Open Textbooks: learning from our WA neighbours

Connie Broughton Headshot 2Poised to complete a large-scale curriculum redesign in its community and technical colleges next month, Washington State is making a notable contribution to the open educational resources movement. The Open Course Library (OCL) was launched in 2010 by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), and will become an OER adoption site at the end of March.
We caught up this week with Connie Broughton, Director of eLearning and Open Education at the SBCTC, to obtain a current snapshot of the OLC.

What it is

  • The Open Course Library is a collection of open course materials developed for 82 high‑enrollment courses in Washington State colleges. It includes textbooks, readings, course lessons, activities, and assessments.
  • In October 2011, 42 courses with open content were released (Phase 1); 40 more will be ready in March 2013 (Phase 2).

Key goals

  • To lower textbook costs for students to $30 or less per book.
  • To give faculty a flexible approach to controlling course content through high-quality open resources.
  • To provide learning opportunities to everyone in the state as well as contribute to the global open education movement.

Building blocks

  • Course materials contain a mix of OER and original content, developed by teams of instructors, instructional designers, research librarians, and other support staff.
  • Both the content and the processes are open, and the materials will be shared with a creative commons license. Anyone can access, modify, adapt, translate, and improve on them.

Early impacts and lessons learned

  • Open textbooks are more easily adopted by instructors than other types of open content such as PDFs, links to the Internet, and discounted access to publisher texts.
  • A growing awareness of textbook costs and how to take advantage of open, digital resources at the faculty and college level is driving the notion that OER are here to stay.
  • Developers prefer building content in Google Docs (used in Phase 2) rather than a learning management system (used in Phase 1). Google Docs separates development from delivery, which makes it easier to search, share, and modify content.

Opportunity and challenge

  • Creating OER is not an overnight process. Scaling the OCL project up into several thousand courses means obtaining more funding and cutting costs: the $30 goal per student may be low for some courses.
  • Faculty buy-in is critical. Instructors like the ability to share, but some are concerned about the work involved in adopting OCL material and view it as “forced” content.
  • B.C. is taking steps Washington might want to follow, so there are opportunities to share processes, content, and ideas on faculty buy‑in.

Next steps…

  • Conduct faculty training and focus groups to get feedback from Phase 2, and to drive awareness and adoption of OCL material.
  • Increase the number and range of open textbooks.
  • Develop peer review, voting, and search functions.

Notable quote:
Connie Broughton, Director, eLearning and Open Education, SBCTC
“When we say we’re working on a project to reduce the costs of textbooks for college students, everybody understands this pain, so it feels like an important goal. We’re challenging a system that is not working for students. That feels really good.”