Educational and Cost Effectiveness: OER vs Traditional Textbooks

I’m very happy to announce that BYU has just received a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The pilot project will examine the deeper learning and cost savings that can be achieved when open textbooks replace traditional, expensive textbooks in public high school science classrooms.

15-20 public high school science teachers in Utah will replace their expensive, traditional textbooks with open textbooks from for the 2010-2011 school year. Approximately 2,000 students will be impacted by the changes. Most will use printed versions of the books, while a few hundred students in one-to-one schools will use the online versions of the books on netbooks or iPads. Teachers will continue to supplement the CK12 books with additional resources and activities just as they have historically supplemented expensive, traditional textbooks.

Because expensive, traditional textbooks have to be passed from student to student over 4-7 years, students are typically prohibited from marking in the books in any way. By contrast, because the open textbooks are so inexpensive as to be considered consumables (from a budget perspective), students will be able to engage these books through active study processes like highlighting and annotating. These active study strategies may promote deeper learning for participating students. This difference provides a theoretically grounded reason for us to anticipate OER being more educationally effective than their expensive, traditional counterparts.

At the end of the school year, test scores of participating students on the state of Utah’s Criterion-Referenced Test (CRT) will be compared to the CRT scores of nonparticipants in comparable classrooms. We hypothesize modest gains in student performance for those participating in the study due to their ability to utilize active study strategies with the open textbooks.

Throughout the project we will carefully monitor costs associated with the use of the open textbooks for comparison purposes. At the end of the school year we will report on the comparative costs of using open textbooks in traditional public school science classrooms. We anticipate curriculum cost savings of approximately 50%.

OER have not yet had the impact they are capable of making. By empirically demonstrating that OER can simultaneously promote deeper student learning and save districts and schools significant financial resources, we hope to catalyze significant a uptake of OER in public schools.

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  • I like and support this initiative because it takes the OER movement onto a more practical track.

    Even if the study was limited to further demonstrating the efficacy of the financial savings approach, it would be worthwhle. By including self-regulation practices like annotation and highlighting as a part of the research, the potential synergies should provide a pretty compelling wedge to drive into the middle assuptions about current practices in the textbook realm.



  • Excellent! Congrats on the grant. Looking forward to seeing the data.

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