Open Educational Resources Movement Welcomes Growing Pains

To the Editor:

Like every groundbreaking technology since, printed books caused consternation when they first entered the (medieval) university. Prior to the invention of the press, copies of classic texts were extremely expensive. Consequently, lecture time was frequently devoted to the slow, clear reading of a classic text by an instructor so that students could handwrite their own copy of the text. When students started bringing to class “lecture texts,” inexpensive printed copies of classics that included wide margins for students to take notes in, faculty had to work their way through an unsettling adjustment period. Centuries later, we’re grateful they successfully navigated these innovation-induced growing pains.

You recently published an article entitled “Growing Pains Begin to Emerge in the Open-Textbook Movement” (The Chronicle, April 9). “Growing pains” are an appropriate metaphor for the current state of the open educational resources (OER) movement, as I understand growing pains to be the pains experienced during periods of rapid growth. You see indications of the rapid growth of the OER movement in recent news, like New York’s decision to put $8 million toward OER and the new partnership between college bookstore manager Follett and open courseware provider Lumen Learning.

Open educational resources are freely available, high quality materials that can be downloaded, edited and shared to better serve all students — in other words, resources without the aggressive copyright restrictions placed on digital materials by traditional publishers. Like the early shift from prohibitively expensive handwritten classics to vastly more affordable printed books, we’re currently in the middle of a shift from prohibitively expensive textbooks and other digital materials to OER. The OER movement is expanding beyond its original base of innovators and early adopters to include early majority faculty (to use Rogers’ diffusion of innovations categories). Moore referred to the space between early adopters and early majority as “the chasm,” characterizing it as the most difficult transition in successfully supporting the broad adoption of innovations. As the OER movement begins to cross the chasm, now is exactly the time we would expect to experience growing pains. We welcome these growing pains as opportunities to identify areas for further improvement in how we support faculty through this transition to more flexible, more affordable materials.

Early majority faculty who want to adopt OER need more and different levels of support compared to the support the movement has provided to innovators and early adopters for the last decade and a half. The many efforts now underway to develop and provide this support are a natural response to this need. These latest growing pains are also worth navigating, as research indicates that OER adoption leads to drastically reduced textbook costs and the same — or better — academic outcomes like course completion and grades.

David Wiley, PhD
Chief Academic Officer
Lumen Learning

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