BLOG: Open Educational Resources Moves West Hills College Lemoore Toward Equity

West Hills College Lemoore (WHCL), an Achieving the Dream (ATD) Network institution since 2014, may be located in a small rural town, but its commitment to increasing access to college services and strengthening student success through Open Educational Resources (OER) has drawn attention from far beyond California’s Central Valley. In 2016 and 2017, the college won two influential grants to develop OER degrees, one through ATD’s OER Degree Initiative, and another through the California Chancellor’s Office Zero-Textbook-Cost (ZTC) Degree grant program. WHCL also became a ZTC Degree technical assistance provider charged with helping other community colleges in California to develop ZTC degrees. The college has used its grants to develop Associate of Arts Transfer (AA-T) degrees in Elementary Teacher Education and psychology has estimates that it saved students $283,800 savings in Spring 2018 by eliminating or reducing the need to purchase textbooks. Approximately 30% of the courses – 300 out of 1000 -  in the college’s 2018-2019 schedule are OER courses.

Why OER?
The opportunity to begin offering OER made sense to WHCL as a way to increase student success and equity. WHCL’s institutional goals included providing equal access to all college services for all students. Course content and instructional materials, typically offered in the form of textbooks, are considered a form of service. However, the college knew that some students weren’t buying textbooks and homework access codes, especially for math and science courses, because the books and materials were too expensive.

With the help of ATD’s OER Degree Initiative Grant and the Zero-Textbook-Cost Degree Grant Program WHCL could create OER courses and degrees that would begin eliminating the barrier to equal access caused by high textbook costs. The college knew that OER would provide every student access to instructional materials on the first day of class, ensuring that all students would be prepared to begin learning right away – not just the students who could afford to buy the materials. In addition, OER would allow students to keep these resources long after the courses ended.

OER Implementation: Challenges, Solutions, and Unexpected Benefits
The first steps in creating the pathway using ATD’s OER Degree grant required WHCL to offer core and general education courses using OER. WHCL faculty and librarians ran into a few challenges at that initial stage because certain subject areas lacked readily accessible OER. Finding satisfactory materials for English courses proved especially difficult. Faculty sometimes found themselves compiling Web resources instead of adopting open textbooks as other faculty did. Beyond the challenge of finding and curating individual resources, faculty then had to determine how to format and print the OER for students and the library course reserves. Even when resources did exist, the quality of ancillary materials and homework systems in math and the sciences fell short of what faculty expected.

The WHCL community stepped up and found ways to move through the challenge of finding and adapting high-quality OER. For instance, a comprehensive libguide developed by the library staff helped faculty find and evaluate OER for their courses. The California Online Education Initiative (OEI) rubric for exemplary online courses became the standard for OER course development, spelling out a consistent set of steps to follow for creating high quality, interactive, and accessible OER courses. The college also began using the OEI rubric to set the stipend structure for faculty course developers. Each summer, WHCL has offered a three-day innovation OER boot camp that guides faculty new to OER through the process of building their own OER course in Canvas to teach in the fall.

The work required to offer core and general education courses OER laid the foundation for a full-scale #OERevolution embraced by faculty, staff, and administrators, according to college librarians. Faculty have discovered the power and impact of OER on their own teaching. Rather than structure their courses to follow textbooks created by publishers, faculty are exercising the academic freedom to assemble their own materials and teach their courses as they see fit. Faculty are finding that adopting OER is an opportunity to redesign teaching and learning. They report teaching content instead of chapters.

Using OER also aligns with the college’s emphasis on information competency and information literacy outcomes. OER gives instructors the flexibility to contextualize information and make it relevant to what students are learning. Instructors model the ethical use of information with licensing and attribution and show students how to follow ethical and legal guidelines when using and gathering resources. Students see that information creation is a process and that scholarship is a dialogue.

Introducing OER to Students and Integrating it into College Governance
OER courses and degrees can only be successful if students enroll in them. Early in the process, the college decided to wait to announce the OER degree to students until after it was available. Then counselors and campus media highlighted the OER courses and degree. The course catalog designated OER courses.

As the ATD OER Degree Initiative grant approaches its conclusion in March 2019, the WHCL OER task force originally led by the library has evolved into an OER Committee that includes a student member and is a permanent part of college governance. This cross-functional group is co-chaired by the vice president of instruction and a faculty member. The vice president reports to the Integrated Student Success Committee, and the faculty member reports to the Academic Senate which has been successful in ensuring that different parts of campus stay informed about the OER committee’s work.

In Fall 2016, WHCL only offered two OER courses. After only one year, though, WHCL was able to offer 75 sections using OER. By Spring 2018, there were 96 sections, which saved approximately 3,093 students $283,800. In Fall 2018, the college estimates it’s on track to save students up to $466,500.

Looking ahead, WHCL’s strategic plan calls for OER adoption in all general education courses by 2020. The college’s Board of Trustees, executive administration, bookstore, and disability programs all fully support the increased use of OER. The foundational work completed to create one zero-cost degree also is expected to increase the rate at which the college will be able to develop degrees in other areas. By focusing on OER for general education courses, new zero-cost degrees will be almost complete before they even begin.

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