Nov 01 2016

3 Ways to Prove the ROI in Open Educational Resources

Using an open-source digital textbook over a traditional paper version can increase student outcomes, but administrators need to be convinced.

After years of paying for college textbooks as an undergraduate and graduate student, I love the ideology (and the affordability) of open educational resources (OER). I love the idea of sharing ideas and granting access to many who couldn’t otherwise afford education.

As a digital geek, I cringe at the idea of having to read another static textbook. As an instructional designer, I patiently await the day that we are no longer confined to outdated textbooks that limit our course design. By utilizing OER, instructors aren’t constrained to the chapters of the book; they can find innovative open resources to teach the content most relevant to the course.

Really, I could go on and on about the things I love about OER, but at the end of the day these aren’t the factors that are going to “sell” OER adoption to the decision-makers at my university.

To convince deans, provosts, IT decision-makers and CIOs, educators need to make the case that OER does have the capability to bring down the bottom line.

There are many sources pointing to the savings OER provides students, but how do these savings impact the university’s bottom line? With limited resources, there are many valuable initiatives every year that just don’t make the cut. But OER adoption is a worthy initiative for allocation of university resources, and here’s why:

1. Digital resources can help to recruit new students.

Instead of viewing OER under the lens of course content, let’s imagine it as an additional marketing channel for the university. Just as we measure a digital marketing campaign’s success via social media or search results, let’s measure how many students apply or enroll in a particular university because of its use of OER.

Is this a probable measure of success? At MIT, 35 percent of freshman said they were aware of the university’s open courseware prior to making their decision to attend. To calculate ROI, compare this number to that of students who heard about the university via Facebook or Twitter.

The University of Cincinnati is doing just that, with its targeted open online course in the Online Respiratory Therapy program.

Studies find that informal learners would be willing to switch to formal education if presented with the right resources and options — like online courses. The University of Cincinnati specifically targeted their online course to informal learners working as respiratory therapists.

Participants were invited to enroll for free, with no obligations. Those who enjoy the course as a “trial run” and decide to pursue more training are offered 5 credit hours toward a degree at a reduced rate. To date, 63 students have completed the course, and 11 have gone on to enroll in the university’s Respiratory Therapy program.

2. Digital, rather than traditional, textbooks can increase retention and student success.

When students are presented with a digital option for a textbook at the beginning of the semester, they are far less likely to fall behind and drop the class, says David Wiley, chief academic officer of Lumen Learning, who is often dubbed the “father of open education.” Those students who are prepared with their class materials from day one have a better chance at success than those who don’t.

In Wiley’s projection of a large-scale OER adoption program, after one year the institution will hold on to an extra $300,000 in tuition revenue that year because of OER implementation and a reduced student dropout rate.

In addition to increased tuition revenue, and the university’s intrinsic desire to see their students succeed, many states also have performance-based funding that depends on hitting certain metrics related to student success. There are many studies showing that OER adoption correlates with retention and improved performance in class. With performance-based funding, each of these metrics is linked to additional institutional funding.

3. OER helps fully utilize existing digital tools.

As more institutions switch to cloud-based infrastructure, the time is ripe for OER adoption. A survey from eCampus News found that almost 80 percent of higher education respondents are using cloud for Software as a Service.

A transition to the cloud represents an underlying demand for students to have access to learning solutions anytime, anywhere. If access is truly a priority for universities, then OER adoption should be a no-brainer. The cloud collaboration environment is an optimal home for OER creation among institutions. Not only do students have free access 24/7 to resources located in the cloud, but also faculty members can collaborate in real-time.

By hosting OER in a cloud collaboration environment such as G Suite for Education, users can share their knowledge. When faculty work together, it’s possible to create vast, interdisciplinary resources that can educate a greater number of students.

For example, let’s say I’m a professor of a marketing course. I’m looking to use an OER for one segment of my course on international marketing, because my textbook doesn’t cover this topic, and decide to work with a professor of international business to develop a case study or article for the course. Such collaboration between faculty fosters creativity by brainstorming lessons beyond the textbook, provides interdisciplinary learning opportunities for students, and utilizes a cloud collaboration platform.

Academia was built upon the foundations of openness and sharing in learning; however, ideology alone doesn’t earn allocation of university resources. Finding return on investment is essential to making OER a part of the higher education system.


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