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General Studies OER Degree Provides a Foundation

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Montgomery College is developing a General Studies AA degree options using open educational resources (OER) so that students can complete their degree without paying for course materials. The initial General Studies OER degree options (or z-degrees) focus on two transfer paths within the program, Psychology and English although students are not limited to those transfer options. This degree typically serves 9,000 students each semester, but courses within the z-degree impact over 25,000 students each semester because the majority of the selected courses meet General Education requirements for any student.

The General Studies project provides a foundation for other OER projects at the college. Targeted student populations include low-income, first generation and minority students in programs such as Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES), Boys to Men, and Achieving the Promise Academy.   The full set of OER courses for the General Studies degree will be available in Spring 2018, with a small percentage piloting in Spring 2017 and the bulk of OER courses being available in Fall 2017.

Authors: Samantha Veneruso, English faculty, Chair, General Studies ProgramDr. Michael Mills, VP, Office of E-Learning, Innovation and Teaching Excellence

Published on March 21, 2017

Motivation

Montgomery College’s commitment to developing OER degree options is a desire to increase access, affordability, and success for Montgomery County’s diverse population, particularly for students who are marginalized or underserved.  Montgomery College’s mission and vision emphasize ”empowering students to change their lives” and being an “model of educational excellence, opportunity and success.” The College hopes that the General Studies OER Degree project will help more students complete degrees by increasing access to affordable, quality material; by using open materials and open instructional practices which target a diverse range of learning styles and interests thereby increasing student success; by decreasing overall student costs, and by providing model paths for students to complete a General Studies A.A. degree.

Three Initial Challenges

Three early challenges surfaced that involved rethinking of faculty support, sustainability, and registration access to OER courses by targeted students.

Content and Sustainability

Finding quality, open content is at the core of any OER project.   While some faculty have found existing open compilations to be effective with some supplementation and development, complete, immediately usable open collections are limited in some courses and disciplines.  For instance, Spanish faculty are struggling to find materials that provide consistency across the required three semester course sequence and that provide the depth of materials needed for practice and instruction.  Faculty teaching literature have expressed concerns that some courses are not suitable to OER as the content being studied reflects an author’s livelihood, and in order to introduce students to a diverse, multicultural, multi-time range of texts, there is a need to go beyond public domain literature.  Additionally, while there often seem to be many materials available, sometimes the licensing is complicated, unclear, or inaccurate. For instance, a faculty member adopted an existing collection licensed with a CC BY 4.0 creative commons license, but then found that the text relies too heavily on links to all rights reserved materials.   Finally, faculty have raised concerns about the sustainability of their materials, feeling that continually updating and maintaining the OER sites will be time consuming.   To support faculty, we have created centralized resources to find and evaluate existing OER. Additionally, ELITE, our professional development unit, has increased offerings of open labs and workshops related to OER and OER implementation. We also have asked disciplines involved to consider sustainability plans such as modifying the responsibilities of course coordinators.

Coordinating groups of faculty to work together

In order to scale the impact of the OER project quickly, for high enrollment General Education courses, we encouraged the disciplines to put together groups of faculty to develop common sets of materials they could all draw on, where possible. Some faculty teams are struggling to work collaboratively because of time, location, and pedagogical differences in how they approach their courses.  The time and resources to facilitate groups working together is a challenge.  Alternately, faculty who are working independently are building OER compilations for themselves more efficiently, but sharing those materials and encouraging others to adopt them is challenging.  We have scheduled online meetings and open labs to help faculty work together. We have set up a framework in Blackboard (our LMS) to help faculty create flexible and adaptable OER material sites that other faculty can easily adopt or customize.

Scheduling and targeting key populations

A key strategy for supporting our goals of access, success and completion for underserved populations is making optimal schedules available to our target populations. The time, oversight, and collaboration to create these schedules are limited.   We are relying on faculty volunteers to teach the OER courses, and ensuring that schedules from multiple disciplines with faculty volunteers line up effectively is challenging.  Further, reserving seats for target populations results in a manual registration process, requires close oversight, and an effective communication plan.  Additionally, there are other initiatives at the institution, such as increasing seat utilization, that impact scheduling and make chairs and deans wary of reserving seats.  We are identifying solutions to minimize the manual nature of providing overrides by creating a cohort code that will provide access to the designated sections.   Additionally, we have worked with communications to create a comprehensive plan for our target populations including direct mailing of brochures, information sheets to be included with financial aid award packets, information sessions with key student cohorts, and FAQ documents for counselors and advisors.

Implementation

The General Studies OER degree implementation began in fall 2016 with a cross-functional team.  The team has representation from academic affairs (deans, faculty, professional development staff, library), student affairs (counseling, registrar), institutional research and communications.  This team meets monthly to discuss academic concerns, student concerns and research efforts.  The academic members work closely to engage faculty in scheduling classes, finding and creating content, and mapping available OER content to course objectives, while the student affairs members engage their constituents in working with students as they register for classes. Montgomery College is developing General Studies A. A. degree options using open educational resources (OER) so that students can complete their degree without paying for course materials. The initial General Studies OER degree options (or z-degrees) focus on two transfer paths within the program, Psychology and English although students are not limited to those transfer options.   The General Studies degree typically serves 9,000 students each semester, but courses within the z-degree impact over 25,000 students each semester because the majority of the selected courses meet General Education requirements for any student. The General Studies project provides a foundation for other OER projects at the College. Targeted student populations include low-income, first generation and minority students in programs such as Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES), Boys to Men and Achieving the Promise Academy.   The full set of OER courses for the General Studies degree will be available in Spring 2018, with a small percentage piloting in Spring 2017 and the bulk of OER courses being available in Fall 2017.

Initial Results

Scaling Infrastructure

One of the key first semester results is the scaling of infrastructure. While we began increasing interest in OER materials with faculty, we spent more time ensuring that we could identify OER courses in the schedule, that students would be able to search effectively in the online catalog, and that there is a consistent course note for a “z-course.”  Additionally, we worked with the bookstore to ensure  the book ordering process allowed faculty to designate their course materials as OER in a way that students would understand.  As a result, in the Spring 2017 semester, we are able to accurately report strong z-course enrollment of more than 3,400 in about 200 course sections.

Raised awareness and interest in OER

The infrastructure scaling and scheduling conversations have created meaningful discussions among faculty and administrative leaders by asking them to engage in the OER degree work. While the members of the College have been talking about OER for a number of years, and the College has offered numerous professional development opportunities, the implementation of this OER degree project has asked the College community to engage and commit to pursuing OER and OER degrees. That engagement has raised awareness, accelerated interest, and sometimes alarm, about OER and the goals of access, affordability, and success.

Since this Spring 2017 is the first semester we have been able to identify and track z-courses and most of our grant courses are still piloting materials, we will not have learning outcome or other data to determine the impact of OER on student learning, success and retention until the end of Fall 2017.

College Profile

  • 3 campuses
  • 60,000 credit and non-credit students annually
  • Publicly-funded two-year community college
  • Member of Maryland Association of Community Colleges, Maryland Online
  • www.montgomerycollege.edu

Montgomery College was started in 1946 as an evening college at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. It has continued to expand and adapt to serve the needs of county residents enrolling over half a million students.  Today, it offers 130 degree and certificate programs along with various continuing education options including transfer to a four-year college or university, upgrading career skills, and entering  the job market.

Links to Additional Resources

Montgomery College’s Open Education site for Students and Faculty