In general, I have been an OER skeptic—not because I think OER is unimportant, but because getting the sustainability model right is really hard. But there is one notable exception to my gloomy outlook; one bright spot that I believe really will transform education. That’s Washington State’s Open Course Library project, under the leadership of Cable Green.
Some excerpts from a Seattle Times article about the program:
Here’s an idea that would take a big bite out of the cost of a two-year college degree:
Gather state community-college faculty members who teach “English Composition I.” Use state and federal grant money to pay them to assemble a top-notch textbook on the subject. Sell a digital version of the book for $30. Ditch the $100 textbook from commercial publishers….
They could lower the cost of a two-year degree, with some studies showing students spend up to $1,000 a year on textbooks….
The state’s community and technical colleges are leading the way with an ambitious new initiative: They’re assembling previously published “open-source” textbooks and course materials for the 81 most popular classes at state two-year colleges — including for such mainstays as “General Psychology” and “Introduction to Chemistry.”
“The power of this is that we’re going to go from a couple hundred dollars per year [for each textbook] to $10 or $20,” said state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, who sponsored legislation that set aside $750,000 for the initiative. It’s a robust level of funding, experts say.
“The return on our investment is going to be extraordinary,” Carlyle said.
The open-source textbook drive is part of a larger state effort, called the Open Course Library, to assemble all curriculum materials — including the course syllabus, videos, lecture notes and exams — for the 81 most popular courses, said Cable Green, director of elearning and open education for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC).
The board is working with a consortium of international colleges and universities to find and assemble the materials — for example, taking pieces from freely available textbooks to create a book suited for a Washington state course. In Washington, about 90 community- and technical-college faculty and staff are involved….
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has matched the Legislature’s contribution with $750,000 in foundation money….
The textbooks and curriculum materials are being developed this fall and winter for the first 43 classes with the highest enrollment in the state’s two-year colleges, including English Composition I and II, General Psychology, Introduction to Sociology and Introduction to Chemistry. By fall 2012, textbooks and curriculum materials will be completed for all 81 of the most popular classes….
This could be hugely transformative. With the number of institutions participating and the number of courses created, this should hit escape velocity for sustainability fairly easily. It could be picked up by community colleges throughout the country fairly rapidly. And that’s just the start.