Una Daly is the director of the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER), a division of the Open Education Consortium (OEC). She is a regular speaker at OER conferences and summits focused on best practices for open education at community colleges. I recently had the chance to talk to her about her work within the OER movement and its impact at the community college level. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. 

Let’s start by talking about how you became involved in the OER movement.

About a year before I started working at Foothill College, Dr. Martha Kanter, who was then chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, began developing her vision for open education at community colleges. At the time, elite private and some public universities were engaged in OER but it was new territory for community colleges even though it aligns perfectly with the community college mission of providing the top 100% of students with a high quality and affordable education. 

I was an adjunct faculty for the Computer Technology Information Systems department when I heard about the OER initiative which was focused on building a community of practice for OER adoption at community colleges. The concept of reducing barriers for students and working across state boundaries was exciting to me. The project was already taking shape thanks to the efforts of the Dean of Online Learning Dr. Judy Baker, Director Jacky Hood, and DeAnza College Professor Barbara Illowsky who was the first to write and adopt an open textbook as part of her Introduction to Statistics course. 

Tell me about your current position at the CCCOER.

Back in 2011, CCCOER had grown beyond its original inception and we merged with the Open Education Consortium (OEC), a larger and global organization with members around the world. We were the first community college system to join and now make up about 30% of the worldwide membership. CCCOER’s members span 34 U.S. states with about half representing individual colleges and the other half statewide systems or large districts.  We support the leaders and practitioners who do the work of training faculty to develop and adopt OER. Those involved can be anyone from high level administrations, deans and directors, librarians, instructructional staff, faculty and even students. We share best practices for developing OER and Zero Textbook Cost Degrees to help members launch their open education projects and build them to be sustainable.   

As our statewide and large system membership grows, we are seeing a need to provide more regional leadership collaboration opportunities to share information and solve issues across institutional and state boundaries.  This is an effort we are launching this fall.

Why are community college students in particular impacted by the textbook affordability issue?

Community colleges serve the most diverse student population of all our higher education institutions.  Many are first generation and lower income so expensive textbooks hit them especially hard. Community colleges were created to provide high-quality and affordable education for all students and thus the focus on reducing barriers including cost for these non-traditional students is key to the mission.

How do Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) degrees encourage college completion?

So up until four or five years ago, we mostly supported individual faculty who were adopting OER in their classrooms.  In a few cases this led to full department adoption which was wonderful. For example, at Scottsdale Community College the entire math department transitioned to OER but the average student might only take one or two math courses. There is research that shows that the cost of textbooks causes students to drop classes or take different classes extending their time to graduation.  Many community college students attend part-time already simply because they can’t afford the textbooks and tuition for an entire semester while also supporting themselves and their families. So a ZTC degree lets a student know they won’t ever have to worry about a huge textbook bill, which removes a significant barrier that might prevent them from dropping classes or dropping out altogether.

What part do OER and ZTC degrees play in student recruitment and retainment?  

We in the OER movement have learned that, unfortunately, while faculty members may adopt OER, the adoption isn’t always visible to the students who need it the most. Students who work 20 hours a week are less likely to be aware that these free, open resources exist and can help them earn their degrees. Outreach is important including counselors and student services promoting OER and ZTC to students.  Five states including California have passed laws requiring institutions to mark courses that are zero textbook cost or low cost to help students find these options while registering for classes.

For a community college, offering zero textbook cost degrees can serve as a marketing tool to attract students who are looking for more affordable options. Additionally, a college that promotes OER demonstrates that it is conscious of the affordability issues and is making efforts to help. It signals to students that the college is really on their side and this support can motivate students to enroll and complete their degree.

What are some of the next growth areas within the OER movement?

Guided Pathways at two-year colleges is a nationwide strategy for substantially improving graduation rates and to narrow gaps in completion among student groups,  There is a natural alignment between Guided Pathways and ZTC degrees to reduce equity gaps and help keep students on the path towards graduation by reducing barriers.

Workforce development is another key focus for community colleges and this is still an area of growth for open educational resources.  Many member institutions have expressed a need to find and develop more open resources to support their workforce programs. 

Explain College Promise and how it has become part of the OER conversation. 

College Promise is a program where the first year of college is tuition-free for qualifying high school students. Participating colleges will pick up the cost of textbooks which can be considerable even with some reuse of the textbooks.  But what if they adopted OER? It would save the colleges a significant amount of money each year and students can print materials that they choose to keep.

Speaking of high school students, they’ve recently become a growing part of the OER discussion.

Indeed. High school dual-enrollment programs are another growth area within the OER movement. We’re hearing from more and more community colleges that 25% upwards to 50% of those enrolled are actually high school students. But who buys their textbooks? Sometimes it’s the school district. Sometimes it’s the college. Sometimes it’s the student’s family? So now, high schools are requesting OER-based dual-enrollment college courses to offset that burden.

How does the idea of Open Pedagogy relate to the OER movement?

The cost of textbooks is not the only element driving OER, there’s also interest in improving pedagogy. Open Pedagogy is the term used to describe these new open practices and is gaining momentum to improve the learning experience for students. Open textbooks allow instructors to edit and customize materials to make them more relevant but they can also include students in the development process.  Engaging students in their learning this way allows them to help educate their peers and also share with subject matter experts outside the classroom. So openness in education changes the way teaching itself is done and gives students more ownership of their learning providing skills that will help them to be more successful in the job market after graduation.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about OER? 

It’s a really incredible time for folks like me in the OER space as we see this amazing movement become mainstream and expand to so many institutions. We’re excited to see the impact it can have to improve teaching and learning and help students to be successful now and in the future.