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Creating an OER Culture on Campus

Lake Tahoe is often called “Poverty with a View”. Most of the students are low income and struggle to afford their education.  The publisher-based mathematics textbooks cost between $250 and $350 each.  Even if they use an online version of the textbook, the homework system that we used had an access fee of over $100.  This unreasonable cost prevented many of our low-income students from completing their math degrees. This especially affected our Hispanic population.  Moving to a Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) degree was a major step in ensuring that all students could afford their education.

Submitted by:

  • Larry Green, Mathematics Instructor
  • Melanie Chu, Library Director

ZTC Degree Pathway

  • Mathematics AS-T

Courses Include

MAT 152A, Beginning Algebra Part 1; MAT 152B, Beginning Algebra Part 2; MAT 154A, Intermediate Algebra; MAT 103A, College Algebra Part 1;MAT 103B, College Algebra Part 2; MAT 104, Trigonometry; MAT 105, Calculus 1;MAT 106, Calculus 2;MAT 107, Calculus 3;MAT 202, Vector Calculus; MAT 203, Linear Algebra;  MAT 204, Differential Equations;

Published on February 28, 2020
LTCC event for Open Education Week 2019

Open Education Week 2019 tabling to promote OER/ZTC awareness and get feedback from students. “Tell us your textbook stories” was the theme, and students were asked to share their experiences via a survey. We tabled Tues/Wed/Thurs during peak hours in the high-traffic Commons area. Snacks are critical to drawing students in, and bookstore gift card raffle prizes were also helpful. The most impactful part of the survey were the open-ended questions where students could share personal experiences.

Prior Experience

Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) had an AB798 grant.  Because of this, the faculty were educated on how to use OER materials for their courses.  Also, several of the general education courses had already made the transition to OER materials before the ZTC Degree grant began.  This allowed us to put most of our resources into moving to free math textbooks and developing MyOpenMath-based assignments to go with the free textbooks.

Planning & Challenges

The main challenge for launching the work was to find a team of California Community College mathematics professors who had computer programming experience and the time to be part of our development team. We used the California Mathematics Council Community Colleges (CMC3) campus representatives to help find qualified team members.  We also had a department meeting about it and fortunately, 100% of our LTCC math faculty were on board with the ZTC degree.

Faculty Engagement

Because of our campus culture and student equity needs, there were no issues or challenges with faculty engagement.  I just spoke with each faculty member individually to talk about the benefits of a ZTC math degree and all were sold on the idea within minutes of the discussion.

Stakeholder Engagement

Since LTCC is a very small college, I was able to work one on one with the administrators, counselors, librarian, bookstore manager, and others.  I found that face-to-face communication works better than email so I made many trips to their offices.

Student Awareness & Engagement

Our entire campus has rapidly moved from the expensive textbook model to OER and ZTC, so all students are aware of the change. They are appreciative and supportive.  In fact, if a course has an expensive textbook they often ask the instructor why.  The data on student success has and will be collected by our Institutional Effectiveness team.  They have been great to work with.


The biggest challenge was the fact that when we started, there were no zero-cost online homework systems that directly linked to the OpenStax textbooks that we wanted to use.  Fortunately, our team was able to develop full assignment sets that directly link to the books. Since the material was all newly created, there were many bugs and errors.  Now that the work has gone through a year of use, I have been able to fix all the major bugs and errors and now it is a very rare occurrence to have a student let me know of an error.

$ The Price is Right

To help faculty understand the cost of textbooks, during a workshop we played a “Price is Right” game. We compiled the most expensive textbooks that the library has purchased for its quarterly textbook loan program, writing prices on post-it notes. Five groups of mixed-discipline faculty had a stack of books at their tables – they had to match the prices to the appropriate textbooks. Faculty reported the activity being an eye-opener in terms of how much a student’s textbook load could be in a given quarter.


The biggest outcome is that the college is now fully on board with OER.  Every full-time faculty member and many of our adjuncts at the entire college, not just in math, are using OER materials for at least some of the courses.  Even better is that the homework assignments are now being used by colleges throughout the US and beyond.  For example, the statistics course assignments have been used by over 1200 classes throughout the world.  Given that the average class size is over 30 and that the textbooks tend to cost over $200 each, total savings is over $7,200,000 just for the statistics class alone.  The total savings are much larger considering that we have built assignments for over ten other courses that are rapidly becoming more and more popular.

Lessons Learned

Our college now has an OER culture and OER is always talked about when new instructors are hired and new courses are created.  Although our college has not changed any formal policies, it has definitely changed its culture.  With our grant, we were able to provide a modest stipend to the faculty to do the research and curate OER materials for any course that moves from an expensive book to OER.  A financial incentive is always helpful.


Fortunately, our college culture has changed so that faculty always first look for OER/ZTC when developing a new class.  With the ZTC funding over, there will still be movement to ZTC materials, however, the movement will be slower.  I have not heard of one faculty member who moved to ZTC say that they want to go back to an expensive book. We were not able to link the OER/ZTC pathways to Student Equity or Guided Pathways in order to receive continued funding.

Future Aspirations

We have already added a Geology and a Geography ZTC degree and the Psychology degree is just one course away from being ZTC.  Other departments are also close.