OER: The future of education at OCC and beyond?

In Greek mythology, Prometheus is believed to have created man from water and earth. In this process, Prometheus grew fond of humans. However, Zeus, Olympian god of the sky, grew quickly jealous of humans and did not wish for them to reach the greatness achieved by the gods. 

Prometheus disagreed – and with a little trick, was able to steal fire and give it to humans on earth. As legend goes, Zeus considered it one of the worst crimes ever committed and as punishment, chained Prometheus to a rock on Mount Caucasus, doomed for an eagle to eat his liver for eternity. 

In many pieces of literature through the ages, fire has served as a metaphor for knowledge and awareness. In many ways, the story of Prometheus serves as a representation of human’s fight for their access to knowledge across history – from the library of Alexandria to today, where many across the country are working on the expansion of what’s called “open educational resources.”

CalMatters reported that California Gov. Newsom called textbooks a “racket” in a January press conference announcing his new budget plan. The $227 billion plan calls for $15 million to fund alternative textbooks free for students – with no chains or gut-eating eagles required. 

This is the second year in a row that Newsom has pushed for funds to implement these free-for-students educational resources. It is a trend picking up at Orange Coast College and across the state of California. However, the history of these open education resources haven’t always been so simple. 

According to EdWeek, open educational resources are education materials available either through the public domain, or licensed in a way so they can be accessed, shared and altered freely at no cost to students or educators.

“Open does not just mean free. It means open,” said Melissa Archibald, an American history professor and the coordinator for OER at OCC. “It gives educators control over the material.”

Another benefit of open source textbooks is that they can be updated more regularly than traditional textbooks, which require the time, money and process of re-printing. 

“In fall 2017, less than five percent of classes at OCC had zero textbook cost (free or no book),” Archibald said. “This semester, 13% of all courses qualified as having zero textbook cost. Cost is only tuition.”

For Archibald, getting into OER was a no brainer. 

“In the educational community, there’s a want to lower costs, making education cheaper,” Archibald said. “OER is the new tool in our chest.”

As the OER coordinator, Archibald connects faculty with open educational resources needed for their specific classes. Archibald also serves as the liaison to a regional OERI group as part of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges

“It’s a passion I’ve developed and continue to develop,” Archibald said. 

Marc Perkins, professor of biological sciences, was another early user of OER at OCC. He first incorporated an OER into his class five years ago. Perkins was originally inspired to use an OER after doing a reading on the subject.

“I love it,” Perkins said. “I was early on the game of the campus adopting it. I like trying new things, and being frugal myself personally, I have sympathy for our students.” 

Perkins found it easy to transition from a regular textbook to an OER, which he attributed to his own teaching style and the nature of teaching biology. For the benefits of OER, Perkins likes being able to use a textbook for as long as he wants, and students being ready to learn on day one. 

“I like not hearing students say there’s been a delay or ‘I don’t get paid until next week,’” Perkins said. “Save your money for food!”

The push for open educational resources developed from the fledglings of open source, open knowledge and open access movements that began in the early ‘90’s. 

California was one of the early pioneers in open educational resources, following a grant in 1994, California State University developed MERLOT, an online resource that provided access to then mostly-free curriculums for higher education all the way up to today. 

In 1999, at Rice University, a professor of electrical and computer engineering named Richard Baraniuk created a website then called Connexions, but known today as OpenStax, to provide a space for people to share and freely adopt educational materials online.

“OpenStax is akin to a publisher,” Archibald said, explaining that many teachers like to use OpenStax for its option of having a free online version, or a hard copy printed to cost, meaning there’s no profit for the publisher as well as the instructional materials, such as quizzes offered. 

In 2001, faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology proposed to offer course material for free online. They launched the site, called OpenCourseWare in 2003 with 500 courses offered initially. By 2017, there were more than 2,400 courses available online. Today, MIT is one of many higher level institutions that offer courses free online- including Harvard, University of California Irvine, London College University, Columbia, Yale and Princeton

“As someone who advocates for OER, I’m very grateful for these institutions,” Archibald said. 

Thanks to the work of these institutions, educators and other advocates across the country, open educational resources have been brought to the mainstream of public attention. OERs are more accessible today now than ever before. 

Archibald encourages students to get involved with OER. In the future, her plan is to visit division meetings to get her name and face out to faculty and set up staff OER training on flex days to further advance the OER initiative at OCC. 

“Students advocating for OER would be very helpful,” Archibald said. “Students can advocate for OER by expressing interest and desire. When students have a chance to give feedback, you might say ‘the textbook was too expensive.’”

Archibald said that in classes where OER are used, retention rates are higher, and the students use and refer to their textbook more. 

Perkins has also positive feedback from students in his class. 

“The students love it,” Perkins said. “I have some email me about it. The time I notice it the most is during class time. I’ll see them pull up OpenStax on their phones or laptop.”

“I’m glad to have a position to promote OER,” Archibald said. “The goal I set for myself is to reach 20% of classes with zero percent cost by fall 2021.”  

For OCC library’s resources for OER, look here

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