New OER Degree Initiative Report Details Findings From More Than Three Years of Work

Dr. Richard Sebastian, Director, Open and Digital Learning

In just a few weeks at the 2020 DREAM Conference in National Harbor, MD, the Open Educational Resources Degree Initiative, a project I’ve led alongside my colleague Francesca Carpenter since 2016, will formally end with the release of the third and final research report, OER at Scale: the Academic and Economic Outcomes of the OER Degree Initiative. This report follows two earlier reports—in 2017 and 2018, respectively—and represents the culmination of nearly four years of intense and dedicated effort by our 38 participating grantee colleges, our grant partners, and project evaluators, SRI Education and rpk GROUP.

I am excited to share what ATD believes is a significant piece of research that will help advance and deepen the field’s understanding of effective institutional implementation of OER. Unlike the two earlier interim reports, this report will include data on the academic outcomes of students enrolled in OER courses at grantee colleges, and will update earlier findings, such as the economic data about the institutional costs and overall student savings of OER programs.

As we wait for the public release of the report, I will share a few important aspects of this project. First, the sheer size of this initiative2,000 faculty at 38 participating colleges delivering 6,600 OER course sections to approximately 160,000 students—was unprecedented, and gave researchers a unique opportunity to design a multi-year research study of comparable scale. 

The commitment of our funders—both in funding and time—brought a new level of attention and legitimacy to what many institutional leaders considered a niche educational innovation. The most notable example of this is in New York state, where the early success of our grantee colleges in the CUNY and SUNY systems caught the attention of the governor’s office, leading to an overall investment of $24 million, to date, in OER adoption and use in the state. Also, with funds approved by Congress, the USDOE launched a competitive textbook affordability grant in 2018 and again in 2019. Many state legislatures and college systems across the U.S. have adopted OER policies or funded OER programs; many others are actively exploring ways to support widescale OER adoption and use.

While the research and evaluation are crucially important, the OER Degree Initiative also was extremely productive, supporting the development of hundreds of OER courses that continue to be offered at grantee colleges, semester after semester in more and more sections. And, because these courses are openly licensed, they can be adopted by other interested colleges as well. 

Finally, leading the OER Degree Initiative has influenced the strategic direction of Achieving the Dream itself. Over the course of this project, the work of the OER Degree Initiative colleges and the promising, early findings from the evaluation helped inform ATD’s current work on Teaching and Learning, situating OER work firmly in the classroom. 

So, while the OER Degree Initiative is formally ending at DREAM 2020, the work that was begun back in 2016 continues: the 38 grantee colleges continue to add OER course sections and new OER courses; colleges that weren’t part of the grant can now easily adopt OER courses—even full OER degree pathways – created for the initiative; ATD, drawing from what we learned from this initiative, will continue to help community colleges successfully launch and sustain institutional OER projects through its Teaching and Learning services; and, with our research partners, ATD plans to pursue new questions about OER use in the classroom that emerged from the evaluation of the OER Degree Initiative. We’ll share more about this at DREAM as well. 

We’re excited to share the final OER Degree Initiative report, and grateful for the opportunity to build upon and continue this work in the coming years. It will be available at the DREAM 2020 convening next month and also on the ATD website.

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