In the autumn of 2012 at the Open Education Conference at the downtown campus of the University of British Columbia, John Yap, then the Minister of Advanced Education in British Columbia, announced that the provincial government would be funding a project in cooperation with BCCampus to create open textbooks for the 40 most common undergraduate courses offered at BC public universities. The number of textbooks funded soon grew to 80 and as of this writing, there are 118 open textbooks available in the repository, with more to come.
Open textbooks are a subset of open education resources (OER), which are defined by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as
“teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge”.
Bliss, et al[note]Bliss, T. J., Robinson, T., Hilton, J., III, & Wiley, D. (2013). An OER COUP: College teacher and student perceptions of open education resources. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2013(1). doi:http://doi.org/10.5334/2013-04[/note] suggest that there are four primary categories of effects from OER use, including cost, outcomes, use, and perceptions. These four categories, which form the acronym COUP may be useful in identifying specific, measurable benefits of OER.
There have been several studies investigating the effects of OER use on cost with results indicating that students collectively save between 50% and 80%, with individual students potentially saving 100% of their textbook costs. The BC Open Textbook project has been estimated to have saved BC university students between $900,000 and $1,200,000 in the three years since it was announced.
In light of evidence that OER do reduce student costs, Bliss, et al suggest that researchers and practitioners examine how the use of OER affects the attainment of student learning outcomes. While the body of literature is currently small, there is a trend for studies to show that there is no significant difference between how well students using OER perform compared to those who use commercially prepared materials. This is in alignment with a great deal of the literature examining learning differences between various educational interventions.
Key to the definition of an OER is the fact that they are either in the public domain, or they have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. The BC Open Textbook Project has released their open textbooks under a Creative Commons license, which, beyond allowing free use and repurposing, specify that, while the original author retains copyright, users are permitted and encouraged to exercise five specific rights to the resource, as follows, from David Wiley:
- Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
- Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
- Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
- Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
- Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)
These rights, collectively known as the 5Rs, may provide opportunity for faculty to interact differently with OER than they might with commercially produced resources.
Also important in promoting the adoption of OER is understanding how both faculty and students perceive OER in relation to commercial resources. Several studies have examined these questions with the predominant perception being that OER and commercial resources are generally equal in terms of perceived quality and effectiveness.