Our Early Childhood Education certificate and even degree completers are going into a low-wage field, where they will struggle to make ends meet, let alone repay student loans or pay off credit cards that they may use to purchase textbooks. We believe that we are ethically obligated to reduce their educational costs in whatever ways we can.
In addition to often being very expensive, publishers’ textbooks are often not quite the right fit for what we want our students to invest their time and energy in. And when we teach courses as zero textbook cost (ZTC) with compiled open access materials, we often have gaps in content and are dependent on those resources remaining available (which is almost always completely beyond our control or even awareness until we stumble on a dead link). Writing our own textbooks allows us to focus on the “important stuff” that we feel is most beneficial to our students.
As we finish rolling out the books, we will be able to engage our entire faculty and our students to continuously make improvements in the book, thus increasing our effectiveness. We also intend to compile instructor resources that will provide the missing ancillaries.
College of the Canyons has a long history of supporting OER, both through national involvement with CCCOER and through local administrative support. We participated in both rounds of AB798 funding from the California State University Chancellor’s Office. College of the Canyons was the co-coordinator for the California Community Colleges’ ZTC Degree Program, and we had a ZTC Degree Equity Champion. When the statewide academic senate’s OER Initiative (OERi) was launched I (Jennifer Paris) became the regional lead for the OERi and our college applied and had a project funded. I am sure those have impacted the structure of support we have here at our college. I had very clear footprints to follow and a solid support system that many other ZTC college grantees likely did not have.
Planning and Challenges
Writing seven books is far more time consuming than any of us could have imagined. And although compensation for work beyond contractual obligations is important, finding time in already busy schedules was by far the most challenging aspect of this work. No one exactly knew what they had agreed to do and found it to be more complicated and time-intensive than expected. This resulted in many missed deadlines and struggles with the workload. We lost three collaborators in the process, often without formal notification.
Other challenges included:
- Maintaining collaboration. Some teams had more successful models than others. Meeting regularly seemed to be the most effective for ensuring progress and ongoing communication.
- Finding source content that has appropriate licensing. Knowing what to look for and where to look for it, was challenging
- Bringing together the work of multiple authors into a cohesive text. The groups that worked together were better. Intensive editing helped with this, but it is still noticeable in some of the books.
The most successful teams worked to their timelines and/or met regularly. Strategies that did NOT work well:
- Finding and using appropriately licensed source content was challenging for many faculty, even with training on Creative Commons licensing and having support in searching.
- Trying to have whole team meetings. Only a handful of people could make it and then trying to get them information was challenging.
- Getting people to respond to email has been challenging. I do not see many of the collaborators (at all or on a regular basis).
- While authors and reviewers committed to both self-imposed and externally imposed timelines, very few of the books were completed on those timelines.
- We are still figuring out the best way to house and maintain the books and gather data through surveys.
College of the Canyons provides an environment in which OER adoption and development is supported. We have strong public support from our Chancellor and other administrators. OER projects are housed in our Online Education Department, whose classified staff and administrator are fully engaged in supporting OER. One of our deans consistently writes successful grant applications to provide funding for OER, including a wonderful team of part-time employees who assist with searching for content, editing manuscripts, creating illustrations, and formatting for accessibility. Our local academic senate and student government have both adopted resolutions supporting OER. All of this support has been invaluable to me, as I could not have done everything involved on my own.
Student Awareness & Engagement
The courses that we developed are marked in the schedule, so we did not have to address that beyond ensuring that our courses are marked correctly. Our individual faculty talk to their students about the OER textbooks. It is our goal to feature this more on our website and pursue other marketing opportunities. We collect student feedback on the books through Google Form surveys. We will be able to analyze success outcomes with the data provided by our Institutional Research staff. Beyond our courses, the College’s OER team promotes OER via student events, on the College website, and at key committee meetings (e.g., Educational Technology Committee, Equity Committee).
Challenges included for the project included:
- We had to extend deadlines and get creative about piloting the open textbooks as they continued to be developed while teaching with them.
- Creating cohesive books with multiple collaborators required strong content editing. The piloting faculty needed to provide feedback to produce the next version updates
Spring 2020 is the first time we will be fully engaging our pathway. Delays due to unrealistic deadlines and a decision to stagger the switch to OER to manage faculty workload have prevented the collection of solid data. However, we will have updated data on student success in ZTC courses from the fall 2019 semester soon.
Using approximate enrollment numbers (from census) and a $100 price point for the replaced textbooks, cost savings to students so far are:
- 101 OER book has saved students $52,500
- 104 OER book has saved student $4,400
Total cost savings to date: $56,900
Spring 2020 four additional courses will be taught with the OER books. Cost savings calculated with 75% enrollment of course enrollment caps and a $100 price point for the replaced textbooks:
- 100 OER book will save students $8,800
- 103 OER book will save students $3,600
- 105 OER book will save students $4,100
- 106 OER book will save students $6,900
- 101 book will save students $25,600 (continued as OER)
- 104 book will save students $4,200 (continued as OER)
Total cost savings Spring 2020 (projected): $53,200
We will also be using the 102 book (for approximately 121 students), but as this course was previously taught with zero cost materials, so there is no new savings for students. This semester our department has no scheduled courses that will require students to purchase a textbook.
Unofficial student response so far has been positive and appreciative. And we have received thoughtful feedback with suggestions for ways to continue to improve the first book we piloted that was able to be incorporated into a new version for that book before even the other books were complete.
There has been mostly positive local faculty feedback so far. These books are being anticipated and used across the California Community Colleges and beyond. Three of the books are currently being translated into Spanish as well. So there is a much larger impact of this work than can be measured by looking at just our students.
OER creation is very time-consuming. Stipends likely do not adequately compensate for the time that writing OER books requires. Having administrative support, established infrastructure, and hourly staff to support with licensing, permission requests, formatting, copy editing, and attribution building is a helpful resource that allows faculty to focus on content.
We are planning to continue the feedback surveys for our students. Each book also has a survey for all downstream users as well as a Google Group to house derivatives and ancillary materials. There are also plans to meet at the end of the spring to debrief about the books and propose edits and changes for the next version. After that time, the books will be put on a revision cycle for regular updates. We are looking to see if we can provide compensation for that work through professional development.
Our college sees OER/ZTC as foundational to both equity and Guided Pathways.
In the short term, we are focused on just making these books the best they can be. We also are currently working on creating openly licensed complete Canvas shells for each of these courses. Long-term goals include creating OER for the courses that we currently teach only as ZTC and to convert our last few courses that still rely on a publisher’s textbook to ZTC and/or OER. If we could be completely OER/ZTC as a department that would feel like a huge accomplishment for us and our students.