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Babson Report on OER in US Higher Education

      This article was originally posted at e-Literate

The Babson Survey Research Group just released their report on OER usage in US higher education, “Growing the Curriculum: Open Education Resources in U.S. Higher Education”. The report is based on three different surveys among faculty and academic leaders, and it is heavy on attitudinal information – are you aware of OER, do you plan to use OER, what are the reasons to choose OER, what are the barriers to adoption, etc.

Some of the key findings from the executive summary:

  • Most academic leaders are at least somewhat aware of open education resources (OER) and slightly over half list themselves as ‘Aware’ or ‘Very aware.’
  • Only one-half of all chief academic officers report that any of the courses at their institution currently use OER materials.
  • In 2011, most surveyed academic leaders report that open education resources will have value for their campus; 57 percent agree that they have value and less than five percent disagree.
  • Nearly two-thirds of all chief academic officers agree that open education resources have the potential to reduce costs for their institution.
  • There is wide agreement among academic leaders that open education resources will save time in the development of new courses.
  • Over one-half of academic leaders agree or strongly agree that open education resources would be more useful if there was a single clearinghouse.
  • Among faculty, cost (88% reporting as important or very important) and ease of use (86%) are most important for selecting online resources.
  • The time and effort to find and evaluate are consistently listed as the most important barriers by faculty to the adoption of open education resources.
  • Older faculty have a greater level of concern with all potential barriers to open education resource adoption than do younger faculty.


Problems with awareness – There is a real problem with academic leaders not understanding the basics of OER. Among those who list themselves as at least somewhat aware of OER, their knowledge can still be quite shallow, even including open source software code as OER. More concerning is that “one concept very important to many in the OER field was rarely mentioned at all – licensing terms such as creative commons that permit free use or re-purposing by others.”

Online status drives OER usage – The primary determinant of whether the chief academic officer is aware of OER usage or not is based on whether the institution offers online courses or programs. “At schools with no online offerings, only 28 percent of chief academic officers were ‘Aware’ or ‘Very aware’ of OER compared to 59 percent of institutions with online courses and full programs.”

One hypothesis is that those most engaged in online learning may have a higher level of awareness of OER because online courses at an institution have often been developed more recently than the corresponding face-to-face courses, reflecting the recent and rapid growth in this sector of higher education. This, coupled with a presumed greater awareness of technology options in general, may provide academic leaders that are heavily engaged in online learning with the opportunity to have greater exposure to open education resources and other newer course creation options. The results do seem to confirm this hypothesis with a declining percent of academic leaders aware of OER as you move from schools with online programs and courses, to those with online courses only, and to schools with no online presence (60% to 50% to 28%, respectively).

Yet OER adoption is growing slowly in online – OER usage is not growing appreciably in online courses, at least according to academic leaders. I am aware of some of the challenges of OER adoption, but this finding surprised me.

Academic leaders are not reporting any significant change in the use of OER materials at their institutions. In 2010 almost half (49%) of all schools reported that they currently used some OER in their online courses. This is not markedly changed for 2011 where 50 percent of academic leaders report using OER for these courses. The one area of change is among those planning on future adoption of OER – this proportion has grown from 5 percent of reporting institutions in 2010 to 13 percent in 2011.

This slow growth could be explained by some commentary from Laura Gibbs from a Google+ discussion on the Pearson Project Blue Sky announcement concerning the primary barrier to OER adoption among faculty:

As usual, I would say the culprit it TIME. Faculty don’t have time to create content, they don’t have time to find (good) content. They rely on textbooks as time-savers, and time is the commodity in shortest supply. Pearson is not going to change that part of the equation – and nothing is going to change that part of the equation any time soon. In fact, things are going to get worse, not better, since time is money… and budget crunches at universities mean the possibility of freeing up time for faculty to do content-related activities on top of all that they already do is an impossible dream.

Read the report – Finally, there is some irony reading a “free” report on OER that is not itself openly licensed (copyright, non-commercial, must notify). Nevertheless, it is worth reading the whole report.

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