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OER Degree Links Completion, Equity, and Faculty Engagement


Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) received funding from Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative in 2016 making it possible to offer an Associate Degree in Biology where all courses in the pathway use open educational resources (OER) instead of commercial textbooks.  The degree is a Direct Transfer Agreement (DTA), Major-Related Program (MRP) which guarantees that students completing the DTA/MRP will receive 90 units toward their baccalaureate program when transferring to a participating university in Washington state.

While transfer students studying biology have been the primary beneficiaries of this degree, all LWTech students are required to take coursework in math, English, social sciences, and humanities, so all students benefit from the OER courses in these areas.


Sally Heilstedt, Dean of Instruction – Engagement and Learning and OER Degree Project Lead
Sharon Raz, Department Chair and Adjunct Faculty – Social Sciences
Katherine Kelley, Library Technician and OER Degree Project Support

Published on December 05, 2018


OER is the “sweet spot” of a number of LWTech’s college initiatives: completion, equity, and faculty engagement. Initially, the motivation was to reduce the cost of attending college and ensure all students have access to the course materials on day one.  LWTech students may pay up to $1,050.00 for textbooks for a single quarter in gen ed courses (that’s 70+ hours at a $15/hour job). Because of the high cost of textbooks, some students choose not to purchase textbooks or have to wait for funding to come through and therefore do not have an equitable opportunity for success. LWTech also wanted to empower faculty members and students to shape course content to be more relevant, engaging and include diverse points of view.


Initially, LWTech experienced turnover in the lead role of their OER degree project and struggled to get started for a number of reasons, including feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the project. To get past this obstacle, they divided up and assigned work to individuals, but this led to isolation. This was addressed by creating an incredible Core Team, which includes: a Dean of Instruction, faculty librarians, a library technician, chemistry faculty lead, math faculty lead, and social science faculty lead. An instructional administrator was recently added who oversees scheduling and a humanities faculty lead is joining soon.

Most of the other struggles were technical. The one with the greatest impact was ensuring that faculty, especially adjunct faculty, were scheduled to teach the classes for which they had developed OER. Once the faculty leads joined the Core Team, they made sure class assignments were aligned with the project.

Library Team

Library Team


OER Degree Implementation

The OER Degree Initiative was inspired by math and science faculty who had already adopted and adapted OER in their courses. When the project started, the project lead directly recruited individual faculty who taught the courses in the pathway. The faculty worked independently with some support from the lead and the librarians. It wasn’t until a year into the project that the OER Core Team model was adopted, which brought faculty leaders from different disciplines and the library together. Once that team was established it served as a launching point for the faculty leaders to get others from their departments involved. The leaders then attended Achieving the Dream’s 2018 OER Degree Summit, other conferences, and regular meetings. They also hosted events to increase student awareness on campus which are described below. Faculty leaders are the key to the success in implementing and promoting the project.

LWTech is very fortunate to have strong support from college leadership since the proposal stage of the OER Degree Initiative. The Vice President of Instruction(VPI) identified OER as the “sweet spot” of three major initiatives: completion, equity, and faculty engagement. In addition, the college President seeks out regular updates about the project, and the project itself is led by a Dean of Instruction. The Dean and VPI present annually to the Board of Trustees about progress on the project. The Dean plans to ensure ongoing engagement of college leadership through continued updates, regularly revisiting alignment of OER with the college mission and strategic goals, and including leadership on the communications described below.

Creating awareness among students

open for learning - OER infographic

The OER Degree Initiative team had a blast designing ways to create awareness among students. Doing so has required engaging folks from across the college, so both students and other stakeholders were involved. In Spring of 2018, the OER Core Team developed the Open for Learning brand for the project and began consistently connecting with students in the following ways:

  • Courses marked as OER in the online schedule
  • Digital signs posted during registration
  • Posters hung around campus (by Student Programs) during registration
  • Banners hung on campus
  • Emails listing OER courses sent to all students when the online schedule goes out. Advisers and other student services staff also receive the same email

In addition to these frequent communications (all branded with Open for Learning), LWTech engaged advisers and other support services and faculty through events and activities – which also targeted students.

  • Open Education Week 2018 (OEW18): Advisers, instructional team members, and faculty all wore Open for Learning t-shirts (with which they received a half-page handout containing the definition of OER and its key benefits) on Tuesday. That same day, the OER Core Team hosted a booth in the student commons in partnership with Student Programs. The booth included activities related to textbook cost, OER cookies, and information about the courses that use OER. This coming year, the activity will be based on open pedagogy – students will be invited to contribute to an openly licensed Students’ Guide to LWTech.
    Student Activity Participants

    OEW18 Student Activity Participants

    Open Ed Week Display and Activities

    OEW18 Display and Activities


  • Advising Day: LWTech has a quarterly Advising Day on the first day of registration. No classes are held, and it is very busy in the advising office. Based on an idea shared by Quill West, Open Education Project Manager at Pierce College District, we created Adviser Care Packages that included a “Thank You” from the Core Team and information about OER courses in the schedule.

    Advising Team

    Advising Team

  • First Day of the Quarter: Starting in Winter 2019, LWTech will post instruction and student services team members around the campus to help students find classes. They will all be wearing the Open for Learning t-shirts to help students find them.


Thus far, LWTech has primarily tracked cost savings for OER degrees. In 2017-2018, with just 8 courses certified, they had saved students $62,000.00. The whole math department uses OER and saved $135,000.00 for students in the same year.

Initial success data comparing OER courses with traditional courses has showed that PSYC& 100 General Psychology students in OER sections had an 87% course completion rate and earn an average 3.4 GPA. In sections that use traditional textbooks, students have an 80% course completion rate and earn an average 3.2 GPA (2017-2018 academic year).

Workforce Development team

Workforce Development team

Lessons Learned

The Core Team model has been highly effective for implementing the OER degree project. It not only gets all the key people in the room and involved in decisions, but it also provides a community for those doing good but difficult work. LWTech is now using this model for other projects/initiatives.

OER adoption is truly good and difficult work. It seems simple, but to fully experience the benefits of OER, one really needs to engage with the material and engage students with it. LWTech is shifting focus to support open pedagogy/open practices alongside the use of OER.

LWTech prioritizes OER as the best way to increase faculty and student engagement with materials; however, as a technical college, a number of their programs will not be able to use strictly OER for the foreseeable future. The OER Degree Initiative piqued the interest of faculty in these programs. Instead of saying, “It won’t work for you,” we are looking at no-cost/low-cost options that meet the cost savings and engagement goals they have for OER.

Advice for starting an OER Degree

This work is best done in a community. Build a strong team first, made up of faculty, staff, and at least one administrator. Rely on one another, brainstorm together, and identify who best on your team can fulfill individual tasks. Charge department leaders with getting their colleagues on board. Reward leaders with opportunities for growth.

College Profile

Located just outside of Seattle, WA, Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) was founded in 1949. They are the only public institute of technology in the state of Washington and offer eight applied bachelor’s degrees, 43 associate degrees and 91 professional certificates in 42 areas of study. These include STEM-focused programs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.


LWTech: Our Story