Open educational resources degrees are degree and certificate pathways based on OER instead of using commercial textbooks. There is a growing interest in establishing OER or zero textbook cost degrees because they can represent significant dollar savings and pedagogical shift. More importantly, an OER degree is a symbol that an institution is interested in investing heavily in open education as a tool for student success. Planning for OER degrees includes some specific steps not covered in a more general OER project plan. The following steps to OER degree planning should be paired with your overall OER initiative plan.

Video: “OER Degree Plan” by Jennifer Nohai-Seaman, Housatonics Community College is licensed under CC BY 4.0


Complete an assessment of your overall open education initiative with a sensitivity to how your current efforts might move your degree planning process forward. What successes have you experienced so far? What are some challenges? How can you leverage earlier work to support the OER Degree? How will the message of an OER degree help to support other open education work at your institution?

Research need

Conduct a quick review of your degree offerings. What degrees or certificates are most popular at your institution? How do you want the OER degree to impact students? Is there a specific group of students to be impacted? For example, do you want to increase enrollment in a specific degree area or at a location. Are you interested in saving students money? Is the main point of the OER degree to increase equity? The purpose of this step is to list the degrees and certificates that would be most effective if converted to OER degrees. It might be helpful to examine your institution’s strategic plans when considering these questions.

Assess Institutional Resources & Readiness

It is a good idea to inventory and organize the institutional support available for OER degree initiatives. What human resources, including faculty and support services, are available to this project. What funds are available? Is there enough interest from faculty who teach in the degree areas? What disciplines are likely to participate? What disciplines definitely won’t participate? Who will manage your project, and what training does that team need to be effective in helping faculty to develop open courses? What knowledge does your bookstore staff have about OER? What policies/practices exist to support an OER Degree? Don’t forget that an OER degree could affect the work of registration staff, advisors, the print shop, librarians, departmental support staff, and many others throughout the institution. While it is easy to think of OER degree development as a faculty initiative, the work will eventually impact most members of the institution in some way. Remember that most OER degree initiatives have champions in both the faculty and administration. Make sure that you have support in all levels of the institution, but specifically name executive sponsors who will continue to advocate for support tools surrounding the OER degree.

Choose a degree pathway

Once you have assessed your student needs, strategic plan, and faculty interest in developing an OER degree pathway, you can make a selection of which degree will be developed for your OER degree. Before beginning development, it is a good idea to create a list of courses in order to have a complete pathway. Based on the degree selected, generate a list of required courses and credits. Meet with faculty, advising, department leads, and student advocates to select appropriate electives when there is choice available in the degree plan. Be sure to consider developmental education courses and prerequisites where appropriate. At the end of your planning session, there should be a list of courses that make up the curriculum for a degree in your selected pathway. Use this list to begin your OER degree plan.

Build an OER degree plan

The OER degree planning document supports the planning and management of transitioning the identified courses to OER. Document the current enrollment, textbook cost, faculty approach to OER, first term to be offered, and lead faculty for each course. The project manager should work with support teams in generating this plan. Keep in mind, things might change, however a solid plan will help the team to stay focused on the overall goal.

Survey Open Materials

Some issues that may affect the schedule include faculty interest and time, as well as availability of open materials in certain subject areas. As you schedule courses for development, survey available open materials to determine what is available, what needs to be created in development of the OER degree. What courses might be significant barriers to completing degree? In some cases you might choose to switch out some courses in favor of others where open materials are more readily available. In other cases, you might add time and budget for resources for particular courses because open materials might need significant revision for use in your classes.

Establish a timeline

Based on resource availability, and current development speed what is an appropriate timeline for development of the degree? Decide how you want to present your OER degree to your community. Would you like to have all of the courses in the degree sequence developed before you announce open courses to students? Are you more interested in developing the courses in the sequence that students might take them? Your timeline might be established by availability of funds or by benchmarks set by the strategic plan. However, it is a good idea to establish clear start and end dates, particularly for course development.

Write an assessment plan

As you begin your project, it is nice to know how you want to end up. Once your OER degree is established, what will tell you it is successful? How will you know if you are helping students meet their goals? What will give you an indication if your institution should keep investing in OER? If you establish assessment protocols in advance of developing courses, you might be able to tweak your development process to better support overall project assessment.

Begin Development

Starting the development process might include a kickoff event, or at least a meeting with project team members. It is a good idea to establish clear goals for each course development and to provide guidelines for success in creating open courses for your institution as you begin development of the OER degree.