Brigham Young University Study
Brigham Young University on November 5, of this year released the most extensive study based upon OER usage. A summary of this report was published in the Huffington Post and reads:
A new multi-institutional study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University looks at the academic outcomes of students assigned free openly licensed textbooks versus those assigned traditionally published textbooks. What the study finds is the opposite of what folk wisdom tells us: expensive textbooks are not superior to free ones. In fact, the results show a striking trend that students assigned free, open textbooks do as well or better than their peers in terms of grades, course completion, and other measures of academic success. If traditional textbooks are not producing better outcomes, then what exactly are students paying for?
Here is a breakdown of the results:
Course completion: In all of the courses studied, students who were assigned open textbooks were as likely, or more likely, to complete their course than those assigned traditional textbooks. In one course, the completion rate was remarkably 15 percentage points higher for students using open textbooks.
Grades: Students who were assigned open textbooks tended to have final grades equivalent to or better than those assigned traditional textbooks. In more than a quarter of the courses, students using open textbooks achieved higher grades, and only one course using open textbooks showed lower grades (which is at least partially explained by the course's significantly higher completion rate, which includes the grades of students who would have otherwise dropped out).
Credit load: Students who were assigned open textbooks took approximately 2 credits more both in the semester of the study and in the following semester. This is a sign that students are reinvesting money saved on textbooks into more courses, which can accelerate graduation times and potentially reduce debt.
Overall success: Overall, students in more than half of the courses that used open textbooks did better according to at least one academic measure used in the study, and students in 93% of these courses did at least as well by all of the measures.
The study is based on more than 16,000 students across 10 institutions, and is the largest and most rigorous study of its kind. Naturally, there are some limitations, most notably that the researchers cannot conclusively claim that textbooks are the sole cause of differences in student outcomes, since uncontrolled factors such as variation in teaching methods may have played a role. However, more than a dozen other studies have been published over the last five years that find a similar correlation between open textbooks and as-good-or-better student outcomes, which shows a definitive trend.
The study was not limited to four-year institutions.
“There were also 12,599 students enrolled in the following community colleges: Middlesex Community College, Middle Valley Community College, Onondaga Community College, Santa Ana Community College, Salt Lake Community College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. Courses included a wide range of content including mathematics, English, psychology, biology, chemistry, business, history, education, and developmental courses. Only 15 courses included sections in which either OER (treatment) or commercial textbooks (control) were used. Courses that included only OER sections or only commercial textbook sections were not included in the course-by-course analyses.”