As the COVID-19 pandemic put additional stress on college students, many libraries and their institutions leveraged open educational resources (OER) to address the sudden disruption in learning environments across the country. OER are learning materials that are designed to be flexible, customizable, and always free to the student.
In new guidance for federal COVID relief funds released by the U.S. Department of Education, leveraging OER to expand access to free, high-quality textbooks is explicitly cited as a strategy to meet college students’ basic needs. The Department specifically points to OER as an example of a high-impact strategy that can build long-term capacity to ensure students have the tools they need to succeed in navigating challenges created by the pandemic.
From statewide consortiums to community and technical colleges, many institutions have already used federal COVID relief dollars for successful OER programs. The new federal guidance applies to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which has distributed $76.2 billion to colleges and universities since 2020. Other OER projects have leveraged COVID relief funds from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) and funds allocated by state legislatures.
As the Department of Education’s new guidance opens the door for more U.S. institutions to use their remaining HEERF funds for OER this spring, below are some examples of successful COVID relief-funded projects already leveraging OER to meet student basic needs.
Adopting OER for Existing Courses
At Reedley Community College in California, HEERF dollars were used to fund faculty “pivot awards” to support projects that replace expensive textbooks with OER. The awards cover faculty time to adopt, adapt, or create new OER. They are projected to impact 3,000 students and save them $77,000 annually. Reedley is one of several California Community Colleges to leverage COVID relief funds to advance their OER initiatives. Others include Chabot Community College, Contra Costa College, Diablo Valley College, and Fresno City College.
Creating New OER
Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin used HEERF funding to expand its existing Department of Education-funded Open Textbook Pilot grant project. The HEERF funding is building a new OER nursing textbook that is projected to save students at the college more than $38,000 annually with the potential to save technical college students across Wisconsin upwards of $650,000 a year. Given the nursing textbook can be openly shared and used, its impact on college students across the country is expected to be even greater. This example was highlighted by the Department of Education.
The University of North Carolina System leveraged COVID relief dollars from their state legislature to support OER experts across seven of its campuses in creating the OER Implementation Collection for faculty, instructors, and librarians. The project invested $231,000 to create 13 OER course collections across 6 disciplines that are free for anyone to use. The effort is described in the 2020 conference presentation Building a High Impact Car as We Raced It: Developing a Multi-discipline, Large-scale OER Collection.
Leveraging Statewide Initiatives
The Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium received $500,000 in GEER funding to administer the PA Goal grant program. The goal of the program is to increase the adoption of OER and other zero-cost textbook alternatives across a wide range of Pennsylvania institutions, with a particular focus on support for underserved or underfunded institutions, including rural, publicly funded, and community colleges. The first round of funding was awarded to 30 projects across 23 institutions.
Open Oregon is using GEER funding to increase affordable course materials for public university and community college students. The funding is being used to hire a new statewide staff person to oversee instructional design for OER courses and provide professional development to faculty and staff. It is also supporting activities that center equity in OER including translating openly licensed materials into more languages and developing subject-specific materials through an equity lens.
Many other states have recognized OER as a strategic use of GEER funds to scale up existing projects or create new ones. Idaho invested $1 million to jumpstart Project Z-degree aimed at transitioning courses to OER at the state’s four community colleges. In Iowa, institutions across the state have leveraged more than half a million dollars to expand the adoption of OER through new and existing programs. Also, Texas used GEER funding to support OER course development and implementation grants for faculty teaching core curriculum and workforce education courses.
As students, administrators, and faculty begin the spring semester, SPARC encourages institutions to leverage HEERF and other COVID relief funds to expand the use of OER in the pandemic and beyond.