Open educational resources (OER) is growing in use worldwide. In the U.S., the #GoOpen initiative started by the Education Dept. led to 19 states and 40 school districts making the transition – and now more than 35 states have created grants and policies to support OER adoption in the coming years. A 2016 survey revealed the vast majority of teachers are choosing OER over textbooks in their classrooms. What caused this phenomenon? Let’s take a look at four of the biggest challenges in K-12 education that has led to more schools and states making OER a priority.

In Some Places, the Financial Barrier to Education Is Worsening
Print textbooks make up a $14-billion industry – and have been hard to disrupt. For school districts, they create a major obstacle when education budgets have been tightening down. K-12 school districts, for instance, spend around $8 billion per year on textbooks. For colleges and universities, the majority of dropouts often cite high textbook costs as a major barrier to completion. Several initiatives, particularly among community colleges, have sought to address this troubling trend in dropouts by easing and eliminating the textbook requirement.

OER as a Solution: The data points to tremendous cost savings for K-12, higher ed, and other learning environments. Teachers are already reporting significant changes in the classroom, as they’ve built their curriculum with OER while phasing out textbooks and other commercial teaching products.

Students Lack Access to Important Opportunities in U.S. School Districts
In all types and sizes of districts, teachers and administrators still struggle with the conversation about education access. Whether it’s a lack of technology resources to enrich the curriculum during school hours or the budget to provide tablets for every student to continue learning at home (particularly for families without mobile devices or computers), there are often low-income or other student groups who are getting left behind. In a recent analysis by Change the Equation, only 22 percent of high school seniors say they’ve ever taken a computer science course, and fewer than half of seniors have had access to any computer courses at all – and it also indicated that low-income students were far less likely to build computer science skills when compared to higher-income students. Teachers worry about the drop in student math and science scores, particularly among minorities and poor students, which are critical for college and beyond. There is also the problem of promoting college access in rural school districts, where most of their students would be first-generation college students.

OER as a Solution: Educators are looking to OER expand and improve the quality of classroom content. Since OER welcomes thousands of contributors around the world, it raises the standards for learning resources, enabling users to discover alternative ideas for teaching a subject and present relevant context and research. While schools may face limitations in certain subject areas, OER offers an enormous library of materials that can fill those gaps.

Teachers Spend Excessive Amounts of Time Finding Course Materials
In American public schools, educators spend more than 53 hours per week on the job. As we briefly covered in yesterday’s post, many school teachers are spending large amounts of time trying to find teaching materials. A few years ago, Central Washington University conducted a survey of 700 Washington State public school teachers to identify how they spent their time. They found that teachers had to spend 2.4 extra hours a day just to complete their non-instructional activities that included planning their lessons and selecting supplemental readings and other materials for class.

OER as a Solution: OER enables teachers to draw from a very large (and constantly growing) collective of courses, readings, syllabi, videos, and quizzes. Teachers also have the opportunity to further personalize a course to better fit the diverse needs of their students. And after an instructor opens their own course materials with open educational resources, this becomes a transparent and collaborative way for other teachers to learn and share more frequently. Being a user and a contributor in the OER community means that learning resources can benefit from peer review to improve and evolve over time.

Many High Schoolers Aren’t College or Career Ready (Yet)
The latest research from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has shown that most high school seniors aren’t college or career ready. While the specifics are still not clear state to state, this trend has been connected with the increasing number of entering college freshmen who require remedial classes and other types of support, since they are unable to keep up with the first year’s coursework. In the professional world, employers emphasize the importance of lifelong learning. Some education leaders are starting earlier in elementary school to build a college-going culture as well as build creative opportunities encouraging students to take charge of their own learning.

OER as a Solution: They are available for free/low cost and accessible anytime online, creating this culture of lifelong learning. With more schools leaning toward OER, there is a change in education that puts the student at the center, empowering them to learn even after they’ve finished a course. With the growing concern over preparedness, OER has the potential to keep students engaged in their learning journey as they move forward to postsecondary education, a professional career, and life in general.