Paul Stacey

Open Course Library Kickoff

I spent April 26-27, 2010 in Vancouver Washington attending the Open Course Library Kick-Off meeting of the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges.

The Open Course Library initiative is one of four Washington higher education programs being funded through a $5.3 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation three year grant. The Open Course Library portion of the grant is $1.8 million.

The Open Course Library initiative has the following goals:
– design 81 high enrollment, high quality courses for face-to-face (FTF), hybrid, and online delivery
– lower textbook costs for students (< $30)
– provide new resources for faculty to use in their courses
– fully engage Washington's college system in the global Open Educational Resources (OER) movement
– improve completion rates through good design and affordability

The kick-off meeting is for developers from across the college system who have received grants to support development of the first 43 courses. Phase 2 for the remaining 38 courses is slated for 2011.

I attended this event as a guest at the kind invitation of Cable Green who is Project Director for the Open Course Library initiative.

I went with a number of goals:
1. Assess the degree of state level support for the initiative vs. foundation level support
2. Learn more about the open/low cost textbook strategy being used as part of Open Course Library
3. Compare and contrast the Open Course Library initiative with BCcampus' own open educational resource initiative
4. Explore the potential for some kind of collaboration or partnership between our initiatives

The Open Course Library initiative is fascinating in many ways.

At the state level a Strategic Technology Plan for Washington State Community and Technical Colleges notes that: “Using open educational resources – and contributing to them – requires significant change in the culture of higher education. It requires thinking about content as a common resource that raises all boats when shared. It requires replacing our “not invented here” attitude with a “proudly borrowed from there” orientation. And it requires a new willingness to share and distribute the best of our own course content and software, and to participate in creating and maintaining open textbooks.”

The Plan goes on to list a number of guiding principles which includes one that states: “We will cultivate the culture and practice of using and contributing to open educational resources.”

Kudos to the state for producing a Strategic Technology Plan and supporting OER!

I particularly like the way Open Course Library is targeting development of high enrollment courses. Of the 43 courses being developed in the first phase the top ten in terms of annual enrollments are:
1. English Composition I with enrollments of 42,301
2. Intermediate Algebra with enrollments of 25,747
3. Intermediate Algebra with enrollments of 25,255
4. General Psychology with enrollments of 24,611
5. Pre-college English with enrollments of 17,658
6. English Composition II with enrollments of 16,165
7. Introduction to Chemistry with enrollments of 10,382
8. Precalculus I with enrollments of 9,307
9. General Biology with enrollments of 8,830
10. Lifespan Psychology with enrollments of 7,853

By targeting high enrollment courses the Open Course Library initiative immediately generates benefits for over 188,109 students annually. Thats a lot of students!

Enhanced design and digital resources for these courses will improve the teaching and learning experience for students and faculty alike.

I also really like the cost savings/affordability goals of the Open Course Library initiative. As part of the development of these courses the accompanying textbook must be $30 or less. The text can be in digital or print form. Publishers have been given the list of courses being developed and asked to inform developers what they can make available for that price. In Washington annual tuition is around $3K/year with textbooks adding a further $1K. Many textbooks are in the $100 to $200 range and textbook prices have been increasing at approximately 6%/year, a rate higher than annual inflation. A strategy that reduces textbook price to less than $30, when multiplied by annual enrollments represents a significant cost savings to students.

The Open Course Library grants will produce a complete digital course including:
– syllabus with clear learning outcomes
– course curriculum
– instructional materials
– formative and summative assessments
– surveys
– grading rubric
– cover letter describing tips and tricks of how to teach the course
– cover letter for licensing
– etc.

All the files for the entire course are submitted at the end of development. They will then be ported into the Angel Learning Management System (LMS) and exported in IMS Common Course Cartridge format that allows use in any LMS. Twenty eight of the states thirty four colleges use Angel so this requirement is far easier to meet than ours in BC where institutions are using Moodle, Desire2Learn and Blackboard.

All courses will be licensed for open sharing using Creative Commons (CC_BY). Third party copyright material used in the course must be documented.

Courses will be shared within the state via the Washington Online Angel system and with the world via Connexions

It will be interesting to see how this strategy plays out. Sharing with the world through Connexions requires breaking a course down into modules. Anyone else wanting to use that content within their own LMS will not easily be able to do so as Connexions content requires use of the Connexions web site or export as a .pdf which is inherently non-modifiable.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Open Course Library initiative is the recognition that development of digital courses is a team effort. Each faculty course designer gets a grant of $15K. When the call for proposals went out other complementary grants were also made available. Complementing the faculty course designers who provide the subject matter expertise are grants awarded to:
– instructional designers
– librarians
– institutional researchers
– ADA/Disability universal designers, and
– global citizen/multicultural experts

These complementary team members are responsible for supporting the development of all 43 courses. Each instructional designer, librarian, institutional researcher, etc. also has received a $15K grant. A comprehensive team approach like this has tremendous potential for creating exemplary courses. As introductions and presentations were made by all groups over the two days enthusiasm and excitement built as it became apparent support needed to ensure success was in place.

To further enhance the liklihood of producing great courses the instructional design team will use the Quality Matters Program This program, uses a peer review process and national standards of best practices to ensure a course is designed to promote student learning. I’m particularly impressed with the Quality Matters rubric standards. In addition faculty are required to get feedback on their course design plan with at least two other system faculty in their discipline who are not part of the grant project.

Finally, it is wonderful to see a program like this walk the talk. Communication and sharing about the program and ensuing development is being openly posted at:

In looking around at all the OER initiatives taking place I see a need for more interaction and collaboration between initiatives. It seems everyone is willing to enter into development of OER but few are interested in actually reusing the OER of others or collaborating around building OER collectively to create credentials. Going forward this year I see this as a strategy for BCcampus.

In discussion with Cable Green I committed to assessing what OER resources the BCcampus initiative has generated that could contribute to the development efforts of the 43 high enrollment courses being developed through the Open Course Library. We also discussed the potential to create collaborations and interactions between developers working on OER resources in a common field of study across OER initiatives. I’d love to see a “swap meet” where all developers creating say, biology OER resources, meet and show each other what they’ve developed along with exploring the potential to collaborate together going forward.

This is such an exciting field and I thank all participants at the Open Course Library Kick Off for allowing me to be a guest. It’s fantastic to see the enthusiasm and drive from all involved.

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Thanks for sharing. This looks to be an exciting initiative in the area of open educational resources, and it will be interesting to see the results. As you point out, there are various OER initiatives to create resources, thanks in part to people like Bill and Melinda Gates and the Hewlitt Foundation, who have provided funding in this area. As you also point out, reuse of these resources is low. Perhaps if there were some kind of “clearing house” or mechanism for searching effectively across many sources, the rate of reuse might increase. [?]

Comment by Ethel Enstrom


I agree that the process of finding OER needs to be improved. A number of “clearing houses” that allow you to search across many sources exist. I wonder if you’ve tried the OER Commons Or Free Learning created by my colleague Scott Leslie at BCcampus I’d be interested in knowing how helpful you find these if you get a chance to try them.


Comment by godsvilla

Thanks, Paul. I’ve probably taken a quick look at those sources at some point but will try searching with a specific resource in mind and will let you know how it goes.


Comment by Ethel Enstrom

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