From One to Many: OER-based Degree Programs

Several years ago I was speaking about OER at a conference in Virginia. There was a great feeling in the room, and though I hadn’t planned to speak about the topic, I felt prompted to end my remarks by stating that enough OER now existed that an entire degree program could be run on OER. One institution, somewhere, would get to be the first in the world to create an all-OER pathway through a degree program, and I challenged those institutions represented in the room to consider grabbing this particular brass ring.

Within five seconds of the session ending, Daniel DeMarte was introducing himself to me. Daniel, who is the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer of Tidewater Community College, declared that he thought Tidewater should be the first college in the world to create an all-OER degree program. He asked if Tidewater and Lumen could work together to make it happen.

That was in September of 2012. Working together with Daniel, faculty lead Linda Williams, and a great team of other faculty and staff, we launched the first-in-the-world “Z Degree” in August of 2013. A fully OER-based pathway through two degrees at Northern Virginia Community College soon followed. Fast forward to fall 2015, and there were Z Degrees either launched or under development at 16 Virginia Community Colleges. Lumen Learning has been privileged to work with them all, and working together with these partners we’ve learned a lot about successfully supporting, sustaining, and scaling this significant change across faculty, staff, administration, and – most importantly – students.

Earlier this morning at its annual conference, Achieving the Dream announced a major competitive grant program that will support the creation of fully OER-based degrees at individual community colleges and in community college systems across the US and Canada. As a result of this program, by fall of 2017 somewhere between 3% and 4% of all community colleges in the US will have at least one all-OER degree program. This kind of year over year growth in the adoption of OER-based degree programs is extremely exciting – first one program, then three, then 16, then 50 – tripling every year since Tidewater’s groundbreaking work in 2012-2013. If we sustain this growth rate, every community college in America will have a fully OER-based degree program by 2020.

I’m humbled and excited by the opportunity to continue supporting this important work. Lumen Learning is the Technical Assistance provider for the grant program, and every school or system that receives a grant will have access to Lumen Learning’s support and services funded by the grant.

Here’s to improving affordability and access for students, pedagogical flexibility and engagement for faculty, and improved outcomes for institutions – and learning lots along the way.

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