BLOG: OER: The Student Success Multiplier Effect

Members of 38 grantee college teams from across America are part of a bold effort that is still one of the most ambitious OER projects to date, to build OER degree pathways using openly licensed course materials in place of proprietary textbooks. 

Our approach makes us unique.

This OER degree initiative work builds in scale from the start, an ingredient we learned must be part of any reform design to move the completion needle. Most OER efforts are single-faculty, single-course efforts that are not connected. Requiring colleges to build full and aligned degree programs with OER builds in connection and scale. This approach makes this work challenging. And, our participating colleges have met the challenge.  Currently, there are 52 degree pathways under construction, with many of our OER Degree colleges building more than the one pathway that the grant requires.

We owe a great deal of thanks to our funders.  The Hewlett Foundation is leading the investment team. Great Lakes and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are funding the evaluation, an important element of this work if we are to reach our goals to influence the field with what we are learning together.  And, funding from two smaller and less known foundations, Shelter Hill and Speedwell, provided Achieving the Dream with important seed money to organize for this effort while we secured the larger funding. 

I also want to recognize the 11 colleges that are participating with us at the 2018 OER Summit who are not grantee colleges but who are also engaged in scaling OER on their campuses. They are a unique blend of institutions: some are leading ATD colleges, a few are from British Columbia, and not all are working on associate degree pathways, only.  A few are universities and community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees.

I titled my keynote remarks, OER: The Student Success Multiplier Effect, because I, like the colleges involved in this work, see the enormous potential of OER when we strategically design it with students at the center of our design thinking AND when it is intentionally and comprehensively braided into our organizational strategies (strategic plans) to improve access and completion.

Here are the stories of three students profiled in recent national news on OER. 

When Jasmine Roberts was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, textbooks almost crippled her financially.  When she could not afford one book, she asked her professor to put it on reserve in the library.  He did it but followed up by saying: “Jasmine, if you can afford to attend the University of Michigan, you can afford this textbook.”  She reflected at SXSW EDU a few weeks ago on a panel that now as a faculty member at Ohio State University and an advocate for OER, “[that faculty member] had no idea what it took for me to get to the University of Michigan.” 

She goes on to say, “it is now my job to make sure my students do not feel how I felt that one day in my professor’s office.”  Roberts lamented, too, about the 40% of low-income students who are admitted to college each spring but don’t make it to campus because of the costs.( How OER can overcome the higher education equity barrier, EdScoop)

And, then there is the story of John McGrath, a Rutgers student, as told in a January article in The Atlantic.  John pays close attention to his expenditures and before entering the store he had researched all his textbook options---new, used, rental. John waited in line at the bookstore for 40 minutes clutching a list of four classes and walked out with an armful of books, some bundled with digital codes that he could use to access assignments on the publishers’ websites.  He exited the store with a $450 charge.  His plan for savings was disrupted by the need to purchase the digital codes, codes sold exclusively at his bookstore, and for a steep price.   John points out, “now I have to pay to do my homework.” (Why students are still spending so much for college textbooks, The Atlantic)

And, finally, there is Melissa Hoch, an adult student, working in a low paying job returning to college to upgrade her skills. With few resources for college given pressing family expenses, she who turned to Tidewater Community College’s zero textbook degree. She says: “Because of Tidewater’s ZTC-degree, I did not have to choose between continuing my education and buying braces for my daughter.”  Melissa is now a graduate of Tidewater and Old Dominion and is working as a logistics coordinator. (College Promise Programs and Open Educational Resources: A Winning Combination, Forbes).

These student stories point to the power of OER, to OER’s multiplier effect. 

Nicole Allen, director of open education at SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) speaks eloquently of the unintentional and unpredictable: “Part of open is enabling the unexpected.  It doesn’t mean you need to write your own textbook tomorrow, it means you can think open and how it relates back to your mission.” 

OER is a small force that is producing a correlating large effect, a multiplier effect.

Multiplier 1
Increasing affordability

Multiplier 2
Strategically tying OER work to your student success strategy and attending to building the fundamentals to scale and sustain it within your college.

Multiplier 3

Multiplier 4
Teaching and Learning

Multiplier 5
Ability to mobilize influence of OER

Think about it. The adoption of OER is spreading and touching not just on clear issues of student affordability, but on less obvious issues of access, completion, reducing time to degree, decreasing debt, advancing equity, rethinking pedagogy and course design, setting into motion institutional, state and federal policy, funding and systems change.

There is no better time to take on this work and take it further than we ever envisioned than now.  And, there is no sector better positioned and required to take it and lead it forward than community colleges. 

See the full text of ATD President and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout’s keynote address at the 2018 OER Summit, April 3, 2018, Miami, FL.

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