New research — The open book answer to diverse learning materials
Free textbooks with more diverse content could reduce inequities in learning experiences and outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, new Deakin University research has found.
The project, led by Dr Sarah Lambert and funded by the NCSEHE, found both staff and students welcomed the use of open textbooks in the Australian context.
Open textbooks (known as open educational resources or OER) are free digital texts, produced and published at a low cost, with the potential to be modified for local needs.
Surveys and interviews with Australia-wide staff and students showed awareness of the benefits of OER was growing. This included cost savings, increased accessibility, and the ability to redress underrepresentation and misrepresentation within the curriculum.
“Social justice principles relating to the cost and content of textbooks and readings matter to Australian students and staff,” Dr Lambert said.
“OER texts can be a transformative strategy to address digital access, learning material costs, and inclusive experiences for higher education students.”
The research found the capacity to update and diversify OERs can have many benefits to students, including creating a sense of belonging and enhancing graduate outcomes.
“Students noted that instances of seeing themselves in readings and learning materials made them feel more positive about what they could achieve,” Dr Lambert said.
“Furthermore, those who have experienced diversified reading lists with multiple knowledge perspectives believe they are better prepared for their intended future professions.”
Interest among participants in diversifying content was particularly focused on embedding Indigenous and other cultural practices into the curriculum, as well as addressing the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“Eastern and Indigenous knowledges were seen by both staff and students to provide new solutions to old, common problems and therefore important to be included in curriculum,” Dr Lambert said.
“Similarly, foundational STEM texts could be revised to promote a sense of belonging for women in STEM by ensuring women’s leadership, innovation, and other contributions to the fields are recognised.”
NCSEHE Director, Professor Sarah O’Shea, noted the potential of this research in developing more equitable policy and practice in higher education.
“This research highlights the positive impact OER have on ensuring equitable outcomes for all students at university,” Professor O’Shea said.
“The recommendations provide detailed advice to institutions, libraries and teaching staff to not only enhance student experience, but to ensure the economic benefit and sustainability of OER in the future.”
Read the final report, Open textbooks and social justice: A national scoping study.
This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
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