Open Educational Resources and the Community College

OER (Open Educational Resources) is the new buzzword whizzing around college campuses these days.  The term was “born” at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on Open Courseware, where it was defined as:

“…teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.  Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work.”

So what does this exactly mean for a community college? It makes total sense for community colleges to really look at OER as a way to make college even more affordable for our students.  Recently, my school was lucky to have Marilyn Billings, who is the Scholarly Communication Librarian (my dream job) at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She came down to talk to us about how UMass has really invested in this initiative, and the joys and pitfalls they encountered along the way.  She shared with us some statistics on the cost of text books that were pretty startling:


According to the BLS, the cost of textbooks have risen 802%. As a librarian, this isn’t really new “news.”  How many times do students walk into your library looking for textbooks because they simply can’t afford them?  I just had a student the other day walk in looking for a psychology book for her PSY 101 class because it was $265.  Most of our students at community colleges simply can’t afford these really expensive books that have no buy-back value.  The worst offenders are the professors who order custom text books.  They have zero buy back value from our book store.

UMass Amherst decided they wanted to seek out cheaper alternatives, so in 2011 they launched a pilot program for faculty to redesign their courses using only OER.  At the end of this program, Billings shared her results with us:

  • Over 30 faculty participants, 44 courses (Gen Ed through Graduate level)
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Sciences
  • Professional Schools
  • $39,000 invested, over $1 million in savings for more than 5000 students

The feedback was positive, with comments that student grades had actually increased.

Some of the pitfalls were:

  • Time consuming to find high quality OER resources
  • Time consuming to create OER
  • May lack prepared tests/quizzes that commercial  textbooks offer
  • Student preference for reading offline
  • Longevity of file formats
  • Lack of knowledge by faculty
  • Resources
  • Licenses, copyright
  • Support

Here at my institution, we also started a pilot program with faculty.  It involved the librarians, distance learning team, and instructional designers. Out of the group who were interested  at our initial informational meeting, only a handful actually completed the turn over to OER. Many found it was simply too time consuming, and some were not comfortable having their syllabus turned over to the “public domain.”  Another drawback is that students still like to print everything out.  We see this with our on-line courses and the PowerPoints professors use.  Also, many of our students receive book vouchers.  This means that if an instructor wanted to use a textbook from Openstax  for their text book, to print it out would be $70. This is cheap by text book standards, but not so much if you are a student who relies on a book voucher. You could download the PDF for free, but as I wrote previously students tend to want to print it out, establishing more of a cost burden on them.  We will be running another pilot program soon, but this time following UMass Amherst’s lead by having faculty apply (instead of a free for all) and having them in cohorts.  This seems to be the better practice when facilitating a pilot like this.

I also should mention as a librarian to brush up on your copyright knowledge. There are a lot of great resources out there and MOOCs. I just took a fabulous course run by Duke University, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Emory.


Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER)
a joint effort by individual community colleges, regional and statewide consortia, the Open Courseware Consortium,  the American Association for Community Colleges, the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges, and many other educational partners to develop and use open educational resources,  open textbooks, and open courseware to expand access to higher education and improve teaching and learning.

OER Libguide from Bristol Community College adapted with permission from Umass Amherst:

OER Libguide


The following guidelines are excerpted from the Conference Report to the 1976 Copyright Act. They apply to classroom copying in a non-profit educational setting.