open content research

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.

open content open education

Durbin Open Textbook Bill Finally Introduced!

Earlier this year I blogged about what I thought should go into an open textbook bill (with clarifications the next day). I’m extremely pleased that Senator Durbin has introduced a bill which closely resembles these recommendations and therefore, to my mind, is on exactly the right track. You can read Durbin’s remarks as he introduced the bill, and then study the full text of S. 1714 on GovTrack (where you can also subscribe to a feed of all bill-related activity).

The bill creates a competitive grant program supporting the creation of open textbooks, and most importantly requires applicants to submit:

(C) a plan for distribution and adoption of the open textbook to ensure the widest possible adoption of the open textbook in postsecondary courses, including, where applicable, a marketing plan or a plan to partner with for-profit or nonprofit organizations to assist in marketing and distribution; and

(D) a plan for tracking and reporting formal adoptions of the open textbook within postsecondary institutions, including an estimate of the number of students impacted by the adoptions.

This is terrifically exciting to me, as it will bring a real sense of urgency of impact into the discourse, and provide the OER community with good data and metrics to talk with confidence about the amount of money students are saving thanks to open textbooks.

The most interesting part of the bill is Section 5. on LICENSING MATERIALS WITH A FEDERAL CONNECTION:

In General- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, educational materials such as curricula and textbooks created through grants distributed by Federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, for use in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary courses shall be licensed under an open license.

This language provides nothing short of an NIH-style mandate on all publicly funded curriculum, and does not appear to be limited to the textbooks whose creation is funded by the bill. This is huge! It’s like FRPAA for educational materials!

Those of us who consulted on the drafts during the spring / summer were waiting to see how Durbin would choose to deal with the licensing issue, and the bill takes a middle road, requiring textbooks funded under the program to also use an “open license,” which the bill defines as “an irrevocable intellectual property license that grants the public the right to access, customize, and distribute a copyrighted material.” No specific license (or family of licenses) is mentioned or required.

This is a great day for the open education movement! If you have a representative on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, contact them to make sure they support this legislation!

open content

Eric Frank of Flat World Knowledge on CBC Radio

The CBC has posted a great interview with Eric Frank of Flat World Knowledge about open textbooks. While an abbreviated version will run on the air, you can listen to (and download) the full, uncut interview online.