Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Open Textbook Initiative at North Shore Community College

How We Got to Open Educational Resources (OER)

In fall 2013, a discussion about OER started during a meeting of the Educational Technology Innovation Group, a collection of faculty, staff and administration that meets once or twice a semester to discuss, support, problem-solve, and share some of the great things that our faculty are doing here at NSCC. From this initial discussion, Christine Goodchild (Coordinator of Public Services, NSCC Library), Andrea Milligan (Director of Instructional Technology and Design), Larry Davis (Department of History), and I began brainstorming what could be done to support the OER movement here at NSCC. After all, we were blown away by the staggering numbers we had seen surrounding the cost of textbooks for community college students ($120 per course on average; amounting to about $2,500 at the end of two years).

With the support of Karen Pangallo (Director, NSCC Library) and Michael Badolato (Dean, Academic and Faculty Support), our team explored how we could help faculty navigate OER content. Soon, Torrey Dukes (Reference Librarian, Lynn) and Dava Davanis (Coordinator Public Services, Lynn Library) joined us and we developed a LibGuide to OER. This resource continues to grow and morph, providing some great repositories of content that faculty can use for their courses in lieu of textbooks, assignments, video content, and other learning objects. 

While finishing up the first phase of the LibGuide, we heard about the Vision Project Innovation Grant call for proposals. We decided that, while the LibGuide is essential for helping faculty find OER materials, we needed to do something more palpable to help support faculty as they moved into incorporating OER. We submitted a proposal and eventually received a grant to help fund a Faculty Technology Summer Institute on OER. The Institute was a great success with some forty faculty and staff attending the Keynote Address by Nicole Allen from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). 

Thirty two faculty attended the rest of the Summer Institute and nine faculty applied for a mini-grant from our Innovation Grant to replace a textbook with open and affordable content for their courses.  This fall, we had an additional five faculty apply for Technology Across the Curriculum Grants to also adopt, adapt, or build content for their courses and save students significant costs.  One faculty member has already launched a course with OER materials, while many of our faculty are preparing to launch their first course this fall.

Collaborating with OER

In looking at the OER movement, we realized the best strategy to pursue would be an affordability strategy. This means that when we work with faculty, we do not solely focus on OER repositories to find content, but we also rely upon the great material from the various library subscriptions. We also consider if it is possible for the student purchase to be significantly reduced somehow by mixing OER content, library resources, and a significantly cheaper book purchase than previously considered (e.g. going from $150 to $15).  
A neon sign that says "open"
The collaborative process has been rewarding for faculty and staff.  Each faculty member has been paired with an instructional designer and a librarian. The three meet regularly to find, develop and implement content for the course in a variety of ways. Some faculty have been using the substantial resources provided by the library such as their article databases, Films-On-Demand, or their great collection of digital books in ebrary. Other faculty are delving head first into completely OER content and finding free textbooks or other instructional content that they can plug into their courses for each relevant topic covered in the course. And some faculty are creating open content and contributing to the further availability of open educational resources. 

Faculty are quite energized about using OER in their courses. They are finding that using OER can change how they approach their content and students’ learning.  Several have offered the following thoughts about their experience:

Irene Fernandez
“I’m excited that I can contribute to making knowledge accessible to students. They benefit from my OER project every semester.” 

Nathan Chio
“I'm very excited about implementing OER into my African American History course. With the wealth of historical documents pertaining to African American history freely available online and in the public domain, I believe that I'll not only be able to save my students a significant amount of money but also will actually be able to offer them a better, more intellectually enriching history course.”

Anne Sears
“Working with the OTI (Open Textbook Initiative) team this year helped me think through the issues, understand fair use rules and locate rich teaching materials. I’ve put together a set of foundation readings and videos and will be able to expand case study readings and videos each semester. My students will appreciate current examples connected to specific lesson plans available in Blackboard.”

Recent Developments
These are some other developments with the OER movement at NSCC in the last few months. 

In fall 2014, Michael Badolato and Karen Pangallo launched the OER Working Group as a means of sustaining the Open Educational Resources movement at North Shore Community College.  While the Open Textbook Initiative focuses on helping faculty locate, assess, and implement OER into their courses, the OER Working Group will work on larger institutional issues regarding OER such as working with the bookstore to find printing solutions and offering tablets or with the Registrar to get special designations for OER courses. 

Professor Larry Davis was granted a sabbatical so that he could focus on working on several OER projects (mentioned elsewhere in this publication). 

Irene Fernandez and I are working on her OER textbook that she made for her sabbatical project to turn it into a physical book that can be sold in the bookstore as an alternative for students who want a physical text. 

In the spring, our team served on a panel with UMASS Amherst and the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium at UMASS Boston’s OpenEd Forum, an all-day forum dedicated to exploring and supporting OER movements in New England. We had an opportunity to discuss some of the great OER projects and our excitement about implementing OER at North Shore Community College.

If you are interested in learning more about or pursuing OER materials for your courses, please do not hesitate to contact us at or

This article was originally published in The EdTech Edge, the newsletter of the Technology Across the Curriculum Committee.  The full issue can be found here.