the concept of a “course” has been significantly challenged. In particular, questions have arisen as to the key value of the course in the educational system. The numerous high-profile open courseware initiatives from elite universities suggest that content itself is not a sufficient value point on which to build the future of higher education. Indeed, the creators of the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative at MIT began with the realization that they were “not going to try to make money” from their content. The actions of institutions like MIT suggest that the true benefit of the academy is the interaction, the access to the debate, to the negotiation of knowledge–not to the stale cataloging of content. Although the open course builds on a long tradition of opening up the academy through lectures, learning via television, and public forums, it is relatively new in the online form. Online open courses challenge a number of assumptions about the idea of the course and can give educators–be they faculty members, trainers, or teachers–new insights into their fields as well as make the teaching process more rewarding. Online open courses can leverage communications technologies and open the door to learners to fully engage with the academic process.


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