This week on WCET Frontiers Blog, Tanya Spilovoy, Ed. D., Director of Open Policy for WCET, discusses the outcomes of the Colorado Open Educational Resources (OER) Council recent work in open textbook initiatives, her research and consulting role with WCET, and how OER can be leveraged to meet state higher education goals. WCET is thrilled with the accomplishments of our Z Initiative (see Tanya’s description below).
Enjoy the read!
-Lindsey Downs, WCET
“Our goal is simple. We want to increase student affordability and success here in Colorado,” said Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “WCET has been great in supporting and informing the work of our OER Council as they developed a plan to help us get there. We’ll keep striving to be a leader in this work.”
Summary of the Work
Colorado college and university students could soon experience lower textbook costs due to coordinated leadership and potential state funding. This is good news for student leaders who have been advocating for lower textbook costs. “CU-Boulder has a plan, a working group, and chancellor buy-in, but we are hopeful that the legislature will fund the efforts for open educational resources on a state-wide level,” Troy Fossett, President of Internal Affairs, University of Colorado Student Government. Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) Open Educational Resources Council, a state-wide group established by SB17-258, addressed concerns and worked on a solution. As the consultant, I worked with the OER Council and WCET team to design and deploy three Colorado-wide surveys to evaluate the existing use of open educational resources by public institutions of higher education, analyze the data, and write a report with survey results and recommendations for the future. The OER Council then used my report, Open Educational Resources in Colorado, to draft a plan and make recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee and the Education Committees of the Colorado General Assembly.
The OER Council requested $2,820,070 in funding to launch a Colorado OER Initiative to increase awareness, adoption, and creation of open educational resources. Recommendations include offering grants for institutions and individuals, professional development, the establishment of a permanent State OER Council, yearly reports, and a full-time staff position at the CDHE. While we eagerly await good news from Colorado’s legislature, let’s talk about how OER supports the state’s higher education goals.
What were the project highlights?
- Survey Participation was Remarkably High. Three surveys were used to gather input from a variety of stakeholders:
- Colorado Public Systems of Higher Education OER Survey—This survey was designed to capture OER activities and initiatives originating from and managed by system offices. Survey instructions and questions explicitly asked system offices not to include OER activities at the campuses because each campus would respond separately.
- Colorado Public Institutions of Higher Education OER Survey—To meet the legislative objective to “review and evaluate the extent to which each public institution of higher education is using Open Educational Resources and options for and obstacles to increasing the use of Open Educational Resources in public institutions of Higher Education.” Of the 31 separate public institutions of higher education in Colorado, 27 responded.
- Solicitation of Individual Input OER Survey—3,009 surveys were received from a broad sample of stakeholders. Higher education students made up nearly 60% of respondents who took the solicitation of Individual Input Survey. The next largest category was “Faculty” (19.9 percent), when categories of “tenured faculty, tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty” were added together. “College parent was the third largest percentage of respondents at 9.5 percent.
- There are OER champions doing great work on Colorado campuses, but they need coordination, funding, resources and professional development to make a larger impact for students. System offices and institutions said they would support a variety of open educational resources and/or open textbook activities if they had adequate funding and support. In addition, 100 percent of system and institutions reported that they would support workshops for faculty, librarians, and campus OER champions.
- OER aligns with Colorado Rises, the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) Masterplan, which identifies four strategic goals to advance education and talent development in the state. The CDHE has established several student-focused initiatives focused on meeting the objective: “By 2025, 66 percent of the adult population will attain postsecondary credentials aligned with their interests, equipping them for success.”
OER can help achieve Colorado’s Goals.
“Use of OER is a very clear strategy to speak to two very important concerns/barriers to education for today’s learner populations: cost and convenience. Judiciously applying OER to these two critical decision-making issues can lower the barriers for a wide variety of students.” Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director, WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.
A well-executed open educational resources initiative would help educators in Colorado meet their educational goals to improve quality, ensure affordability, and promote access to postsecondary education. Nationally, the cost of textbooks has risen more than the rate of inflation, and in Colorado alone, total student textbook costs were estimated to be around $148 million in 2016. Other states, like Georgia, North Dakota, and Oregon, have seen significant student savings in the first year of implementation; Colorado also wants to see a big return on investment.
In addition to cost savings, research has shown that OER can positively impact student outcomes. Feldstein et. al found that students enrolled in courses using OER had better grades and lower failure and withdrawal rates than students enrolled in courses using traditional textbooks. Tidewater Community College students have shown to achieve higher course retention and grades in courses using OER. Adopting, adapting, and authoring OER has been shown to reduce costs for students and allows faculty the freedom to innovate and customize their curriculum.
According to Open Educational Resources in Colorado, the state is poised to launch a successful initiative due to the convergence of four factors:
- Colorado college students are interested in reducing their cost of college attendance;
- The CDHE’s Four Strategic Goals align well with an OER Initiative;
- Public institutions of higher education administrators and faculty are willing to explore the use of OER;
- The Colorado Legislative Council is evaluating options for policy and funding. I am so grateful that I was able to be part of the OER work in Colorado, and I’m eagerly looking forward to what they will do next.