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Open Educational Resources Advocacy Toolkit

Evaluating Economic and Social Justice Outcomes

Identifying the purpose of your program and how to measure its success from the outset is crucial to the process of evaluating your OER advocacy program.

OER and open textbooks can be a transformative strategy for addressing digital access, learning material costs and inclusive experiences for higher education students (Lambert & Fadel, 2022). Success may be multilayered and multidimensional, encompassing pedagogical, economic, social justice and cultural outcomes, so you'll need to plan from the beginning of your OER program how best to capture the story you want to tell about its rollout and delivery.

In terms of measuring success, you'll need a plan for collecting data transparently to inform future decision-making and reporting. Some examples of successful deliverables and outcomes include:

  • economic outcomes
  • equitable (social justice) outcomes.

Economic Outcomes

University libraries are increasingly identifying expanding the adoption of OER and open textbooks as a strategy to mitigate the cost and digital access risks associated with commercial textbook provision in the digital age (Lambert & Fadel, 2022).

You should have a plan for what data you need to collect, why you need to collect it and how you will collect it for the purposes of decision-making and reporting – particularly when measuring the success of economic outcomes due to OER programs. That’s not all, though: the second step in your data strategy is to decide how larger measures like student savings will be calculated, analysed and presented to various audiences.

Where possible, use actual cost savings as reported by the faculty or school teaching the course or by your bookshop’s data. Arriving at a total savings estimate would be extremely difficult without an average per-student, per-course savings estimate.

Various groups have modelled how to arrive at an estimate. For example:

  • Nicole Allen and David Wiley presented at the 2016 Open Education Conference on multiple cost savings studies and concluded that US$100 was a reasonable per-course savings estimate (Allen & Wiley, 2016).
  • In 2018, SPARC and Lumen Learning came to a more specific estimate using disaggregated IPEDS data to reach an estimate of US$116.94 per course (Nyamweya, 2018).
  • The National Association of College Stores provided an average textbook cost using college store data to reach an US$82 per-textbook average. This is slightly different from a per-course average, though, as the average includes low-cost scholarly monographs, novels and trade publications, which are often assigned in a group of required resources for one course (Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018).
  • OpenStax used the 2015–2016 NCES National Postsecondary Student Aid Restricted-Use Data File and an internally-calculated average of 7 courses per year that would likely require a textbook to reach a US$79.37 per-course textbook cost average (Ruth, 2018).

These statistics are derived from sources in the United States, where textbook costs (as well as textbook publisher models for access) have come under increasing scrutiny. You’ll note many US-based projects will use affordability as the key driver and reporting outcome – this decision is based on localised contexts and funding arrangements. At your institution, affordability may only be one reason (and it may not be the primary reason) for wider engagement.

Presently, there is little national data on textbook use, affordability and access in Australia. However reports on student finances and student poverty often reference educational costs and their impact on Australian students. Two suggested starting points are:

Equitable (Social Justice) Outcomes

While open education practices (OEP) may have a pedagogical rather than social justice focus, those that aim to empower learners may have a positive impact on human rights or equity in at least two ways:

  • When used with individuals in marginalised communities – Creating or adapting content can increase representation of diverse identities and marginalised groups.
  • In the long-term development of students as citizens who learn how they can empower others once they're in a position to do so – OEP can open up scholarship and knowledge access to populations who would otherwise not be able to afford it . Although many of the OEP discussed here don't initially have transformative effects, their openness in itself may begin to affect mindsets and cultures to facilitate transformative change (Bali, Cronin, & Jhangiani, 2020).


Adapted from 'Calculating and Reporting Student Savings' by Jeff Gallant in The OER Starter Kit for Program Managers by Abbey K. Elder, Stefanie Buck, Jeff Gallant, Marco Seiferle-Valencia and Apurva Ashok, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.


Bali, M., Cronin, C., & Jhangiani, R. S. (2020). Framing open educational practices from a social justice perspective. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1), 10. (licensed under a CC-BY 4.0 licence)

Lambert, S., & Fadel, H.(2022.) Open textbooks and social justice: A national scoping study. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE).