While it’s great to have data and conversations about how OER saves students money, at the end of the day, you also want the material conditions for students and communities to improve so they can do better too. Zaback (2022) suggests that focusing solely on student cost savings carries the potential to perpetuate existing inequalities and that it’s “imperative for state and institutional decision-makers to create conditions where students have equitable access to the materials they need to succeed.”
We all live complex lives and as Audre Lorde says, “we do not live single issue lives”, so the idea that focusing on student savings or grades alone will improve the learning experiences of students is a bit of a fallacy. Students can do well in classes and save money thanks to OER, but do they feel safer in classrooms? On campus? In their communities? Hoosen et al. (2019) remind us that “we cannot analyze OER in a vacuum, and we cannot continue to think about, create, and use OER without social justice in mind.” There also has to be a collective effort to shift the narrative of the broader education ecosystem for open education to show its true potential.
The need to apply an equitable lens while conducting research around OER efficacy is incredibly important. With the current legislation in 2023 being passed across many countries globally, it is understandable that there is hesitance and fear of personal safety over taking an equitable stance in many matters including education. That said, it is of utmost importance that educators, especially those with privilege and power, apply an equitable approach to open education as a whole – from program and resource development, to research, pedagogy, and practice. Apply a social justice lens to your impact reporting and research. Be sure to name structural inequities as they are and don’t skirt around the issues!
McDermott (2020) suggests that future OER efficacy studies could incorporate more qualitative data to center students’ voices and that by using an action research approach – a type of methodology that is based on action and reflection and harmonizes well with critical pedagogy approaches – would be a valuable contribution to the existing literature.