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Affordable Learning Resources: Blog

Learn about affordable learning resources and open educational resources (OERs).

How Switching to OER Can Improve Your Students’ Academic Performance

by Gretchen Scronce on 2020-02-13T13:33:29-05:00 | Comments

Do you know what percentage of your students have purchased all required course materials this semester? Chances are it is less than 100%...possibly much less. CofC suggests that undergraduates budget $1236 for books and supplies. This is in line with national estimates compiled by the College Board. However, the National Association of College Stores surveys students annually, and has found that students actually spend much less--closer to $415. The actual amount spent is declining--in 2008 students spent around $700. 

Why the difference? 

Increasingly, students are waiting to buy course materials, or not buying them at all. There are a number of reasons for this. Often, they have found in previous semesters that sometimes their textbook wasn’t used much, so they may wait to purchase until they see how necessary the textbook really is. It’s hard to fault them for being careful with their purchases, especially when you consider how many students also hold down one or more jobs while in school. Many financial aid disbursements don’t happen immediately, so students might wait for aid money to buy their textbooks. Some students are in such precarious financial situations that they simply can’t afford textbooks. The Riley Center recently estimated that 30% of CofC students are housing insecure and 30% are also food insecure. (For more information about that, see these campus resources available to students and consider sharing this info with your classes through a syllabus statement or other announcement.)

No matter their reasons for delaying/opting out, when you are diving into content at the beginning of a semester and your students don’t have access to essential course materials, it can slow down your course and impede learning. 

Students are equally aware of how they suffer academically when they don’t have required materials. Thirty-five percent report that at some point in their academic career, the cost of required textbooks has caused them to earn a poor grade. Seventeen percent say it has led them to fail a course. 

Data source:


Day One Access

Now imagine instead that your syllabus and/or OAKS course includes links to all required materials, many of which the students can save or download to their own devices or even print at low cost. Day One access can level the playing field among your students, and you can build on your assigned content from the very beginning, confident that everyone has access. 

Content Customization

Equalizing access to course materials is a tremendous benefit, of course, but OER can also enhance your students’ academic experience in other ways. Because OER are, by definition, shared in ways that permit modification and adaptation, you can customize an OER textbook so that it better reflects your students’ experience and needs.  

What might this look like? You could add some local contextualization into chapters on marine ecology, sociology, or US history, or convert a resource that uses metric units into US customary units. Having their textbook more directly reflect the world around them can increase students’ connection to the material they are learning.

Other professors created a Canadian edition of a US sociology textbook, and made an African edition of an astronomy textbook that included new, Southern Hemisphere star charts. While those projects were quite ambitious, adapting an existing OER textbook is still much less time-consuming than writing a completely new textbook.  

Curious if an open textbook might be right for your course?

Take a look in the Open Textbook Library (OTL) to see if there are any texts comparable to the one you use now. Many OTL books have reviews attached--those are written by other faculty--see what they have to say!

Even if you find a perfect textbook and you wouldn’t change a thing, it takes time to switch your course materials. CofC’s OER Incentive program can help ease the burden, and CofC librarians and instructional technologists are here to support you!

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