Publication Date


Document Type

White Paper


Permalink for online version: PDF version with Appendices: Synopsis: Signed into law in September 2012, SB 1052 (Steinberg, 2012) specified that the California Open Education Resources Council (“CA-OERC”) be established under the administration of the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates (“ICAS”) of the University of California (“UC”), the California State University (“CSU”), and the California Community Colleges (“CCC”). CA-OERC was duly assembled and held its first meeting in January 2014. Representing 145 campuses across the three public systems of higher education, the CA-OERC initially set out to survey 10,000 UC, 24,000 CSU, 59,000 CCC full-time, part-time, and temporary faculty about their awareness, adoption, and use of Open Educational Resources (“OER”) textbooks. Based on the survey responses, the CA-OERC identified several impediments to adopting OER textbooks and concluded that rigorous peer review was ultimately the first step towards advocating for adoption of OER textbooks. The Council quickly identified 50 highly-enrolled courses with expensive textbooks across the three public systems of higher education and, over the following two years, collected more than 160 existing OER textbooks for these courses, established a rigorous peer review process, recruited faculty reviewers from the three systems, managed more than 450 reviews, and helped to curate the resulting high-quality, peer-reviewed collection of OER textbooks at COOL4ED, an online repository featuring reviews and case studies. Throughout, the CA-OERC’s work was supported by State monies, as well as grants from the Gates Foundation and Hewlett Foundation secured and administered by the CSU Chancellor’s Office. In addition to supplying OER textbooks for California university and college faculty and students to consider, the Council undertook several research efforts to understand OER awareness, adoption, and use. These included: intensive feedback -- via surveys, webinars, and e-portfolios -- from a cohort of 16 CCC and CSU faculty who adopted OER in their Fall 2015 Semester courses (students in these classes were also surveyed); focus groups, composed of CCC and CSU faculty, which explored barriers to OER adoption and strategies for increased adoption; an additional set of focus groups, comprised of CCC and CSU student leaders, which focused on how these students used OER and e-textbooks in their courses. Findings from CA-OERC’s research indicate that in terms of:

  • Quality: Most faculty were highly positive about all aspects of textbooks that they selected to adopt for this study. Ratings for subject matter, design of chapter(s) and use of editorial conventions were very high. For the most part, faculty felt that the OER materials were thorough and complete and that students learned as well with the OER materials as with the traditional textbook for the class. Seven faculty of sixteen felt that the OER textbook was superior to the traditional textbook for the course. Five faculty rated the OER as equivalent to the traditional textbook. More than three-quarters of students (77%) said the OER chapter(s) used in the study met their expectations. (3% said OER did not meet expectations and 20% were neutral.)
  • Pedagogy: Fourteen faculty reported that using the OER textbook chapter(s) encouraged them to reflect about their teaching practices.
  • Technological issues: Faculty found it easy to explain how to use the OER textbook chapter(s) and had very few technical problems with students accessing the materials.
  • Ancillary materials: Faculty were not as positive about the support materials (PowerPoints, test banks) available with the OER textbooks. Half of the faculty felt that the support materials lacked quality. 25% of faculty felt that implementing the support materials took a significant amount of time.Student access: Of the 351 students in the survey, 71 printed the textbook. A PDF was used by 209 students. 16% of students wanted to have the option to purchase a printed copy of the textbook from the bookstore for a small fee. 10% of students wanted to print the textbook themselves. The predominant platform for reading electronic textbooks (“e-textbooks”) is a laptop computer. Only 7 of 351 students reported reading from their cell phones.
As California’s OER textbook initiative enters a new phase (with passage of AB 798 [Bonilla] in 2015), more research will be needed to further understand and support OER textbook adoption and use on a massive scale, especially with regard to issues like cost savings and OER impact on local curricula and on student retention and success. Our initial findings, however, are highly encouraging, especially with regard to the quality of and access to OER materials now available to faculty and students in California’s public universities and colleges.


oer, open educational resources, cal state, university of california, california community colleges, textbook, education, digital humanities

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.


English and Comparative Literature