The impact of digital disruption on major industries is well documented. The music industry pivoted from retail to streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. Hotels now have to compete with AirBnb, which opened up options that consumers clearly craved. Apps like Uber and Lyft have helped riders and drivers transact peer-to-peer, driving a spike into the antiquated taxi industry.
And yet, while widespread disruption swirled all around them, traditional textbook publishers clung to the status quo: An antiquated publishing model that is now prompting educators to look for new and better solutions. They want educational materials that are more affordable for students, more engaging and more easily updated and adaptable to individual instructor’s needs. They want a transformational shift in the way course materials are offered. In short, they want Open Educational Resources.
Because OER is delivered to students’ digital devices, it’s more engaging, effective and fun. It’s educational content for a generation that grew up with smartphones, interactivity and on-demand information. And, just as importantly, OER promises to be easily adaptable, and therefore aligned with an educator’s course and way of teaching. OER is more than a replacement for textbooks—it’s an entirely new model for educational content creation and sharing.
To address the challenges posed by the first generation of OER, and provide educators and students with a truly effective new model for educational content, Top Hat created an accessible and versatile home—an OER Marketplace.
In the Marketplace, educators can easily find the most relevant learning content. All of the content in the Marketplace is created, updated and shared by authors on the platform. Anyone can discover and adopt it. The majority of offerings in the Marketplace are free, and premium content is available at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks. Part of the success of the Marketplace is the number of partnerships Top Hat has struck with OER creators such as Saylor and OpenStax, which adds to the diversity and depth of OER available.
The educators who are creating and using OER are pioneers. They’re also pioneers because they embraced a big idea: that the same technological revolution that has impacted and transformed so many areas of our lives can also have a profound impact on education. They’re ahead of the curve—only a small percentage of faculty at North America’s colleges and universities seek out and introduce new teaching solutions into the classroom. That small group is leading us to the future of education.
The New Realities of Higher Education
Higher education institutions need to evolve fast—or risk plummeting in annual rankings and losing prestige. If they don’t, it’s because they’re not taking advantage of available technologies. And if they don’t, they’re doing a disservice to today’s students.
Over the last 200 years universities and colleges have been hotbeds of technological change and innovation, yet their classrooms haven’t changed at all. They’re typically structured like theatres, with rows of seats facing a large screen and a professor’s pulpit. The concept of the lecture hall has not changed much since the Middle Ages when a professor would read from an original source to students who took notes. And yet, even as the lecture hall model has remained exactly the same, the number of students enrolled in universities has grown exponentially over the last 50 years—resulting in classes of hundreds and even thousands of students.
You can’t have a meaningful one-on-one connection in a classroom of hundreds of students. And when students are disengaged, they look to their mobile devices. Every educator must compete with phones for students’ attention—it’s just the new reality of being a professor. This can be paralyzing for educators. Some respond by banning devices from the classroom—but this doesn’t lead to better outcomes, it creates resentment. And from all evidence, students ignore this rule anyway.
One engagement model that’s having significant impact on campuses is active learning, where instead of passively absorbing lectures, students actively participate in class, practicing what they’re learning.
By working through concepts in a variety of ways, knowledge more effectively takes hold in the mind. Research shows that active learning improves students’ enthusiasm and performance. One study showed that students in active learning classes are more efficient and self-sufficient learners. In short, active learning makes better students.
The way to have the biggest impact on learning, to improve engagement and comprehension, and to implement active learning in the classroom, is simple but profound: Throw out your old textbooks.
Why Educators Are Throwing Out Textbooks
Educators have good reasons for turning their backs on traditional textbooks. While textbooks have until now been an essential teaching tool, they’re no longer doing the job they need to do.
Here are three reasons why:
❶ THEY’RE OUTDATED The way textbooks have traditionally been created and conceived is incredibly antiquated. Textbooks—especially the standard editions for large intro-level courses—only get updated every five or six years by publishers. Improvements and updates are slow to appear, and by the time a student buys that book it’s already stale.
❷ THEY’RE BORING Today’s students are among the first generations of the Internet age. They’ve grown up with information and facts easily available through search engines and they regard interactive multimedia as the norm. Publishers have attempted to make their standard textbooks more engaging by offering digital versions—but those versions are invariably static PDFs that simply replicate the experience of a printed book.
❸ THEY’RE OVERPRICED The price of textbooks has risen 1,041 per cent since 1977—far outpacing inflation. The reason? The textbook market is insulated from competition and market forces: the professor, not the student, picks the textbook, and many professors are unaware of the cost of the books they assign.
Students try to get around the textbook burden by downloading e-books illegally or by simply not buying textbooks at all. Traditional publishers are trying to change their business models by going digital, but they’re failing and will continue to fail. In 2017, the world’s largest educational publisher, Pearson, reported a pre-tax loss of $3.4-billion for 2016, the biggest in its history. In 2010, sales of new printed textbooks made up 71 percent of McGraw-Hill Education’s highered revenue—by 2013 that number dropped to 38 per cent. Many educators have started to look for new and better solutions. They want educational materials that are more affordable for students, more engaging and more easily updated and adaptable to individual instructor’s needs.
In short, they want Open Educational Resources.
What is OER, Anyway?
Once you throw out your textbooks, you need to replace them with something. The solution many innovative educators are embracing is Open Educational Resources—a term that typically denotes digital educational content, usually without copyright and free of charge. The term first gained currency at the UNESCO 2002 Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries, and gained momentum at the 2012 World OER Congress.
It’s educational content for a generation that grew up with smartphones, interactivity and on-demand information. And, just as importantly, OER promises to be easily adaptable, and therefore aligned with an educator’s course needs and way of teaching. In sum, OER is more than a replacement for textbooks—it’s an entirely new model for educational content creation and sharing.
- OER is digital educational content
- OER can be free of copyright— though some OER creators retain control and copyright
- OER can be free to access. Some OER creators charge for access to their educational content—at rates more affordable than content produced by traditional publishers
- OER is more engaging because it includes interactive and multimedia elements
- OER is easily customizable by educators
- OER is easily improved and updated in real-time
Growing Pains for OER
Professors and schools have, until now, been slow to adopt Open Educational Resources. OER providers like OpenStax—a nonprofit organization funded by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and others— have made some inroads, but so far have a small fraction of the educational content market. As with any new innovations, the first generation of OER wasn’t perfect. Here are four reasons why:
❶ INCONSISTENT AVAILABILITY It hasn’t always been easy to find the OER you need: some is only available piecemeal, sometimes it costs money, sometimes it’s free.
❷ INCONSISTENT QUALITY OER often comes under attack for its lack of quality and rigor, whether it be its graphic design value or, the true test of quality: efficacy.
❸ INCONSISTENT CONTENT DEPTH There’s also the challenge posed by content depth. Many faculty can’t rely on OER sources to offer quality content for their niche.
❹ INCONSISTENT ADOPTION If you’re a lone educator in a big department using OER, you often remain alone, since most institutions don’t provide the support or expertise to create a community of OER users.
What’s ultimately preventing OER from living up to its promise is that there’s no one central place to find it all with no obstacles and no worries about the quality of what you’re using. What’s needed is the OER equivalent of iTunes or Wikipedia—a central place where educators are able to create, edit and collaborate on content creation.
The New and Improved OER
To address the challenges posed by the first generation of OER, and provide educators and students with a truly effective new model for educational content, Top Hat built an accessible and versatile home for creating and sharing OER. That home is called the Top Hat Marketplace.
When Top Hat built the Marketplace, the company imagined a place where educators and institutions could find all the educational content they’d need. In the Marketplace, educators can easily find the most relevant learning content. All of the content in the Marketplace is created, updated and shared by authors on the platform. Anyone can discover and adopt it.
The majority of the content in the Marketplace is free, and premium content is available at a fraction of the cost of traditional publisher textbooks. Part of the success of the Marketplace is the growing number of partnerships Top Hat has struck with OER creators such as Saylor and OpenStax, which adds to the diversity and depth of OER available. Here are four ways the Top Hat Marketplace is redefining how OER is used:
❶ OER WHEN YOU WANT IT In the old model of educational content, the textbook publisher controlled everything. The publisher sourced authors, and sold and delivered the content. The educator in need of course contenthad little to no control over the educational content delivered by the publisher. Before the Top Hat Marketplace, if you wanted to adopt a textbook for your course, you had to go through the textbook publisher’s sales reps and make arrangements with the campus bookstore. In the end you got a doorstopper of a textbook, or a static, locked PDF file that your students had to buy.
Now, with the Marketplace, you have thousands of options at your fingertips. No middle man. No waiting for orders to be placed. When you want a textbook, you get it instantly. And it’s all in one place.
❷ OER THAT’S EASILY CUSTOMIZED When you adopt a book from a traditional publisher, you’re stuck. You can’t make any changes and you can’t really customize it to your course content and teaching style. The digital versions of most books are PDFs, which are locked down. There is no interactivity and, as a result, many students don’t really read them.
With OER content from the Top Hat Marketplace, you’re freed from the publisher’s jail. You can edit the book in the exact same editor the authors used to create it. You can customize the content to exactly what you want it to be.
❸ OER THAT’S EASY TO CREATE What if you don’t find what you need for your course already existing in the Marketplace? You may teach a niche course that really needs a bespoke set of materials. In the past, that’s meant you make-do by cobbling different materials together, and hope that your students know where to find them.
The Top Hat platform solves this problem by providing you with the ability to author your own content within the same OER platform. The authoring tools are flexible, easy and fun to use. Most importantly, the platform centralizes all your course materials and lets you align them perfectly to your course syllabus. You also have the option to share your course materials in the Marketplace, for instructors and classrooms around the world to benefit from.
❹ OER THAT’S ALWAYS IMPROVING Even though it only launched in the spring of 2017, there are already thousands of educational materials (including textbooks) available through the Top Hat Marketplace.
The educators who are contributing content to the Marketplace and the educators who use that content also serve a secondary function: they provide one another ongoing feedback on their OER content, continually making recommendations for improvements and changes that ultimately raise the quality of the assets in the Marketplace. That feedback loop is invaluable—it means that the OER textbook you choose to adopt for your course has been tested by, potentially, hundreds or even thousands of your peers, and you benefit from their improvements.
In this sense, cutting the publisher gatekeepers out of OER actually serves to improve the quality of the educational content. OER content is continuously updated and continuously improved—which is something you could never say about a textbook edition that’s a product of a slow publishing schedule. The Top Hat Marketplace gives educators like you the opportunity to take back control of educational content from publishers.
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