In 2013, California legislators passed legislation to help college and university students increase their access to and save money on books. The California State University (CSU), the University of California (UC) and California Community Colleges system (CCC) were directed to establish the California Open Education Resources Council and CSU was legislated to establish the California Digital Open Source Library. A total of $5 million in state funds was made available. The allocation required matching funds from external agencies; CSU was awarded grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The California Open Education Resources Council (COERC) is a collaborative initiative between three large post-secondary institutions: CCC, CSU, and UC, with three faculty members from each system collaboratively recommending strategies for:
- Identifying at least 50 high enrolment courses shared across the three systems with which to align a selection of free and open e-textbooks for adoption;
- Developing a quality assurance process for the collection of free and open e-textbooks;
- Conducting needs assessments and outreach for adopting the e-textbooks; and
- Developing professional development resources to support faculty adopting the e-textbooks.
These recommendations were taken into consideration in the design of the California Open Online Library for Education (COOL4Ed), the first library service to be offered by California Digital Open Source Library (CDOSL). The COOL4Ed website provides access to more than 78,000 OER, including approximately 6,000 free and open e-textbooks and a collection of course showcases where faculty, staff, and students can find open e-textbooks aligned with the curriculum of more than 50 courses articulated across the three systems. The website includes other resources, such as strategies to share OER with faculty, staff, and students. It is a common communication portal for faculty, staff, and administrators concerned with the state’s textbook affordability initiatives.
In COOL4Ed, faculty can review the course content and learning outcomes negotiated across the three systems to assess the alignment with each course and can review and choose an e-textbook aligned with that course. An integral component of the COOL4Ed project is the availability of over seventy e-portfolios written by faculty from several colleges and universities about the e-textbooks they used, their courses, and their experience in using open textbooks, including student feedback and results.
The 70+ faculty e-portfolios in COOL4Ed afford an opportunity to study instructors’ perceptions, motivations, and challenges with adopting and implementing OER, although from a small sample.
According to the e-portfolio research by Ozdemir and Hendricks in 2017, faculty perceive several benefits to the use of OER in their practices; for example, the opportunity to use a wider range of materials and resources in courses and to adapt, modify, customize and repurpose e-textbooks to better cater to the needs of students. Several faculty used adoption of OER as a reason to redesign and improve their courses. Faculty appreciate being able to copy and paste content into student e-mail messages without concern about copyright restrictions. Faculty also mention more opportunities for collaboration with other faculty members to revise the OER and create ancillary resources, assignments, or open e-textbooks. There is now an annual conference on textbook affordability, where faculty share their strategies for choosing and using free and open e-textbooks.
According to what faculty members include in their e-portfolios, the use of open e-textbooks enabled the creation of active learning environments that are more relevant, meaningful and engaging to students. In a few cases, faculty used e-textbooks to create and deliver subjects outdated or not available in traditional textbooks. (Ozdemir & Hendricks, 2017).
Students indicate they value the OER in their classes, as they are better able to engage in real world examples and interact with the content through use of videos, puzzles, calculators and other interactive tools. They especially value the accessibility, being able to download instructional material on any device at any time. The faculty e-portfolios contained a few comments on impact on student learning, reporting same or improved results compared to the use of traditional texts.
Cost saving was the main benefit cited by students.
There were several challenges reported by faculty, for example the quality of some OER suffer from input by multiple authors with different styles, perspectives and approaches so content often seems disjointed or lacking in coherence. Another challenge was the extra time needed to redesign activities to suit a new textbook.
A major obstacle for students was related to connectivity and access. Students who don’t have reliable or ongoing Internet access need to download these resources and use them offline. COOL4Ed is implementing a repository service for all e-textbooks so faculty can upload the resources into their learning management systems and students can download the resource as they wish. COOL4Ed is also implementing a print-on-demand process through a bookstore to provide students the option of a low-cost print version of the materials.
Instructors also report on the difficulties students have in citing digital textbooks. Video tutorials are now available to help both faculty and students learn to use the digital versions of the content more effectively.
The COOL4Ed initiative, through its open textbooks and OER, reduced a financial barrier for students. California State University and California Community Colleges are currently providing an OER adoption incentive program to support individual instructors and local campuses to adopt high quality OER for course materials. More faculty e-portfolios on adoption and implementation of OER will help supplement and build on the current body of knowledge and instructors’ experiences in using open textbooks and OER in their courses.
Gerry Hanley, Ph.D.
COOL4Ed (2014). About the project.
Ozdemir, O. & Hendricks, C. (2017). Instructor and student experiences with open textbooks, from the California open online library for education (COOL4Ed). Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 29(1). doi:10.1007/s12528-017-9138-0