By Lily Todorinova, Undergraduate Experience Librarian/Open Educational Research, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, and Zara Wilkinson, Reference Librarian, Rutgers University-Camden
One of the major findings of the 2018 Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey was that six out of ten faculty are interested in exploring open educational resources (OER) and associated instructional practices. This essay considers this statistic in the context of a survey completed as part of programmatic assessment of the Open and Affordable Textbooks (OAT) program, a major textbook affordability initiative at Rutgers University Libraries. In its first four years, this initiative has saved students from all Rutgers University campuses an estimated $3.5 million.
The OAT program provides incentive awards to faculty who commit to making their courses more affordable. These awards are open to tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, part-time lecturers, and graduate teaching assistants at Rutgers University-Camden, Rutgers University-Newark, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Recipients typically receive $1000 awards, but in 2017-2018, a small number received supplemental $500 awards contributed by the administration on one campus. The majority of OAT recipients have focused on redesigning their courses with an eye toward adopting existing OER or using library-licensed content that students can access freely. However, several projects have involved the creation or augmentation of OER, and one of the goals for the program is to determine the best way to incentivize these efforts to a greater degree in the future.
As part of our program assessment, we surveyed the 56 faculty who received an OAT award during the first two years of the program, 2016-2018. The survey collected data about faculty perceptions of OAT and OER in general. We found that our faculty express both strong support for textbook affordability and interest in the pedagogy of “open teaching.” At the same time, they experience challenges relating to finding OER and a perceived inadequacy in institutional and departmental support for the adoption of OER. Below we break address four specific areas where our results overlap with those of the Ithaka survey: faculty support for affordability, OER challenges, open textbook authoring, and institutional support.
Support for Affordability: As in the Ithaka survey, our data also indicates strong support for both the OAT program and textbook affordability. We found that the majority of our respondents were aware of OER and had been using them prior to applying for the award. We also found that the faculty we have awarded feel that the use of affordable course materials has a positive impact on classroom outcomes. They felt that, compared to previous instructional experiences, students in their OAT courses were more prepared, more engaged, and achieved learning outcomes to a greater degree. Prior to surveying faculty, we conducted a survey of over 400 students who had been enrolled in OAT courses, and these students reported that their OAT course materials made it easier to access their course materials and overwhelmingly wanted the Libraries to continue the OAT program.
OER Challenges: Even faculty who are interested in OER can find it difficult to select materials that are appropriate for a specific course or topic. Over 20% of faculty in the Ithaka survey, for example, agreed that they found it difficult to locate OER for their teaching. Aiming to gather similar data about potential reasons why faculty may not use OER, our survey asked whether a variety of factors were deterrents to their use of OER. The most highly ranked options were the lack of a comprehensive catalog of OER, the difficulty of finding OER that meets a specific classroom need, and the lack of resources in their subject area. Our faculty were, overall, ambivalent (or unable to definitively assess) the quality of OER in their discipline. Most reported that they did not know whether the OER in their subject area were good or bad.
Open Textbook Authoring: Although faculty are interested in using OER, authoring is not quite as popular. Only a third of the faculty in the Ithaka survey were interested in creating and publishing OER. Despite the fact that all of our respondents were OAT recipients, and most had experience with OER, only seven of our faculty indicated an interest in authoring open textbooks (another seven answered “maybe”). We asked our respondents what type of support would be the most helpful if they did choose to write an open textbooks, and most selected editorial assistance or copyright assistance, while smaller numbers selected research fund or stipend, course release, and technology-related support. Apart from limited funding in the form of OAT awards, none of these options are currently offered by the Libraries, indicating that a successful textbook authoring incentive program might need broader participation from other campus units.
Institutional Support: Both the Ithaka survey and our own survey indicate that many faculty do not feel that their institutions provide adequate support for the use of OER and other affordable course materials. Only 14% of faculty who responded to the Ithaka survey agreed that their institution offers excellent training and support for using OER, and less than 20% felt that their institution recognizes or rewards faculty for using OER in their teaching. While our faculty largely felt their departments supported activities such as experimenting in their teaching or taking advantage of professional development opportunities, less than half as many felt that their departments encouraged them to explore the use of OER. While the OAT program itself could be seen as a recognition or reward program, more formalized support or encouragement from outside the Libraries is clearly needed.
In conclusion, it seems clear that many
teaching faculty are enthusiastic about OER and believe the use of OER benefits
students. Despite this fact, OER still present many legitimate challenges; the
lack of a central catalog of OER in particular can make it difficult to find
OER that are appropriate for a specific course or topic. Although faculty
overall may be less interested in creating OER, only OER creation and
customization can address the lack of open resources in any given discipline.
At Rutgers, we hope to leverage user-friendly publication platforms and local
expertise at the Libraries in order to create an infrastructure that adequately
supports the authoring of open textbooks. One of the biggest challenges in
increasing the use of OER, and in particular the creation of OER, is the perceived lack of support from departmental
and campus leadership. Although solving this problem may be outside the purview
of the library, advocacy around OER is not, and many universities are exploring
ways to value OER– such as through the tenure and promotion process.
With our own program, we hope to increase buy-in from leadership on all of our
campuses, as well as to explore whether we can offer different incentives based
on the needs of the recipients.