With Flexibility, Publishers Can Turn the OER Boom To Their Advantage. Here’s How.

By Roy Kaufman

The newest twist in educational publishing—Open Educational Resources or OER—is dramatically disrupting textbook publishing, and conventional wisdom holds that these resources may even replace traditional textbooks all together. Case in point: in just four years, Eureka Math, an OER K-12 curriculum developed by the nonprofit GreatMinds.org, and funded by a federal grant to the New York State Education Department, has become the most widely used math curriculum in the United States according to a 2016 report by the Rand Corporation. Out of the 1168 elementary school teachers Rand surveyed, 52% said they used Eureka. In comparison, the most popular math textbook was used by only 32% of teachers.

While moving slower than math, OER is becoming a presence in English Language Arts, particularly given recent developments in states like Louisiana. More than 80 percent of school districts in that state have adopted– in whole or in part– a teacher -developed OER English Language Arts curriculum known as “guidebooks,” primarily in response to Common Core requirements. “There wasn’t anything on the market good enough for our teachers,” the assistant superintendent of academic content at Louisiana’s education department told Education Week in an article last spring. This curriculum is spreading beyond Louisiana. On November 2, Open-Up Resources, a startup that originated as a multi-state collaborative (and led by a former Pearson executive), announced its adoption and offering of a curriculum based on the Louisiana OER.

Yet despite these events, conventional wisdom about the death of textbook publishing just might be wrong. The need for scope and sequence of materials have seen OER developers like Great Minds and Open-Up Resources adopt models that, while OER based, have attributes suspiciously similar to traditional publishing. And in higher education, Cengage may be seen as disrupting itself by launching a fully CC-BY OER platform called “OpenNow.” Accordingly, OER can provide a push for publishers to broaden their offerings, adapt their business models and reap new revenue streams, even as the publishing landscape continues to morph and make room for the new breed of OER publishers. For readers of this newsletter, there is an obvious parallel to Open Access publishing.

What OER offers that traditional publishers don’t

The startling OER adoption statistics in K-12 were driven, in part, by the need for school districts to quickly find teaching materials that aligned to the Common Core standards. The Eureka Math curriculum was created to fill this need, and as an OER, it can also be updated, customized and revised for errors or updated pedagogy more quickly than is possible with the revision cycles of old-school textbooks. Not to mention that OER are “free” to use (more about those quote marks later), reducing the risk of adopting the yet-untested curriculum. Similarly, a district may view the cost of moving away from an OER curriculum as smaller than with a traditional textbook that involves a substantial investment in books (although with OER training and implementation costs remain substantial, perhaps even higher). OERs also offer school districts a seeming ability to update and adapt the curriculum themselves, and to do so without threat of infringement on a publisher’s copyright. However, while appealing, such control can be difficult to implement.

OER obstacles

Of course, there are challenges with OER, too. For one thing, in its original form much of OER was served up online in a smorgasbord of random lesson plans of varying quality, unsystematically connected to the Common Core State Standards, and to some degree it remains like this today. Teachers needed to select quality materials and align them in scope and sequence to ensure that the student received adequate instruction on all the relevant skills in proper sequence (e.g. you cannot teach multiplication before learning addition).

The new breed of OER publishers need a sustainable business model to pay for quality content and must move away from free floating lessons and ensure full scope and sequence. As Kate Gerson, formerly of the New York State Regents Research Fund, told Education Week, “You have to solve the who-pays-for-it question if you’re going to develop good material.” And even more so when it will require comprehensive alignment to standards.

Which brings me to the big question with OER: Does it actually have a sustainable business model? First, as with most complex economic systems, there are many paths to both sustainability and failure. To state the obvious, without models to underwrite funding for OER, its producers will run into trouble. High quality content is never truly free; it needs some kind of funding to be created, supported and updated. Initially, governmental agencies and private foundations in the United States provided funding for the creation of OER materials, but the struggle to identify sustainable models to eliminate dependence on these sources of funding has reduced interest among some foundations.

The future of OER will be developed by the professionals, such as Cengage, GreatMinds, Open-Up Resources and the State of Louisiana. Financial models will involve print on demand, sale of canonical works to accompany OER curricula, teacher training, assessment, and a host of related services. Publishers who wish to benefit from these new developments must be as nimble as their new OER publishing competitors. They must also focus on what OER does not give away for free, and jump in to fill the gaps.

Roy Kaufman is Copyright Clearance Center’s Managing Director of New Ventures and is responsible for expanding service capabilities as CCC moves into new markets and services.

Editor: Ann Michael


New SPARC Resource: Big Deal Cancellations – November 29, 2017

“SPARC is pleased to release a new resource exploring a growing trend within the global library community – the cancellation of so-called “big deals” (large bundles of journal titles sold at a discount off of aggregate list price)…The resource includes a detailed look at what more than two dozen libraries from all around the world have done to assess and adjust their approaches to these bundled subscription schemes.”

Over 3.25 million article shares during first year of SharedIt, Springer Nature’s free content sharing initiative – November 27, 2017

“SharedIt was launched in October 2016 and covers over 2,700 journals including all the Springer Nature-owned portfolio and over 1,000 co-owned and partner-owned journals. This industry-leading initiative enables authors and subscribers to post links to free-to-read versions of research articles anywhere, including social media platforms, repositories, websites, scholarly collaboration networks and via email.”

FTC Halts the Deceptive Practices of Academic Journal Publishers – November 22, 2017

“A federal court has granted a preliminary injunction requested by the Federal Trade Commission, temporarily halting the deceptive practices of academic journal publishers charged by the agency with making false claims about their journals and academic conferences, and hiding their publishing fees, which were up to several thousand dollars.”

AAAS Launches Science Partner Journal Program to Support Global Expansion of High-Quality Scientific Publishing – November 21, 2017

“The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is today launching Science Partner Journals, a program that will feature high-quality, online-only open access publications produced in collaboration with international research institutions, foundations, funders and societies.”

African Academy of Science to put its research on global stage with F1000 publishing platform – November 15, 2017

“The African Academy of Sciences, in partnership with F1000, is launching a publication platform, AAS Open Research, to enable AAS funded and affiliated researchers to publish immediately and without barriers. AAS Open Research will showcase African research on the global stage in an immediate and transparent way.”

eLife welcomes the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation as a new funder-partner – November 9, 2017

“The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, Sweden, has added its weight to the funder-backed effort to reform science publishing, eLife. Established 100 years ago, the Foundation has awarded 24bn Swedish Krona (nearly £2.24bn) in research and education grants, making it one of the largest private research funders in Europe.”

Springer Nature published a white paper – “The OA effect: How does open access affect the usage of scholarly books?” – November 7, 2017

“Springer Nature published a report called ‘The OA effect: How does open access affect the usage of scholarly books?’ This report presents the first major comparative analysis of usage data for OA and non-OA scholarly books, and provides an informed view of how a book benefits from OA publication.”

EBSCO information Services is Partnering with BiblioLabs to Support Open Access Discovery of Electronic Theses and Dissertations – November 6, 2017

“EBSCO Information Services (EBSCO) and BiblioLabs have announced the launch of a collaborative open access initiative dedicated to advancing library and industry innovation related to electronic theses and dissertations (ETD). OpenDissertations.org, is committed to facilitating open and free access to ETD metadata and content. In addition to the fully open website, EBSCO will include ETD metadata in EBSCO Discovery Service to facilitate access and improve content discovery.”


November 20, 2017

Swiss-born rebranded Alpine Entomology journal joins Pensoft’s open access portfolio

“The Swiss Entomological Society‘s official journal Die Mitteilungen der Schweizerischen Entomologischen Gesellschaft (Journal of the Swiss Entomological Society) is the latest historical scientific journal to join the lines of Pensoft’s portfolio…The journal is now rebranded as Alpine Entomology to reflect the shift in its scope and focus.”

November 16, 2017

New section in Frontiers in Physiology: Environmental, Aviation and Space Physiology

“Frontiers in Physiology is pleased to announce the launch of a new section, ‘Environmental, Aviation and Space Physiology.’ This is the third section launch in the journal this year, following expansions into ‘Avian Physiology’ and ‘Embryonic and Developmental Physiology.’”