Open Educational Resources Are About Much More Than Saving Money

This post first appeared on my Edweek Blog

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I have been somewhat disingenuous about my rationale for the transition away from traditional textbooks. In my discussions about the importance of the move I always cite financial savings as the top reason to move away from textbooks. However, after spending a lot of time thinking about moving towards Open Educational Resources (OER) to replace textbooks , I have realized that saving money is not at the top of my list of reasons to move away from these items that have burdened the backs of students and the budgets of school districts for decades.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the economics involved here need to be discussed. For instance, a new social studies textbook could cost $100 or more. Multiply this times 250 students and you are quickly looking at a price tag of $25,000 for one set of textbooks. What if we spent half, three-quarters, or all of that amount to train and compensate our teachers to create resources to take the place of textbooks? In my opinion, this would give us higher quality resources that we could revise regularly and make them a sustainable resource.

But beyond the clear economic advantages, switching away from third-party content allows us to fulfill a much greater purpose.  This transition will help us make the cultural shift that is necessary in our schools to truly prepare our students for the rapidly changing landscape beyond K-12 education. Supporting our teachers in these efforts is a critical step for success here. A recent post about the #GoOpen initiative from Joseph South, Director of the  Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, articulated this well:

“We now expect successful students to exhibit skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and digital literacy. We know without these skills they won’t be fully prepared for the rigors of college or the day-to-day challenges of a fulfilling career…We have no doubt that the use of openly-licensed educational resources in schools, districts, and states will continue to grow. The question is: how quickly, how thoughtfully, how sustainably, and with how much rigor and support?”

The ball is clearly in the court of states and local districts to answer Director South’s questions on how quickly this initiative will flourish. It is clearly easier to throw money at third-party content developers as we have always done and go about business as usual. However, the continued focus on these types of traditional resources as the major component for instruction across  curricular areas is likely to leave our students underwhelmed and underprepared. The road to the adoption of Open Educational Resources is bound to be bumpy, but it is a clear route to the creation of true communities of learners who understand the growth mindset necessary for success in the future.

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