Expanding Access to Open Education
We recently attended a joint webinar between the Open Courseware Consortium (OCWC) and the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER). Both organizations are dedicated to making educational resources freely available and accessible online. But the OCWC primarily has four-year colleges and universities as its members, whereas the CCCOER is a network of community colleges. Despite their differences, though, the webinar revealed several reasons why partnerships between community colleges and the OCWC can be mutually beneficial.
Strength in Numbers
For example, many members of the OCWC, such as MIT and Yale, have far greater resources, such as bigger networks of online visitors, than community colleges do. Formally partnering with the OCWC allows community colleges to benefit more directly from these heightened resources. Furthermore, all efforts concerning open education aim to make education more affordable. Students at community colleges are often particularly in need of affordable educational opportunities. For example, Tom Caswell, Open Education Program Manager of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, told us in a recent interview that community college students may spend up to a third of their total costs on textbooks! Although materials through both the OCWC and the CCCOER are already available to everyone, when community colleges officially join the OCWC, they help to ensure this accessibility endures for everyone, including their own students.
Students Without Borders
Less predictably, perhaps, the OCWC and community colleges often serve a common student demographic. In the webinar, Mary Lou Forward, the Executive Director of the OCWC, reminded us about a recent survey of OpenCourseWare users. About half the survey's respondents were lifelong learners who are not pursuing a degree. These users are primarily over the age of 30 and looking to OCW for self-learning or to gain further education for their career. Similarly, many students at community colleges do not study with the goal of finishing a formal, four-year bachelor's degree. Instead, they may want to brush up on basic skills or acquire technical or vocational training.
By partnering with one another, therefore, the OCWC and community colleges might better serve certain students who are particularly interested in OpenCourseWare.