The Benefits of Open Education

March 4 – 8 was Open Education Week, a global event which aims to raise awareness of a wide variety of open educational practices and the benefits they bring to education. The week is organized each year by the Open Education Consortium, which is a community of institutions across the globe who are committed to promoting free and open sharing in education. Throughout the week, the consortium featured online projects and events on open education including online courses, tutorials and webinars.

“Openness” in education is just what it sounds like: resources, tools and practices that are free of charge and openly accessible to all students. Traditional learning materials and practices, like full-price textbooks and expensive online access codes, can create barriers to learning– particularly, financial ones. According to a 2014 study by Student PIRGs, “65% of students said that they had decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive.” The same survey found that 94% of students that had chosen not to buy a textbook were concerned about the impact it might have on their grade in that course. The goal of open education is to promote equality among learners by eliminating these barriers and ensuring that all students have access to high quality learning materials.

There are also a variety of benefits for instructors. Content is often more up-to-date in open resources than in traditional printed textbooks, and instructors have the opportunity to customize materials to meet the needs of their own classrooms.

Professor Audrey Begun of the College of Social Work finds many benefits of Open Educational Resources in her classrooms. “[OERs] are more flexible and adaptable than traditional textbooks so I can keep updating them and I can tailor them to the specific course,” Begun said. “There was never a good fit of any traditional textbook to my courses and the tailoring has been very helpful in achieving learning objectives.”

In addition, Begun appreciates the ability to incorporate multiple forms of media and “active learning” elements to help students engage more fully with material. She also acknowledges the time and effort that goes into producing a quality OER. “It is not sufficient to just throw a bunch of journal articles at students—they need to be placed in context, made relevant, and guidance to their consumption needs to be provided if reading is to be more than a busy work exercise,” Begun said.

With 81% of Columbus campus students applying for financial aid and 26% of undergraduates eligible for a federal Pell grant, access and affordability are certainly concerns for Ohio State students. Open educational practices are gaining popularity among students, including sophomore Nat Crowley.

“[Open Educational Resources] are important to students because higher education is already way too expensive,” Crowley said. “While the quality of the education is obviously important, it doesn’t make sense for students to have to shell out another $150 or so for a textbook when they could have essentially the same learning experience for free (or significantly less).”

Junior and education major Madison Wolf believes students can also benefit from the flexibility and wide range of content offered by open education. “Open educational practices give people more opportunities to learn about what they want to learn about… and they provide students ways of learning material that their classroom can’t offer them,” Wolf said. “People learn in different ways and open education practices cater to a lot of these unique learning strategies.”

Ohio State has made strides in utilizing these practices through the Affordable Learning Exchange (ALX). ALX has worked with instructors to create and incorporate a variety of affordable learning materials into existing courses at Ohio State, saving students a total of $5.5 million through spring 2019.The program gives instructors the funding, tools and guidance to design and implement their own projects in open education.

“[ALX] introduced me to a whole emerging world of OERs—I had no idea what that was when I started out with ALX,” Begun said. “I had a lot of technical support as to how to do this well.”