The Three Projected Futures For Open Educational Resources

Concurrent Session 1
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Brief Abstract

What is the future for Open Educational Resources (OER) in higher education? This presentation examines three different scenarios, noting how the future trajectory for OER has been changed: first by actions of the commercial publishers, and most recently by the global COVID-19 pandemic.


Dr. Jeff Seaman is Director of Bay Vie Analytics. He has worked in education information technology for over 20 years, and holds degrees in Demography/Statistics, Sociology, Electrical Engineering, and Housing, all from Cornell University. He has taught at several colleges and universities, including Cornell University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and Babson College. Dr. Seaman created and ran the Computing Resource Center and served as Associate Vice Provost for Computing for the University of Pennsylvania and as Chief Information Officer for Lesley University. His industry experience includes serving as Chief Technology Officer at and as the Vice President of Engineering for Vista Associates. Dr. Seaman has been conducting research in the impact of technology on higher education and K-12 for over a decade, beginning with comprehensive national studies of technology use in U.S. Higher Education. Dr. Seaman has served on academic technology advisory boards for a number of information technology companies including Apple Computer, IBM, and Microsoft.

Extended Abstract

Bay View Analytics has been tracking the awareness and adoption of Open Educational Resources in higher education since 2009, with three more surveys planned through 2023. Supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Online Learning Consortium. The project has also examined the changing factors driving OER awareness and adoption. All reports use responses from nationally representative samples of higher education administrators and faculty members from all fifty states. In total, our results incorporate answers from over 26,000 respondents across ten surveys.

This presentation will examine three different projections for the future of OER, taking note of what we will need to track going forward to understand which one will prevail.

Projected Future #1: 

Our studies have shown a steady — albeit slow — growth in OER awareness and adoption. This trend was driven by increased OER options, most notably from OpenStax, and growing faculty awareness of the negative impact of high textbook costs for their students. These factors, coupled with faculty resentment for the marketing practices of the major commercial publishers, predict an increased rate of growth in both awareness and adoption of OER in the future.

Projected Future #2:

The last Bay View Analytics OER report before the COVID-19 pandemic noted that commercial publishers were quickly moving to digital-first or digital-only distribution. This switch in mediums was driven by a move to subscription-based marketing, often called Inclusive Access, where students pay a fee (usually included in tuition) for access to a suite of online digital resources. These changes in market dynamics suggest an accelerated conversion from print to digital, and present an opportunity for publishers to claim considerable market share with wide-ranging subscription arrangements that could potentially freeze out OER alternatives.

Projected Future #3:

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely rewritten the script. Institutions and their faculty had to rapidly switch to remote instruction, forcing most faculty to adopt digital resources. The pandemic also exposed faculty to a wide variety of teaching techniques that were new to them, many of which they now intend to continue using post-pandemic. The need to be agile and move quickly during the changing circumstances meant that most faculty put all decisions about new curriculum materials and textbooks on hold, putting all their attention into the immediate needs for their classes.

Institutions also scrambled to procure the required materials for these new courses, often taking advantage of offers from commercial publishers to bundle large suites of materials in digital form. Institutions also introduced faculty to OER materials, but these efforts were nowhere near as extensive as those with commercial publishers.

Predicting the outcome

Each of these futures contains elements of truth. But, what factors will have the most significant impact in determining which of these futures is the most likely? The presentation will speculate based on the patterns found in the most recent faculty and administrative survey data.