Community Colleges: Unexpected Open Education Pioneers

The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER) is seeking to harness the power of OER for community college students. One of its first initiatives was the College Open Textbook Project, which translated over 500 OER into free, open access textbooks. This project has now separated from the CCCOER, and's Education Insider caught up with advisory board member James Glapa-Grossklag to find out where the organization is headed next.

By Megan Driscoll

James Glapa-Grossklag CCCOER

After teaching history at California's College of the Canyons, James Glapa-Grossklag became the institution's Dean of Educational Technology, Learning Resources and Distance Learning. He has also brought his expertise in community college education and educational technology to the CCCOER, where he's the president of the advisory board. What does your current position at the College of the Canyons entail?

James Glapa-Grossklag: Most broadly, my task is to support faculty innovation in the use of educational technology, promote student success with academic support services such as libraries and tutoring centers and expand access to education with alternate delivery formats (e.g., online classes, accelerated scheduling). Within public higher education, the constant challenge is to do these things creatively and entrepreneurially, given the budget constraints of public funding. You're also the current president of the advisory board for the CCCOER. How has your experience in more traditional distance learning informed your work with OER?

JGG: The same ideas that excite me about distance learning are those that make me passionate about OER. These ideas include leveraging technology to make education more accessible to more people, rethinking traditional ways of presenting information and restructuring the way we expect students to interact with institutions. Before moving to educational technology, you taught history at College of the Canyons. How has your experience as an instructor influenced your work with the CCCOER's open textbook project?

JGG: Above all, being in the classroom made me aware of the financial burden that the high cost of commercial textbooks places on students. In a California community college, a student pays $108 for a 3-unit history class, but the textbook might cost $200. This means that two-thirds of the overall cost of taking a class is determined by outside commercial interests. It's tough to reconcile that fact with the open access mission of a public community college.

I don't want to leave the impression, though, that CCCOER is antagonistic to the traditional publishing and bookstore worlds. Traditional publishers have a very valuable role to play in collecting, editing and distributing high-quality content. Some publishers are beginning to experiment with new models of distribution, while some college bookstores are working hard to lower costs, introducing textbook rental programs and exploring partnerships with OER projects. What advice would you give to an instructor who's interested in incorporating open textbooks into his or her classroom?

JGG: When working with faculty who are moving from a face-to-face classroom to an online classroom, I've advised them to put themselves in the student's place. Have they taken an online class? Are they comfortable utilizing all the technology involved? I advise the same with adopting OER. Before adopting an open textbook that your students will utilize online (more often than not), be sure that you're comfortable working with a digital text. Can you read on a screen for extended periods? How will you take notes?

Further, I encourage faculty to gather data on student use, performance and satisfaction with the open text. Are students using all parts of a text? Are there any differences in grades compared to a class that's using a traditional text? What do students like or dislike about an open text?

Finally, I strongly encourage faculty adopters of OER to become engaged with the larger OER community. Ask others for advice about what materials work best, share the data you've gathered from your students, post a review of the materials you've used and post your own materials. Open education is a broad and developing global endeavor that depends on everyone's input. Over 500 open textbooks are currently housed by College Open Textbooks (sponsored by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation), which has taken over the open textbook project from the CCCOER. In what ways have these books been used by specific institutions in the consortium?

JGG: Many community colleges around the country utilize open educational resources as supplements to traditional course materials as well as replacements of textbooks. At College of the Canyons, for example, we have two sociology professors, Anne Marenco and Katie Coleman, who use an open textbook for their Introduction to Sociology class. Let's say we offer five sections of this class per semester with thirty-five students in each class, for a total of 175 students, and a commercial textbook costs $150. By using an open textbook in their sociology class, these instructors might have saved students $26,250. That's money that students can use to pay for child care or gas to get them to school. Now that the textbook project has taken off, does the CCCOER plan to focus on any other aspects of open education and OER in the future? What options or directions are being considered?

JGG: Most broadly, CCCOER will focus on advocating for the production and adoption of OER that is targeted to the needs of community colleges and their students. Some specific areas of interest for community colleges are to:

  1. Expand access to education: in keeping with the open access mission of public community colleges, open education can reduce cost barriers to higher education.
  2. Increase completion of certificates and degrees ('the completion agenda'): open education can lower the cost of education and increase student engagement, thereby promoting persistence and completion.
  3. Encourage faculty to share their teaching expertise and to engage in scholarly exchange: open education can provide the vehicle for pedagogical exchange and scholarly dialogue.
  4. Develop instructional methods and formats that will help basic skills/remedial students move into college level work: open education can integrate feedback loops and individualized assessment.
  5. Promote workforce development/career technical education: open education can provide a means for colleges to quickly and efficiently develop new curriculum in areas likely to lead students to employment.
  6. Promote life-long learning: open education can provide a low-cost and accessible means for the general public to engage in learning outside of formal academic structures. The CCCOER recently joined forces with the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC). What inspired this move and in what ways do you hope it will benefit the CCCOER?

JGG: The OCWC is the leading organization of higher education institutions devoted to open education. OCWC is a global community of educational institutions and associations, all dedicated to providing and using open educational content. OCWC boasts international membership, a distinguished board, a professional staff and a history of successful advocacy. CCCOER is fortunate to join with OCWC and we hope to model a successful integration of non-profits in the open space.

Within the OCWC, CCCOER will remain a distinct brand. In the coming months, we will create dedicated space for CCCOER on the OCWC website, and CCCOER will retain its focus on the unique needs of community and technical colleges.

Some specific goals for the collaboration with OCWC are the following:

  • Increase the number of community colleges that are members of CCCOER/OCWC
  • Highlight the impact of OER on teaching and learning in community colleges
  • Promote compatibility and integration of OER into curricula and programs that target community college areas of focus
  • Provide training and support to faculty In what ways do you think that the CCCOER will influence technology and innovation at community colleges? What do you think the next big development in educational technology at 2-year institutions will be?

JGG: We're moving from the Web 1.0 world of passively consuming information or statically distributing information to the Web 2.0 world of dynamically creating information. We're moving away from a class in which the centerpiece is a static text posted online to a participatory educational experience in which a wiki and other dynamic conversation pieces make up the whole. In this emerging Web 2.0 world, students will want to participate in creating their educational contexts.

This is a cultural shift that is just starting to come into higher education, and there's no easy answer to how we negotiate this shift. I have no doubt, though, that OER makes up a large portion of the answer. If we free the informational component of a class from the traditional publishing model and put it into a digitized model that allows for editing and peer review from around the world - including from students - and is designed to be shared through the licensing scheme of Creative Commons, then we move much closer to a participatory educational experience. So, rather than pointing to a specific tool or application as the next big thing, I think we're going to see a whole range of tools and applications being put to work to open up content, to share content, and to repurpose and recompose content.

Washington State's Tom Caswell has a similar plan for community college textbooks.

Next: View Schools

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?