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Open Educational Resources: An Opportunity to Enhance Student Success: National Initiatives

Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute: The Four Pillars toward course completion, improved grades, increased credit load, and overall student success. How the library can assist faculty in achieving these goals effectively and efficiently.

National Initiatives

National OER Adoption

According to 100% of the interviewed librarians, the high cost of textbooks was a concern across campus. In Washington State, the concept of OER integration was commonly mentioned and it appeared that more passion was voiced when discussing the OER movement than the traditional online library resources. Librarians in Washington were quite enthused by this movement for it was translating into a completely new concept of librarianship. Oregon was a close second in awareness and implementation of OER with librarian assistance.

In Washington State, some of the innovative community colleges are Tacoma, Pierce, Columbia Basin, Bellevue, Olympia, Spokane Falls, Highline, and Everett. All projects require funding and the movement in Washington is funded in part by the Washington State Legislature, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and in some instances Student Government. OER funding required that “all materials created through the program be openly licensed to the public to freely use, adapt and distribute.”   The Faculty Association of Community and Technical Colleges endorsed the idea of OER on, ”economic, educational, and moral grounds.” The State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) report claimed that the first 42 courses of 2011 generated an estimated $1.3 million in student savings. According to the SBCTC release, the Washington endeavor sparked the California and Utah programs, both also initiated by State Legislatures.

Mark Jenkins, Director elearning and Open Education Resources, Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), in a CCCOER Webinar held on Thursday, December 3, 2015, proclaimed that the 34 CTC work as a system in partnership and have created a Business transfer degree program that is exclusively OER. This follows the first OER exclusive degree programs, also in Business, at Tidewater Community College in Virginia and Northern Virginia CC (NOVA). Again, this is an opportunity for TMCC, especially with new business regional growth anticipated. Our business faculty could partner with their peers in Virginia (we have a strong connection at NOVA) and Washington and not only would our graduated students impress the Boards of these companies, but our program’s cutting edge nature would create a progressive appeal perhaps drawing other companies hesitate about Nevada’s workforce to the region.    

In addition, Pierce College in Washington is offering a two year degree program exclusively OER.

“The program is called Pierce Open Pathway, and it will be offered at the college’s Joint Base Lewis McChord Center. All of the credits earned in the program are directly transferable to any of Washington’s five public universities and one public college, The Evergreen State College. Classes will be offered both online and in a hybrid setting that allows students to do some work online and some in the classroom.

The classes are taught using open education resources — free or low-cost materials that take the place of traditional textbooks. The school’s resources project manager has worked with professors to identify materials that meet the requirements, and are either open or freely available on the Internet.”

When I spoke to Quill West, Open Education Project Manager at Pierce College District, this was the Super Bowl for librarian collaboration with faculty. This effort had many team players crucial to successful implementation, among them Cable Green, Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons, who worked at Pierce College.  When I spoke with Steve Litherland, Associate VP for Libraries, at Tidewater CC he reinforced the concept that the players in the field are more than willing to assist others with their OER endeavor. Once again, this is a community-sharing project where the big national players are passionate about getting others on board as quickly as possible to benefit student populations. 

Tidewater Community College

At Tidewater the OER program is not using any library resources at all. According to VP Litherland the OER policy stipulates” teach or build – all course content must be Creative Commons domain.” Fundamental is no restrictive licenses. Litherland then outlined that the faculty need support in copyright, understanding and attributing it. In our conversation he stressed that the “intellectual capital is out there.” Once again, the job for the 21st century librarian is to research, identify, retrieve, disseminate, and ensure copyright clearance. Upon librarian efforts, the process of OER adoption and adaption can be expedited. Literland emphasized that all the Tidewater librarians have taken to it and that when he interviews new librarians their destiny at Tidewater is predicated upon OER awareness. He wants his librarians to “support OER in order to build a core responsibility team.” (Interview November 16, 2015).

VP of Libraries Litherland noted that in OER exclusive classes:

  • retention success rates were higher
  • course enrollment was higher
  • higher retention means school bringing in more tuition dollars
  • students were attending beyond the refund date
  • easy importation into learning management systems
  • natural collaborative environment for librarians
  • content is always up to date

To achieve OER driven classes certain things he noted were fundamental:

  • school executive level buy-in
  • the need for a core group of faculty
  • getting librarians on board

At Tidewater he revealed the Chief Academic Officer was the main proponent for the degree program and the College President supported it fully. Together with faculty and a team of “engaged librarians” OER policy was drafted. Top to bottom support produced results.


Richenda Hawkins, librarian at Linn-Benton Community College, informed me that her college began a campaign to market both library resources and OER to faculty in February 2014. The adoption strategy worked out very well with 26 library eBooks being adopted by faculty. The library sent all-faculty emails throughout the academic year specific to textbook costs and available alternatives. This issue was also brought forward at leadership meetings that according to Ms. Hawkins take place close to 30 times an academic year. Attending the meetings were faculty representatives from all the academic divisions. This was the one library where the effectiveness of eBook integration into course content rated excellent and it included a drive by librarians for faculty to give up textbooks for articles. Ms. Hawkins noted the three biggest obstacles were time, staff, and the high number of adjunct faculty. Despite these obstacles, the librarians proved to be proactive, creating a beneficial synergy. Collaboration did not begin and end with faculty. What needed to be accomplished and a summary of successes was frequently embraced in meetings with the academic vice president. Richenda often requested support from the academic vice president in pursuing the library resource/OER adoption campaign. She also informed me that, “librarians are buried in campus wide committees,” thus librarians have a broad knowledge of the academic dynamics on campus. Furthermore, because the librarians are so engaged in marketing, they rely upon database vendor tutorials to support student knowledge for how to maximize use of the database. Ms. Hawkins noted that the vendors are constantly changing the interface, thus whatever the librarians create must be recreated every year. By adopting the vendor provided tutorial, librarians can better provide up-to-date information literacy instruction and find time to work with faculty concerning resource adoption. This is a two-librarian library and each is doing five jobs effectively in getting the library mission known and adopted by faculty.

Statewide acceptance for OER was paved by Open Oregon State, headed by Diana Fisher, Director of Statewide Oregon OER. According to Ms. Hawkins two statewide OER librarians have been appointed, one specifically for community colleges. In addition, the State passed low cost textbook legislation, defined as textbooks costing $40 or less. In addition, students can opt for low-cost textbook classes. 

Tacoma Community College

The following is from the Tacoma Community College OER Project Activities report, 2013. The entire report is linked below and addresses financial impact, assessment of student satisfaction, assessment of faculty satisfaction, and assessment of student achievement data. The report serves as an excellent model should TMCC adopt OER.

“The OER Project at Tacoma Community College began with the simple premise that the cost of traditionally published textbooks has a negative impact on student success and retention. By using open education resources (OER) at TCC, instead of traditionally published materials, we will lower student textbook costs while maintaining or increasing student success and retention.

In academic year 2012/13 27 faculty members at TCC taught 22 courses and 91 sections of courses using OER. The approximately 2000 students enrolled in these courses saved between $70-$250 per student. The average savings per student was $116.66. This amounts to $293,000.00 collective savings for students using OER instead of traditionally published textbooks. However, the true measurements of the success of the OER Project are less about total dollars saved and more about student learning and satisfaction with their learning resources.”

  • 87% of the responding students found the materials easy to access
  • 94% responded they would take additional OER classes
  • 100% of faculty who adopted OER chose to continue using OER instead of publisher textbooks
  • Largely student achievement went up or stayed the same with the use of OER
  • Adopters of OER were trained in Quality Matters and other instructional tools
  • In comparing courses that used OER against those that used traditional textbooks, 12 of 16 showed improved student achievement
  • OER adoption was especially good in English 101/102


KOCI, Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative

The smallness of the world was revealed to me when in my research I came across the article, Adopting OER: A Case Study of Cross-Institutional Collaboration and Innovation, authored by Nancy Pawlyshyn, Dr. Braddlee, Linda Casper and Howard Miller. Dr. Braddlee, over a decade and a half ago, served as the Director of Academic Computing at TMCC and was a true mover and shaker whose proactive energy brought forth many positive outcomes. Since moving on to Simmons College, Mercy College, and now Northern Virginia Community College, he has stayed true to form and his recent endeavors have included a passion for OER adoption across 24 academic institutions. This collaborative assembly, known as KOCI, Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative, was designed to “inspire faculty to revisit challenges they faced with first year student achievement.”   The idea was “to engage faculty colleagues in thinking creatively and working toward a larger purpose by creating and implementing open educational resources to improve student retention and learning.” Grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (same as in Washington and other states) and the Hewlett Foundation funded this project. An obstacle they immediately recognized was that if they focused upon developing new courses there would be a long impasse caused by the need for approval by curriculum committees. Instead, the compass point shifted to new approaches in instructional design.

Partner institutions identified the following to progress:

  • Identify common student learning outcomes
  • Find effective, high quality OER (free and openly available)
  • Construct learning modules that would become embedded in a learning based system with built in analytics to track student progress.
  • Identify 10 high enrollment early academic core courses

Key outcomes/assessment identified by faculty:

  1. Assessment at the end of the semester demonstrated greater student learning gains  in courses that integrated the critical reading modules
  2. Overall course success rate and persistence rate increased
  3. Outcomes provided the impetus to expand and grow the OER approach
  4. Student learning gains continued to increase with further integration of KOCI OER modules.
  5. Build a diverse library of OER resources
  6. Create short videos for instruction located at the college professional development site and Learning YouTube site.

The authors illustrated that faculty participated for the following reasons:

  • Opportunity to work together
  • Opportunity to meet and work with  peers at other institutions
  • Share fresh ideas
  • Interact with OER leaders and KOCI advisors

As reward, a small stipend from the grants was provided to faculty. A more important reward was travel to OER conferences, paid for out of the grants, where faculty was invited to present their work. 

Obstacles faced: the authors identified the following hurdles to adoption that came up:

  • Some faculty resisted, raising issues of academic freedom
  • Some saw corporate interference with education
  • Distrust of external influences
  • Department level conflict among faculty

The authors made a series of recommendations for institutions considering OER integration. Among them are:

  • Introduce and facilitate through faculty initiative, rather than top-down initiatives. This is a polar opposite approach to Washington State and Tidewater College’s initiatives.
  • Connect faculty to faculty at other institutions and to active OER leaders
  • Provide professional development resources
  • Support faculty with instructional design staff
  • Establish assessment modules at the outset to document trends and results.

Results: in the first year math students saved $125,000. 73% of students preferred the KOCI course sections. Students and faculty appreciated the improved learning environments.

For an OER success story in math at Mercy College click 

Math across the academic universe is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to students completing their academic program. Perhaps a further investigation on completion and retention rates across community colleges using OER in math needs to be investigated to assist our mission of completion/graduation. This could be an excellent sabbatical project for a math instructor.