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Open Educational Resources

Criminal Justice Associate Program Redesigned for Zero Textbook Costs

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A community college in New York City has introduced a criminal justice associate's degree that will use only open educational resources. The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) said the move is expected to save each student about $2,500 in textbook costs. The OER work was funded by a two-year grant from Achieving the Dream, as part of a broad initiative to boost college access and completion by underserved students.

BMCC faculty — including those in the criminal justice department and core subjects — have redesigned 20 courses to create the "zero textbook cost" degree, which is the school's first to use OER across the entire program.

The degree is part of the Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice department. Students who complete the 60-credit education automatically receive dual admission into the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to finish the additional 60 credit hours needed to earn their bachelor's degrees. According to the community college, the major is intended for individuals seeking careers in law enforcement, corrections, parole or probation, forensics, the courts, firefighting, juvenile delinquency or law.

BMCC is also working on an OER version of its animation and motion graphics program, a high-enrollment associate's degree that the school estimated could save $2.5 million for the 20,000 students taking those courses.

Instructors who participated in the redesign effort found that their efforts revived their interests in teaching in many ways.

"The process of moving to open and alternatively sourced educational materials also encouraged faculty to expand their thinking as scholars, teachers, and take full advantage of the plethora of information in the ever-changing, digitally driven world we live in," said Criminal Justice Assistant Professor Michelle Ronda, in a statement. Ronda added that the work energized her, freed her teaching from the confines of a textbook and reawakened the creativity in how she taught her course.

"Moving to low-cost and no-cost resources allows me, and my colleagues, to introduce and support the reality that knowledge should be, and is, free, open, available and creatable, not bound or owned by a publisher or expert knowledge icon or talking head standing at the front of the classroom," added Brenda Vollman, also an assistant professor in the program. "Joining in the movement of open education has provided me with multiple opportunities to collaborate within and between disciplines," she said.

Mathematics Professor Chris McCarthy suggested that OER gives faculty the freedom to tailor their courses. "Since the materials aren't costing anything, you can assign the students materials from different sources. If you produce the material yourself, you can customize it to be exactly as you want."

Assistant Professor of Psychology Monica Foust used OER materials in two courses that are also writing-intensive. She said she thought the combination of OER and writing provided better ways for students to interact with the materials. "For one, the readings are more engaging. I use readings from academic journals and popular news sources. I sense that the popular news sources are generally, more interesting than the textbooks and are less overwhelming than textbooks can be."

"We are greatly appreciative and very proud of all the faculty who have contributed to creating our first ZTC degree program," said Interim President, Karrin Wilks. "We know that for many students, the cost of textbooks is a barrier to their success. We also know from national studies that students find the pedagogy associated with OER highly engaging and relevant."

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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