Contributing to OER Research

Student Buying BooksOER research seeks to answer specific questions, increase understanding, and share insight on the impact of OER adoption and use. Many of these questions can be addressed through the COUP (Cost, Outcomes, Usage, and Perceptions) Framework — an approach to studying the impact of open educational resources and open pedagogy in secondary and post-secondary education from the Open Education Group.


The adoption of Open Educational Resources can impact a range of financial and cost metrics for students and institutions. Questions addressed here can relate to assertions that using OER will save students money, as in the example below.

Research Question:
How much money was saved by this OER adoption?

Measure Variables: Gather information about the cost of previous textbooks and the number of students enrolled in the course. Find the costs for new, used, digital, and rental copies of the textbooks.

Control Confounds: Survey a sample of students to determine how many of them typically purchase their textbooks in new, used, digital, or rental formats, as well as those who typically do not purchase books.

Analyze Data: Multiply the cost of each textbook format by the number of students who typically purchase in that format.

Answer the Question: Assuming that the OER were free, the amount of money calculated is the amount of money saved by the OER adoption. If the OER were not free, the amount saved is the difference between the cost of the previous textbook and the cost of the OER.


Given the folk wisdom that “you get what you pay for,” some individuals and organizations worry that student learning will necessarily suffer when students use freely available, openly licensed resources instead of $200 textbooks. OER proponents claim that using these resources instead of traditional publisher textbooks or digital materials increases student access to critical learning materials and expands faculty’s academic freedom, consequently improving student learning outcomes.

Example Research Questions

  • How do students’ final grades differ when faculty assign OER instead of commercial textbooks?
  • How does student persistence change when faculty assign OER instead of commercial textbooks or digital content as the required materials for a course?
  • How do course throughput rates change when faculty assign OER instead of commercial textbooks or digital content as the required materials for a course?


The permissions provided by open licenses allow students to use OER in a range of novel ways – for example, updating a history textbook based on recent events. Likewise, the permissions provided by open licenses allow teachers to engage in new pedagogical practices. Proponents of OER frequently claim that improvements in student learning outcomes will be highly correlated with the degree to which students and faculty exercise the permissions offered by OER.

Example Research Questions

  • How does student use of resources differ between traditional learning resources and OER?
  • To what extent (if any) are faculty and students utilizing the legal permissions facilitated by OER?


Questions addressed here relate to how faculty and students think about, and feel toward, Open Educational Resources, as in the example below.

Research Question: How do students perceive the quality of OER?

Measure Variables: Have focus groups or individual interviews with students to talk to them about their perceptions of the OER materials assigned for their class. How do students perceive the value of OER relative to traditional textbooks? How do they use them? What is working well? What concerns do they have? What suggestions do they have for improvement?

Control Confounds: Because your sample of students is likely to be small, strongly consider randomly selecting students to participate. If you handpick ten students, you will potentially be introducing bias into the results.

Analyze Data: After the interviews and focus groups are completed, carefully read the transcripts of these interviews. What common themes seem to emerge in the responses of the students?

Other Example Research Questions

  • How do students and/or faculty judge the effectiveness of OER relative to traditional textbooks? Their rigor and coverage?
  • Do students and/or faculty find the formats, structures, and other design features easy to use? Frustrating?
  • What about other stakeholders, like parents or policy makers – what are their thoughts and feelings toward OER?

More to Explore

OER Research Toolkit
The OER Research Toolkit from the Open Education Group provides a variety of resources to guide your research, including a guidebook and surveys for students and faculty.

OER Adoption Impact Explorer
The OER Adoption Impact Explorer from Lumen Learning enables you to investigate the impacts of adopting OER.

University at Buffalo logoThe Open Education Research Lab, based in the Graduate School of Education at the University at Buffalo, is actively studying OER impact across SUNY. They welcome working with you to develop research projects and will help you analyze local data, to better understand the efforts of OER initiatives at your campus.

This content is adapted from the following works:

Faculty Planning” by Open Education Consortium, licensed under CC BY 4.0
“Guidebook to Research on Open Educational Resources Adoption”
 by Open Education Group, licensed under CC BY 4.0
“The COUP Framework” by Open Education Group, licensed under CC BY 4.0
“Logo for The State University of New York at Buffalo” by The State University at New York at Buffalo, available in the Public Domain