Odessa College Plans Open Educational Resources Degree Program

A $100,000 grant will give the college a boost in its efforts to change the way learning happens.

by Ruth Campbell, Odessa American, Texas / June 16, 2016 0

(TNS) —  Odessa College has received a grant that will go toward developing degree programs using open educational resources and reducing textbook costs for students.

The $9.8 million in funding for the initiative, of which OC was granted $100,000 over three years, comes from a consortium of investors that includes the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp., the Shelter Hill Foundation and the Speedwell Foundation.

Achieving the Dream, representatives from the foundations and grant recipients talked about the open educational resources (OER) initiative in a teleconference Tuesday. With several top administrators present, Odessa College hosted the announcement in its administration building.

Officials said the idea is not only to save students money on textbooks, but to transform the learning process and make it more engaging and relevant to students, leading to greater retention and completion rates.

"Ultimately, the point of the work the grant is paying for is to provide at least one or more degree programs that are completely OER," Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Eric Yeager said. The college will start with psychology and sociology.

Yeager said the change will be implemented in phases. He added that there are some classes that are already looking to use open educational resources and others that are close to being able to do that. Those who are close will be able to start this fall, but the entire degree program should be set by 2017, he said.

He added that not all courses will go electronic, because some fields are specialized and have only one source for materials.

"But if we're intentional about serving as many students as we possibly can, especially with this help in funding to develop those resources, we can ... provide very significant savings for most students," Yeager said.

The funds also will provide extra stipends and material costs for faculty to develop the new resources, Yeager added.

"It's seed money to allow us to get over that hump of development," he said.

Denise Frolich, executive director for student learning resources, said students can receive the course material through their own devices at home. She added that some of the funds also will be used to purchase devices that students can take out through the library.

"Also, I believe because they're open, they can also print them. We have printing services, as well," Frolich said.

Vice President for Student Services Kim McKay said books usually cost $600 per semester.

For tuition, McKay said it costs OC students in the sociology and psychology programs between $1,200 and $1,500 per semester.

Vice President for Business Affairs Virginia Chisum said she thinks there will always be a need for a bookstore.

"We have begun those discussions with our current bookstore," Chisum said. She added that college bookstores nationwide are evolving and becoming more inclined to offer electronic devices.

"There will always be a number of courses, especially in the technical areas, that will continue to need the printed textbooks. There will continue to be a number of students who want that printed textbook in hand. Not everyone learns as well through an electronic device," Chisum added.

Achieving the Dream President and CEO Karen Stout said that as defined by the Hewlett Foundation, open educational resources are 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 and repurposing by others."

Stout said the resources have not been widely used in higher education, or at least not as widely used as they could be.

"Usually the adoptions are single-course, single-faculty adoptions and few adoptions at colleges have approaches that use the material with the intention to package the OER materials to support full degree completion," she said in the teleconference.

The funding announced Tuesday involves 38 community colleges in 13 states.

"It will help dramatically expand the use of OER in colleges. The colleges are of all sizes. They have diverse student bodies; their enrollments have the potential to reach 500,000 students with this work. Most of the students are Pell-eligible students, first-generation college students and many of the colleges are minority-majority colleges that are in this cohort of 38," Stout said.

Stout added that the effort will help remove financial roadblocks created by textbook costs that can "stall or stop students' progress toward a degree."

Second, she said, the initiative will offer a new way to use technology and course materials in dynamic and engaging ways that are integrated into degree programs. Stout noted that the initiative also will create more access for community college students.

T.J. Bliss, program officer in the education program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, said historically, philanthropy has been directed mainly to four-year universities.

"However, the funders in this initiative recognize that community colleges are serving students that are disproportionately disadvantaged and who stand to benefit most from needed reform. We believe that open educational resources, and OER degrees in particular, can help solve a key challenge in higher education which is increasing educational opportunity including access to success for more people," Bliss said.

McKay said several OC representatives are in San Francisco this week with officials from other colleges selected for the grants to learn about the resources, data collection and how they'll move forward.

"We're certainly honored to be one of 38 colleges selected for this initiative," McKay said.

©2016 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.