Tidewater Community College (TCC), one of 23 colleges in the Virginia Community College System, was founded in 1968 and is the 14th largest public two-year community college in the United States (U.S.). In addition, it is the second largest provider of undergraduate public education in the state of Virginia. The college offers higher education and workforce services to approximately 40,000 students annually. In January 2013, TCC became the first regionally accredited college in the U.S. to create and offer an Associate of Science degree based entirely on openly licensed content. This program, known as the “Z-Degree”, refers to the fact there are “zero” (or no) textbook costs in order for students to earn the degree (known as the “Zed Cred” in Canada).
The main impetus for the Z-Degree initiative is the continually rising cost of textbooks, which often resulted in students not purchasing course resources. Offering zero cost textbooks at TCC presented itself as an opportunity to eliminate an obstacle to student access and success in higher education. The TCC Business program was the first to pilot lower-cost digital textbooks and increasing academic support, resulting in improved student success. Another significant reason for the development and implementation of OER at TCC was the possibility to examine the full potential of OER in teaching and learning.
The TCC OER project goals were to improve student success through increased access and affordability, and improve teaching efficiency and effectiveness through the ability to focus, analyze, augment, and evolve course materials directly aligned to course learning outcomes (Tidewater Community College, 2016). TCC’s administration and academic departments also believed the use of textbooks has other negative impacts on faculty and students in addition to the high costs. Textbooks usually get outdated very quickly and rarely take into consideration individual student’s needs or specific learning outcomes. Therefore, although faculty may rely on the textbook’s content to teach a course, it is often the case that faculty needs to supplement textbooks with updated learning material that caters to the needs of students and to the learning outcomes of a particular course.
To increase instructor effectiveness and to improve student success, course curricula were reduced to learning outcomes and then content assembled using only OER. The OER were selected based on faculty reviews that focused on the applicability in supporting the stated course outcomes. The course design included systematically finding, assembling, adapting and developing OER in a “data-driven process” with the aim of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the courses. It was felt the “backwards design process” used in developing the OER courses, which began with the outcomes, gave educators more control and thus fostered student success (Hilton III et al., 2016).
In 2013, a faculty team of thirteen members, college staff, and administrators were involved in the development of the first 16 Z courses. These courses were redesigned around OER, focusing on the concepts students needed to learn to master the course outcomes. Development of the courses took about nine months.
During the next year, TCC launched additional business administration OER courses with the help of a private company, Lumen Learning (Baehre-Kolovani, 2014). The Z courses were delivered in a variety of formats – online, in-person, and hybrid. Enrolment is open to all TCC students, regardless of their field of study.
TCC found the strong commitment from senior administration was a significant, if not essential, contributor to the program's success, including an institutional policy written to support faculty use and exploration of OER (Tidewater Community College, 2016). They ensured the necessary resources to build the curriculum were in place. The engagement of faculty, librarians and especially OER champions, who were enthusiastic and adventurous in exploring new pedagogical territory, was also a significant success factor in making the Z-degree a reality. Another contributing factor was the collaboration with the external OER community and, in particular, the partnership with a private company that specializes in OER implementations, Lumen Learning. The commitment of these groups ensured a continuing effort to fine-tune and improve the program (Palmedo, 2014).
Students participating in the Z-Degree benefited in several ways. Data from courses delivered from Fall 2013 to Spring 2015 were extracted from the institutional database and analyzed to compare students using traditional textbooks with those using OER. Students in the OER courses achieved significantly better results than their peers who used traditional textbooks. This result was the same for both classroom and online courses (Hilton et al., 2016).
In addition to cost savings, student retention was also significantly improved. Students' ability to continue studying was aided with the money they saved from not having to pay for textbooks. Students in the Z-Degree were estimated to be saving 25% from the total cost of degree with the integration of OER.
In addition to the impact of OER use on student performance, there was also a positive impact on faculty who reported they felt more engaged, more energized, and more current in their fields (Zalaznick, 2016). The OER used in these courses allowed faculty to select, assemble, adapt, and/or create materials aligned with the learning outcomes of their courses and learning profiles of their students, giving them greater flexibility and academic freedom in course design and delivery.
From the point of view of the administration, the main benefits included more students were completing courses with a C grade or better and there was a decrease in withdrawal rates. The increase in student retention rates at TCC translated into more tuition revenue, since fewer withdrawals mean fewer dollars refunded to students who drop courses. Moreover, the model developed for these courses was reproducible within the institution, since all the curriculum material and additional resources are openly licensed.
Overall, the use of OER textbooks has had a positive impact both on students and faculty, as well as on the institution. To date, more than 10,200 students participated in the Z-Degree and they saved over $1,000,000 in textbook costs. Students are requesting more OER courses be offered by TCC. The institution is committed to the professional development of its faculty members through targeted training, including how to avoid copyright violations. This is considered as essential for the implementation of OER programs. The Z-Degree program is continuing with new degrees in criminal justice, general studies and the social sciences. (Zalaznick, 2016).
Daniel T. DeMarte
Vice President for Academic Affairs & Chief Administrative Officer
Tidewater Community College, Virginia
Baehre-Kolovani, E.V. (2014, March 9). Op-ed: A textbook case for reducing the cost of college. [Link Broken]
Hilton III, J., Fischer, L., Wiley, D., & William, L. (2016). Maintaining Momentum Toward Graduation: OER and the Course Throughput Rate. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 17(6). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v17i6.2686
Palmedo. M. (2014, March 10). Tidewater Community College Associate Degree using all OER Curriculum: Results after one year [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://infojustice.org/archives/32374
Tidewater Community College (2016). Policy 2108: Use of Open Educational Resources. Retrieved from https://www.tcc.edu/uploads/pdf/policies/tcc-policy-2108.pdf
Zalaznick, M. (2016, November 8). OER revolution in higher ed. [Broken Link]