Students enrolled in z-courses at RVCC were asked to take a survey of their experience in the course. Overwhelmingly, students identified the cost savings as a significant advantage of OER. However, many students also named other advantages to using OER. Here a 5 other advantages to OER identified by our students.
Numerous students indicated that they liked the ability to access digital course resources from any device - including their phones - at any time. Although faculty may be uncomfortable with students using their phones for coursework, the reality is that this happens very often, for convenience or out of necessity. One student shared, "I was able to read the stories while on break at work, while waiting on the kids' activities, while laying down in bed. It can't be misplaced and I didn't even had to wear my reading glasses, online I can make the font as big as I please." Another student appreciated that the readings were, "always available on my phone which I always carry on my person. This made it extremely easy to access the material and study anywhere at any time, be it in my bed, in the gym or anywhere." Let's face it, students like to study in bed and apparently prefer to curl up with their device rather than that 250 page textbook. Who are we to judge?
Directly related to the convenience of digital course materials is the physical inconvenience of traditional textbooks. You've seen those 5th graders hunched under a bulging backpack or wheeling their bags loaded with textbooks down the street. Many of our students have been there, done that, and a course that alleviates them of the literal burden of textbooks is quite appealing, according to several of our survey respondents.
Faculty always have the freedom to supplement their textbooks with additional online or other resources, but it would seem that students taking z-courses are keenly aware of the widely varied resources their instructors have selected as course materials. Whether faculty have adopted an open textbook and added their own content or have curated materials from different resources, students enjoy being exposed to what they perceive as new and interesting materials to support their learning. One student commented that the cost savings benefit was second to the fact that the course materials "introduced us to a wide range of texts." Similarly another student pointed out, "The resources were better than a traditional textbook — [the professor] used the resources to explain important concepts and analyses." In fact, 45% of students responded that using OER increased their interest in the subject and 54% indicated that using OER increased their satisfaction with the learning experience.
I still have occasional nightmares about being unable to open my high school locker, retrieve my massive Algebra textbook, and get to my classroom on the other end of the building before the second bell. Some of our students face similar anxiety related to traditional textbooks that seems to lessen when digital course materials are chunked and presented as needed throughout the semester. Many of our z-courses faculty have done just that by integrating OER and other free-to-student resources throughout Canvas modules. Because an open textbook can be modified, faculty can choose to present students with an equivalent of a traditional textbook or can break apart the textbook and integrate it more organically during the semester. One student shared, "When I normally get a textbook I stress out thinking about everything we have to cover in it. When I am not faced with a textbook i feel less stressed as well as seeing myself preform better in the classroom." While this may not be every student's experience, related concerns exist and may affect academic performance. One such is example is the student who remarked on "worrying about renting and returning the book in proper condition." With OER, students are free to use course materials in the manner most appropriate for their learning style, also evidenced by the number of students who appreciated being able to print course materials if and when they needed to,
Several students who took our survey used the term "accessible" to describe an advantage of OERs. Whether they meant "accessible" in the sense of screen-reader friendly or otherwise appropriate for students with disabilities, it is clear that students found OERs more user-friendly than traditional textbooks. The phrase "easy access" came up repeatedly in comments, as well as the idea that "you could go back and refer to it." While a student can always "go back" to a textbook for reference, it is likely this comment relates to courses where the content was chunked so that students could pinpoint which part of the open textbook or which individual resources were used for learning specific topics. Rather than sifting through a textbook to find the appropriate chapter for review, students could more easily get to review materials online.
Significantly, faculty members' decisions on how course content is organized and presented to students plays a big role in the student perceptions of OER described here. But with OER, faculty often find they have greater flexibility to meet the needs of students for access, organization, and coherence in course materials. No more skipping from chapter 2 to chapter 15 then back to chapter 7 when an instructor can modify and reorganize the textbook in a way that makes sense for his/her students.
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