The OER Adoption Impact Explorer

impactI’m very excited to announce the launch of the OER Adoption Impact Explorer. This interactive tool lets users adjust a range of Institutional Settings to match their local context and estimate what the impact of adopting OER would be on their students and campus. Users can also tinker with a group of Research-based Settings to make the estimates more conservative or more aggressive.

The goal of the Explorer is to provide OER advocates with rigorously modeled, data-based arguments that they can use in conversations with a wide range of stakeholders (faculty, administration, students, policy makers, etc.).

We’d love your feedback! Let us know how we can make the Explorer more useful to you in your advocacy work.

Utah Open Textbook Project Goes Statewide!

Something very exciting happened today.

The Utah State Office of Education announced that (1) it will be supporting the development of Utah-specific open textbooks for all secondary language arts, mathematics, and science courses, and (2) that the USOE recommends that all schools across the state consider these open textbooks for adoption in their secondary language arts, mathematics, and science courses for this fall (2012). The math and science books will be remixes of CK-12 materials (as per our existing pilot program), while the Language Arts books will be produced locally. The Hewlett Foundation is providing partial funding.


This potentially impacts all 275,000 6th-12th graders in the state of Utah. The cost savings will be astronomical, but I don’t have exact figures yet. More on that in the days to come. My team and I will continue to research the impact on learning outcomes and the actual cost savings associated with the move, as we have with the pilot program the past two years.

The full text of the release is below. This is a historic day for Utah students, schools, and taxpayers. It’s also a historic day for open education. Congratulations to everyone involved.

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January 25, 2012

For Immediate Release

Sydnee Dickson, Teaching and Learning director
801-538-7739 ::

Utah State Office of Education to Create Open Textbooks

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State of Office of Education (USOE) today announced it will develop and support open textbooks in the key curriculum areas of secondary language arts, science, and mathematics. USOE will encourage districts and schools throughout the state to consider adopting these textbooks for use beginning this fall.

Open textbooks are textbooks written and synthesized by experts, vetted by peers, and made available online for free access, downloading, and use by anyone. Open textbooks can also be printed through print-on-demand or other printing services for settings in which online use is impossible or impractical. In earlier pilot programs, open textbooks have been printed and provided to more than 3,800 Utah high school science students at a cost of about $5 per book, compared to an average cost of about $80 for a typical high school science textbook.

“Utah’s open textbooks are a great use of technology,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Larry K. Shumway. “Texts get into classrooms quickly and can be updated as needed rather than on a publishing schedule – something that’s particularly important in science. The open textbook also adds to Utah’s reputation as the most cost-efficient school system in the country. This is a fantastic way to get the latest textbooks into the hands of Utah’s nearly 600,000 public school students.”

“We’re thrilled that the State of Utah is encouraging school districts to consider adopting open textbooks,” said Barbara Chow, Education Programs director at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which helped fund the project. “At a time when education budgets are under increasing stress, digital technology in the form of open textbooks now offers the potential to save school systems millions of dollars.”

Later this spring the Utah State Office of Education will invite all districts and charter schools across the state to attend informational meetings and professional development designed to help open textbook adoptions succeed.

The decision to pursue open textbooks at scale comes after two years of successful open textbook pilots led by David Wiley of Brigham Young University’s David O. McKay School of Education. Each pilot was conducted by the BYU-Public School Partnership in partnership with the Utah State Office of Education. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation provided funding. Mathematics and science textbooks will be based on books originally published by the CK12 Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in California founded with the mission to produce free and open source K-12 materials aligned to state curriculum.

In new research soon to be published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Wiley and his colleagues found that Utah high school students learn the same amount of science in classes using the $5 open textbooks as they do in classes using the $80 traditional textbooks.

The $5 Textbook

We went through lots of pain and suffering last year trying to find the “right way” to print open textbooks – the way that makes them super affordable. We printed with different vendors, printed books whole and in sections, bought and stuffed three ring binders and tried paperback print on demand, etc. Some of these approaches were more expensive than traditional textbooks, as we explain in our upcoming article. But we also discovered the “killer app” – a process for localizing textbooks to meet local student needs and print them at the super low cost we were looking for.

How well does it work? Here’s the receipt from this year’s textbook purchase:

When you divide the total purchase price ($14,400 including shipping) by the total number of high school science textbooks we purchased (2690), you will discover that the average printing + shipping cost for one of our textbooks this year is:


Heck yea! This is what we’ve been looking for. Localized books, printed at scale, at ridiculously affordable prices, just as our online Open Textbook Cost Calculator predicted. Oh, and by the way, they’re not just less expensive – they also enable new pedagogies.

Effectiveness data will be forthcoming soon – how much science do you think the kids using $5 textbooks learn compared to kids whose schools adopt $100+ textbooks?

Cost paper finalized and submitted

The paper we’ve written outlining all the cost-related lessons we learned during the first phase of the Utah Open Textbooks project has been submitted to the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning! While you’re waiting for an opportunity to read the prose, you might enjoy interacting with the Open Textbooks Cost Calculator we created based on the lessons we learned.

We’ll be announcing information about Phase 2 of the UOT project in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Apparently open textbooks is just a little too far away from distance learning to be a good fit for IRRODL. Consequently, we’re rolling up the year two cost information together with year one efficacy data and submitting a new version of the paper elsewhere. More to come…

March Meeting

We had a great meeting with the Teachers in March. They reported that their students are loving the textbooks and many students from other classes are envying the textbooks. We’ve also finalized our cost analysis and are putting the finishing touches on a paper to publish about it so that everyone can benefit from what we’ve learned. Finally, David Wiley has put together a very cool calculator that estimates the cost of switching to open textbooks. Anyone can get online and try it out at

We asked our teachers if they find themselves doing anything differently because they are using open textbooks and they shared several good examples. One of our teachers said that having the textbooks the students can write in saves him a lot of time since they don’t have to go back and forth between the textbook and a worksheet and he doesn’t have to spend extra time preparing worksheets. One teacher said that she doesn’t have to have her tables scrubbed like she used to because the kids don’t doodle on the tables anymore, now they doodle in their textbooks (and the kids love that it is okay because the textbook belongs to them). Several of our teachers agreed that they present content in a different way because now the students can follow along in the textbook and it makes content presentation much easier. They also mentioned that when a student misses class, it is so much easier to get the student caught up–the teacher simply tells them which chapters they missed. Since the teachers didn’t use traditional textbooks as regularly as they do the open textbooks, the students weren’t able to follow along in their textbooks and a few chapters in the textbook wouldn’t help the student catch up with what they missed in class. One teacher mentioned that his students are learning much more from the science labs than they used to because the book now matches what they are doing in their lab.

When discussing how their students use the books, one teacher said that initially she thought that she would have to remind the students to highlight their books frequently but she has found that they grab the highlighters and mark up the books all on their own.

In the final analysis the costs proved more difficult to calculate than we originally thought. The reason is that we gave the teachers several choices and we used two different printers. But we were able to analyze them and discover that with the experience we’ve gained (which printers to work with and which ways to print it) people can potentially save money by using open source textbooks. But what we’re most excited about is the potential educational benefit. And we’ll have more information coming on that in the next few months.

For now, we’re going to be getting our results published and we have the calculator up for folks to play around with.

Quick Update

Things have been quiet this winter as our teachers have worked hard with their students and the BYU team has been working hard on several projects. We are nearing completion of a paper that addresses the cost portion of what we are studying. It has been interesting to dig into the literature and data about costs associated with OER textbooks and traditional textbooks. We’ve also learned a lot about the textbook adoption process, how school districts pay for their textbooks, and a lot of other good, nitty gritty information.

We’ve also become interested in teacher empowerment and how this project relates to the ongoing conversation about it. Teacher empowerment has been a significant part of educational reform discussions for a few decades and there have been some interesting conversations about curriculum development and teacher empowerment as well as how much an empowered teacher can strengthen a school and its students’ education.

When we’re finished with our analysis of the costs associated with printing textbooks in our OER pilot study, then we hope to delve a lot deeper into student learning and teacher empowerment as both topics are very interesting and relevant.

Checking in on textbooks

The week before Thanksgiving Tiffany and Shelley went to visit some teachers and see how the textbooks were working for the students. Two teachers were kind enough to let us come in and observe how students were using the textbooks and ask the students some questions.

The first class they visited had the option of using the textbook on an iPad or using the paper version we printed for them at the beginning of the year. That day the teacher was giving a lesson on highlighting and writing notes using the iPad. He showed the students how to do it, had them follow along and then had them look up specific genetics vocabulary words to highlight and make notes on. As he was showing students how to write a note in the margin of their digital textbook one of the students exclaimed in excitement, “I wish our regular textbooks could do this!” The teacher smiled and said “Oh they can.” He then described how you can take a highlighter and drag it across the page to highlight a section and then write a note in the margin.

As Shelley and Tiffany watched the students in both classes work and asked questions, they continually heard the other students echo the same sentiment. They kept saying how useful it was that they could write in their science textbooks and that they wished they could write in other textbooks too. Several of them talked about how it helped them group ideas (many students highlighted with multiple colors and assigned specific colors to specific ideas) and others talked about how it helped them work through difficult concepts.

Tiffany asked students what other courses they would like to have write-able textbooks in. Math was the overwhelming consensus with other science classes close behind. One student also mentioned how much it would help in her music theory class.

When Shelley went into the classroom, she had been skeptical that students would write in their textbooks and she was pleased to find that students were writing and marking up the textbooks a lot. And when she asked them if they were marking it up in response to teacher assignments, they gave her funny looks and explained that they did it on their own for their own learning.

For the next steps in the study, the BYU team will identify what constructs they want to measure and put together questions to get at those constructs. They’ll spend more time in the classrooms with students and teachers and get more information about how students are using the textbooks.

September Teacher Meeting

Last week we had a very exciting teacher meeting. Besides getting to see each other again, we talked about how the students have been responding to their textbooks, how technology is working in the classrooms, and what questions we are interested in asking the students and the parents about this project.

The students have responded well to their new textbooks. We discussed some of the pedagogical reasons that the teachers made the choices they did and it seems as if the students are excited to hear the new reading and learning strategies that the teachers have planned. One of the ideas we talked about is student ownership of the textbook and student ownership of learning. Do students feel more ownership when they get to write in and keep their own textbook? Do they feel more ownership of their learning when their book was customized for them and they get to further customize it by writing in it and highlighting it?

Tracy shared an experience with us that when she asked her students to answer the questions at the end of the chapter, one of her students voiced a concern that she hadn’t brought her notebook and she didn’t know where to write the answers. Tracy explained that the students were supposed to write their answers in the books–in the margins. She got stunned looks from students and it took them a few minutes to get used to the idea. Once students do get used to writing in their books, might they start taking notes in their books, tracking their thoughts, or asking their own questions?

Several of the teachers participating are having their students use the textbooks online–with PCs or iPads–and using online note-taking applications (i.e. diigo). Even though it has only been a few weeks, it seems as if the students are taking to the new technology well.

As we discussed what we are interested in knowing from students and parents, we discussed many of the specifics that we are interested in knowing.

  • How might online interactivity change the way students use a textbook?
  • Does online availability change the way parents are involved with student learning?
  • Does a smaller, more customized textbook change the way students perceive it and its contents?
  • Will the students engage in the textbook and in their learning on a deeper level since they have ownership of their textbooks?
  • In what ways are students using the textbook that they haven’t before?
  • Are students reading the textbook more this year than previous years?
  • Do students feel like this years textbook is more ‘useful’ than previous years’ textbooks?
  • For those students with no physical textbook, how do the parents feel about that?
  • For those students whose teacher highly customized and even wrote the textbook, how do parents feel about that?
  • Do the parents notice a higher level of student engagement with the textbook and the course?

These questions gave us a good idea of what our teachers are interested to know. As we get closer to our data gathering,  we will use these thoughts to craft the questions we want to ask and to learn more about how the open textbooks are affecting the schools.