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Only 1 in 5 Students Obtain All Learning Materials Legally

A new study on student piracy makes a convincing case for open educational resources in higher education.

04/13/16

Students in higher education today are living in the era of the $400 college textbook, and many have had to find creative, more affordable ways to obtain textbooks. A new study looks at the ways that college and university students across the globe are accessing learning materials.

The study “Student Practices in Copyright Culture: Accessing Learning Resources” was recently published by Laura Czerniewicz, an associate professor at the Centre for Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town. Her study was part of a larger multi-country research project between Argentina, Brazil, India, Poland, South Africa and the United States. Czerniewicz surveyed 1,001 students at the University of Cape Town pursuing law, media studies and health sciences degrees – covering a diverse array of disciplines that are likely to require students to use textbooks.

Czerniewicz and her colleagues in the partnering countries conducted a 63-question survey that investigated student behavior and attitudes toward piracy, and how students reason their actions. The study revealed that students use a combination of print and digital learning resources in their classes — and only a fifth of them said that all of their class resources were legally acquired.

In many cases, the students were unaware that the textbooks were illegally obtained when they downloaded digital files online. However, many expressed that, when faced with the high price of textbooks, they were less concerned about the consequences of illegal downloading and more worried about graduating. “Is it unethical to want to be educated or is it unethical to charge so much [for textbooks]?” asked one student in the study.

Czerniewicz’s findings also challenged the previously held notion that all students in higher education campuses are “digital natives”: despite the availability of a wide range of open educational resources (OER), many of the students surveyed claimed they had no idea how to obtain free learning materials. Several of these students admitted they were envious of their peers who know where to access free resources.

In a blog post, Czerniewicz explained that the students’ views on matters of principle, plagiarism, piracy and access to academic resources raise “critical issues for new models of publishing, for digital literacies and for open scholarship.” The findings make a case for more widespread use of open educational resources to reduce the cost and risk for students in higher education. Certain OER websites, such as OER Commons, often have a Creative Commons or GNU license that states specifically how the material may be used, reused, adapted and shared. When OER are organized and students are provided access, everyone benefits, according to the study.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at sravipati@1105media.com.

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