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Open Educational Resources

Community College Leads OER Efforts at CUNY

A community college in New York City has taken on the challenge of showing the rest of the City University of New York (CUNY) system how to percolate open educational resources (OER) throughout its courses. The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) estimated that it has saved its students $450,000 in textbook fees since implementing OER in 175 sections. The college has an enrollment of almost 27,000 students, half of whom have household incomes under $20,000 and 4,000 of whom have taken one of the classes using OER. Now the school intends to expand the use of no-cost materials and generate cumulative savings of a million dollars. For example, the school's criminal justice program is expected to be fully converted by fall 2018.

The community college first piloted OER in spring 2015 with the help of its library and its Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Scholarship (CETLS). The early experimenting paid off. In spring 2016, the library was chosen along with two other CUNY schools to participate in a national Achieving the Dream OER Degree grant program, which urged recipients to convert at least one section of courses in a selected degree program to OER. In that program, faculty received a stipend for working on the conversion of curriculum.

The college also received portions of two sizable grants issued to CUNY in spring 2017 to expand ongoing OER work: one from the state government and another from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pilot Waymaker, personalized OER learning courseware developed at Lumen Learning. The former project requires participating schools to commit to converting at least five courses to OER with five sections per course; they may convert up to 25 courses with five sections per course. The latter project is part of a three-year research study to assess the impact of the courseware on student success, persistence and retention.

Students at BMCC can use the CUNYfirst platform developed by CUNY to identify courses that have "zero textbook cost." CUNYfirst is the system's "fully integrated resources and services tool," a digital transformation that handles multiple institutional services, such as registering for classes and paying bills.

To participate at BMCC, faculty must apply, complete a nine-hour OER seminar series and then teach using OER in one course during fall 2017. So far, 70 instructors in 15 of the college's 17 departments have gone through the process. Faculty members receive a $1,000 stipend for their OER activities. Proposals are selected based on the potential savings they'll bring to students, class size (with preference given to high enrollment courses and "Pathways" classes that make up general education requirements), transferability to other courses and the likelihood that the instructor will succeed with the conversion in time for the fall 2017 semester.

One person who has gone through the curriculum creation process is Daniel Torres, an assistant professor of chemistry. He said he likes the way OER offers the potential to "tailor" the content to a given professor's class. "Developing your own OER material, as I did, gives you flexibility to add and remove bits and pieces, making the class easier for our students," he noted in an article about the program on the school website.

The scale of the work at BMCC is the largest and most consistent throughout the CUNY system, according to CUNY Open Education Librarian Ann Fiddler. "BMCC is by far, the most shining example," she said.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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