Office of Planning & Budgeting

May 23, 2011

Open, Accessible Courseware Issue Gains Ground

In an effort to lower instructional costs and increase the quality of class materials in community colleges, President Obama has started a program to promote the creation and use of open educational resources (OERs). OERs are defined as “high-quality” educational materials, such as books, lectures, exams, study guides, and syllabi, which are published under a Creative Commons license and can be freely accessed on the Web. The material can be presented as an entire course, or it can be broken up into individual lessons or tutorials.

The Department of Education has hired Hal Plotkin, a prominent journalist and community college trustee, to expand the prevalence and recognition of OERs worldwide with $2 billion of government funds.

MIT and Carnegie-Mellon each pioneered open courseware programs a decade ago, in order to make their educational materials more accessible to those outside the university. Since then, new services like Khan Academy, a tutorial website, and iTunes U, a collection of free lectures from prestigious institutions, have steadily gained recognition and importance.

Plotkin hopes that the additional funding for OERs will help community colleges offer courses and class materials at a lower cost and improve accessibility for non-traditional students. Federal support for OERs also focuses resources and attention on an e-learning system infrastructure. Plotkin intends to continue the growth and recognition of OERs in order to benefit thousands of interested learners.

The OER movement is gaining ground in Washington State, as well. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges more than $6 million dollars to launch the Washington State Student Completion Initiative. Part of this money will go towards creating an Open Course Library of over 80 high-demand introductory courses at Washington community and technical colleges intended to reduce educational materials costs and encourage free access to common course packs, online lectures, and library materials.

To read more about OERs and the specific program Plotkin manages, check out the Kevin Carey’s summary of the new policy and Plotkin’s own guidebook called “Free to Learn.”