- Research at the University of Georgia has shown that students given free course material not only save money but get better grades, according to Inside Higher Education.
- About half of the more than 20,000 students in the six-year study were given free digital textbooks for eight courses, including biology, history, psychology and sociology.
- Among students who used the open educational resources (OER), about 12% more received A grades and the number of students dropping out was about 3% less.
While researchers have studied changes in attitudes about OER and the cost savings it can produce, this study was noteworthy because it focused on student learning, according to one of its authors.
The study also reported that since 2013, more than 35,985 students have been enrolled in courses that use OER materials at the university, saving students more than $3.2 million.
OER has been shown to cuts costs and now improve student outcomes, but one survey has shown that colleges have been slow to adopt it, often because professors feel there aren't enough good resources available. In that survey, only 22% of professors said they are very satisfied with the current costs of their course materials, and only a third said 90% or more of their students get all the items necessary.
A 2014 study found that 65% of students did not buy a textbook because it was too expensive, even though they knew it would diminish their grades, and a recent report showed that free materials benefited first generation and low-income students.
The researchers at Georgia told Inside Higher Education that they believe a key to their improved results was students having the material at the beginning of the semester. Often students delay purchasing textbooks and materials because of cost.
Inclusive access programs, where the cost of the materials is rolled into the tuition, have also gained support and improve the chances the student will get textbooks early, but some experts say that OER has advantages, including that it is often delivered digitally and is more adaptable for students using a variety of devices. There are also indications that OER improves collaboration and creates new teaching techniques
The quality of OER material has also been a concern among some in higher education, but research released late last year indicated that OER use had grown from 5% to 9% over three years as more professors are aware of OER options.