Students are opting out of purchasing textbooks because of cost — how OERs fit in
- About 85% of new college or university students had not purchased college textbooks by the first day of class or decided not to buy the textbooks at all, according to a new survey of students conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of VitalSource Technologies LLC. This was a 5% jump from a similar survey the year before.
- About 91% of students who did not purchase the materials cited costs as the issue, and half of those students admitted that their grades went down because they did not have the necessary materials. Students also cited an interest in "inclusive access," which involves incorporating the cost of digital classroom materials into the cost of tuition.
- 88% of students believed that incorporating inclusive access would help their grades improve, in lieu of using traditional print resources and textbooks. 78% of students whose schools did not have such an initiative underway expressed hope their school would investigate bringing inclusive access to their campus.
Though many experts have cited the importance of print materials for students, the increased use of open educational resources (OERs) is a benefit to cash-strapped students, and could be a potential marketing tool for higher ed institutions, which realize their applicants pools are increasingly concerned about egregious costs. In fact, a survey from last year indicated that OER usage may triple in the coming years, and there are increased efforts from state lawmakers to support the use of OERs in classrooms.
Some challenges of OER integration stem from the fact that faculty optimism and familiarity with utilizing digital course materials in the classroom has not kept pace with their growth in popularity among tech professionals and chief information officers, as a survey released last year indicated. Many faculty have concerns about the accessibility of digital materials for all students. Some argue that at many community colleges, the primary means of instruction will continue to be textbooks, because they will remain the most accessible option. Faculty concerns are evidenced by the data: 94% of CIOs on campuses expect that OERs will become a vital resource for classroom instruction in the next five years, compared to only 36% of educators in a separate survey.
Colleges and universities interested in expanding the use of OERs and other digital materials, as well as promoting best practices in instruction, ought to focus on what types of materials best serve their particular students. If realizing that students need access to cheaper digital sources, institutions can take steps to emulate and support the work of innovative faculty who are already finding ways to utilize digital materials without much expense. FOr instance, professors like Joanna Swafford at SUNY New Paltz are teaching courses in digital humanities, a class she created that utilizes digital methodologies to investigate the stories of Sherlock Holmes. Such approaches could point to a potential future, where OERs and digital resources can be utilized for their own particular strengths, and administrators ought to value the educators that are forging that path.