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2013 May 13 - 12:00 am

POV: Open Educational Resources: The New Green

Open Educational Resources:
The New Green
James Glapa-Grossklag,

Dean, Educational Technology,  Resources,
And Distance Learning College of the Canyons, Santa Clarita, Calif.

We’ve all heard the statistics — the cost of textbooks is one of the top reasons why community college students don’t persist. Community colleges across the country are leveraging the power of Open Educational Resources, or OER, to lower the cost of attending college and to support student access.

What exactly does OER mean? These are free, electronic educational content materials, which are increasingly being used by educators as an alternative to traditional textbooks and course manuals — offering community colleges an opportunity to increase access to college by lowering the cost course materials, and to leverage technology in support of faculty innovation.

The U.S. Department of Education defines OER as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others.”

Coming in the form of high-quality content and learning tools posted on the Internet — and thereby accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time — OERs range from online encyclopedias like Wikipedia, to scholarly articles, historic documents, lesson plans and lectures, power-point presentations and audio and video files, all stored in the public domain and made available for non-profit use and continued re-use.

Here are a few examples of the wonderful work that dedicated faculty are undertaking in order to make education more affordable to their students. This affordable content can be adopted by faculty and used by students at your institution.

At College of the Canyons, teams of faculty in sociology, water technology, and mathematics have collaborated to author and adapt open textbooks or free courseware. Courses include the highly enrolled Introduction to Sociology as well as classes in the Water Technology Program, preparing our students for high-demand jobs. Over one academic year, students at College of the Canyons have saved more than $400,000 through the use of OER.

At Hartnell College, a faculty member has authored two open textbooks, in Criminal Justice and Business Law. Through her efforts, students have saved over $150,000 in just one year.

In the Maricopa Community College District in Arizona, faculty members across three colleges are collaborating on open math content. Students overwhelmingly report that they would recommend the open materials to their classmates.

With the Open Course Library, the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges has developed a collection of course materials in the top 82 enrolled courses. These materials—syllabi, readings, even assessments—can be freely shared and are in some cases paired with low-cost textbooks, so that they constitute materials for a complete course.

Using OERs — or adopting institutional practices that promote open education — can provide many benefits. The mission of some institutions is to create and disseminate knowledge. When MIT launched the open education movement in US higher education in 2001, by digitizing, openly licensing, and making freely available its undergraduate curriculum, this was in keeping with its mission to create, disseminate and preserve knowledge.

In using OERs at College of the Canyons, we have two overarching goals. We want to support faculty innovation in using new technology to create and distribute content, and we want to actively help students overcome the barrier they face in paying for their education. In addition, let’s state the obvious — students are more likely to learn if they actually have textbooks. In short, we believe that promoting the use of OERs helps faculty to creatively engage students and helps students to progress in their education by removing barriers to access and learning.

In addition, because OERs are digitized, and often put together in modules, the content can be continually updated and improved. Not only can faculty do away with expensive new editions every other semester, but also they can update the text immediately to reflect the newest advances in their fields.

The voice of the community colleges within the global OER movement is the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER). The Consortium was founded in 2007 by Martha Kanter, then chancellor of the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District. Since then, CCCOER has grown to represent over 200 colleges across the US and Canada. The mission of CCCOER is to expand access to education by promoting the adoption of OER and supporting professional development. CCCOER’s community of practice takes the form of free monthly webinars, faculty training in finding and adopting OER, and conference receptions and presentations. In addition, the consortium assists institutions in articulating the benefits of open education, as well as developing and managing workflows for OER production.

What’s next in open education? Perhaps surprisingly, MOOCs have provoked passionate discussion in the open education world. While the “open” in Massively Open Online Courses typically refers to the open-enrollment nature of these courses, it does not necessarily refer to openly licensed content, able to be freely shared. To what extent can the OER ethos of sharing inform the breathtakingly open enrollments of MOOCs? Just as importantly, the open education movement needs to document evidence of impact on student outcomes and institutional policies. OER can save students money; how can we be sure that more people are learning better? And to what extent are institutional polices being put into place to support sharing of open content? These questions are currently the subject of a research study lead by the Open University, UK, which includes CCCOER and select community colleges as collaborators.

How can you get involved in the OER movement? Attend one of the CCCOER monthly webinars and get connected to the vibrant community of practice that is leveraging open education to support faculty innovation and expand student access.

The author is dean, educational technology, learning resources, and distance learning at College of the Canyons, in Santa Clarita, Calif.. He serves as the president of the advisory board for the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources. He was recently elected to the board of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, the first community college representative on the panel. He can be reached at james.glapa-grossklag@canyons.edu.

It’s Your Turn: CCW wants to hear from you!
Q: Can OERs make a significant contribution to lowering the cost of a college education?
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