BLOG: Moving OER Online to Increase Access

Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ), a large, urban college in Florida, has been participating in Achieving the Dream’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative. The College set a goal to create an online Associate in Arts (A.A.) in General Studies using OER to bring a college degree within reach for working adults, low-income students and first time in college students. The degree was offered for the first time in Fall 2017 through FSCJ Online. The College has offered 21 courses in the OER degree pathway. The final three are scheduled for completion in time for the Fall 2018 term, bringing the number of OER sections offered in the degree pathway to more than 110. By the end of the Fall 2018 term, the College estimates it will have served more than 6,000 students in OER courses and estimates it has saved them over $600,000.

Expanding Access and Increasing Completion through an OER Degree

Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) applied to participate in Achieving the Dream’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative in 2016 to advance two student-centered goals in its strategic plan: promoting access and equity, and increasing retention and completion. Results from more than 22,000 students who completed the 2016 Textbook and Course Materials Survey confirmed that textbook costs were hurting students’ academic progress, with more than 67 percent reporting not buying required textbooks. The College was also seeking ways to make classes available to a wider range of students by going beyond the traditional physical classroom and school hours. The College’s online division had suggested offering an entirely online, entirely OER Associate in Arts in General Studies degree. Developing this pathway became the focus of the grant.

FSCJ took the first step toward creating the degree by convening stakeholders, beginning with the already-established Center for eLearning (CeL) that serves as the central design group for online courses within FSCJ Online. The OER team then added librarians, deans and college administrators. There was also a meeting with grant partner Lumen Learning.

Progress and Challenges

Challenges abounded. The FSCJ team leading the effort found they had to introduce their faculty and administrator colleagues to the concept of OER, explain what OERs are and aren’t and help faculty locate sources of quality OER materials. The team also had to address concerns about the permanence of the OER materials and how often they would be updated. Questions about compensation arose.

To create momentum to develop the courses and allay concerns, FSCJ’s OER team encouraged faculty and staff to take advantage of training opportunities provided by Lumen Learning as well as workshops FSCJ offered at faculty meetings, college mini-conferences and through FSCJ’s Organizational Development department. Training covered discovering and evaluating resources, and understanding Creative Commons licensing. FSCJ Online’s CeL began creating copies of selected materials when possible and weaving them into HTML-based learning units, stored locally and linked to the learning management system, rather than linking to online versions or storing PDF files. In other cases, the team found resources were not ADA compliant and had to be revised or replaced with others that were. A degree track was built in consultation with academic advisors, as was a sample degree plan.

In 2017, a librarian was invited to join the CeL’s online course design team and assumed a key support role. For the first few courses, the librarian, instructional designer and subject-matter expert helped determine each person’s role in developing an OER course. Later, the librarians helped fill instructional gaps in courses. As a part of the course design process, the CeL and FSCJ Online management team consulted with area deans who worked with their faculty to identify champions to serve as their subject-matter experts. This is the same approach used for all online program development at FSCJ.

Many faculty commented on the amount of work and original writing required to develop an OER course. Faculty subject-matter experts were compensated through stipends, as they are in all online course development. Six librarians shared responsibility for providing support as part of their job responsibilities.

One faculty member who taught eight sections of research composition and modern rhetoric commented, "As a developer, I was initially enthused by the prospect of building a course from scratch...As I began searching for open materials, however, I grew frustrated by the dearth of resources that fit the restrictive parameters of the project. Ultimately, I wrote much of the course content from scratch. That process was difficult, but I think it ultimately contributed to a more consistent experience for our students."

Introducing the OER Degree to Students

As they completed courses and scheduled them, FSCJ Online began to slowly market these courses to students through advisors and email blasts. This culminated in the Fall 2017 term, when FSCJ officially launched the online A.A. pathway. In the spring, in addition to the online track, FSCJ launched a track of hybrid OER courses at one campus. A website for students has been established with a downloadable list of OER courses for the current term. Email blasts to students in the A.A. track point students to the website and the class list. Targeted ads in the student portal and on social media have also highlighted the offerings. For faculty and staff, timely OER emails which tout the progress made and provide links to stories of interest compiled in the Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER) digest have been distributed.

During Open Education Week 2018, in partnership with the library, Organizational Development and many faculty, FSCJ broadcasted live webinars to share open courses and describe their experiences creating them. Students also had the chance to contribute to an interactive student OER wall, learn about OER and describe the impact of textbook costs.

In advance of the Fall 2018 term, a trifold brochure explaining OER and pointing students to the website was distributed to student orientation, all campus advising centers and military base centers. The focus is on earning an A.A. Degree through free and low-cost course materials.

Reaching More Students and Saving Them Money

Through Spring 2018, FSCJ estimates that OER course section enrollment for the A.A. degree has saved students approximately $300,000. The College estimated enrolling 2,000 students in OER courses during the grant period. By Spring 2018, enrollment in these OER courses has surpassed 3,100 students. By the end of the grant, FSCJ hopes to enroll over 6,000 students in OER course sections and surpass $600,000 in savings to students.

Students had a lot of positive things to say about the money they saved in OER courses, as well as the additional learning opportunities built into many of the online OER course materials. For instance, one student said, “Having access to all course materials on the first day of the semester [means] I honestly pay for all my schooling upfront so I have never had to wait on financial aid to buy books.” Another student said, “The online materials are very user friendly and give the student the ability to heighten their learning experience with electronic features such as: quickly searching for specific topics, highlighting, defining and note taking.”

How are students spending the money they saved with OER? One student had plans to "spend it on other books for other classes or tuition. I’m on a tight budget, so any money I don’t have to spend on books can be used for basic needs or put into my savings.'

Watch FSCJ's OER videos here:

Visit OER on the web here:

Dr. Peter Shapiro

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