Examining the Use of Open Educational Resources among Faculty in Departments with Multiple OER Course Conversions: Implications for Practice

Nancy O'Neill, University of Pennsylvania


Open educational resources (OER) have open licensing or public domain designations that allow users to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute content unencumbered by traditional copyright restrictions. As such, they can replace costly traditional textbooks, provide all students with access to materials on the first day of class, and invite faculty to tap into unique content and teaching affordances that come from the open licensing. Importantly, benefits associated with affordability and accessibility tend to accrue by virtue of simple adoption of OER; content and teaching benefits are more contingent upon how OER are used in particular contexts once adoption has taken place. These content and teaching benefits are also relatively understudied in the research literature pertaining to OER. This qualitative comparative case study examined the nature of OER use and factors shaping use among faculty in departments with multiple OER course conversions, with special attention to content and teaching affordances theoretically made possible by open licensing. The study’s scope extended to three U.S. regional comprehensive institutions for a total of six cases of OER activity in writing, natural sciences, physics, chemistry, psychology, and humanities. In terms of findings, faculty were primarily, if not solely, focused on the affordability and accessibility aspects of OER use, with a subset also interested in customization and correction of content. Despite this interest in customization, and overall awareness that OER could be changed, little revision or remixing of existing OER took place, for a variety of object-oriented and context-oriented reasons. One important set of findings from this study revolved around the impact of multi-section courses on OER use, including decisional approaches to content, degree of standardization of content, and different loci of decision-making across the cases. Overall, the experience of OER use across these cases points to a desire on the part of faculty for continuity with prior traditionally copyrighted materials and maintenance of the status quo with respect to course design, pedagogical approaches, and assessment methods, irrespective of the designs, approaches, and methods in place. Lessons learned suggest faculty a) exhibited a limited notion of equity with respect to OER use, b) entered into OER use to solve practical problems they identified for themselves and for their students rather than to explore “openness”, and c) had fixed conceptualizations of content that muted the potential of open licensing. The simple adoption of OER was not enough to spur changes to course design or pedagogy or to encourage spread of OER across courses. Insights from the study suggest some enabling conditions for revision and remixing as well as recommendations for campus practice to help realize the content and teaching affordances theorized in the OER literature.

Subject Area

Higher education|Pedagogy

Recommended Citation

O'Neill, Nancy, "Examining the Use of Open Educational Resources among Faculty in Departments with Multiple OER Course Conversions: Implications for Practice" (2021). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28775862.