New York City's Largest Community College Spends Big on OER

The Borough of Manhattan Community College is encouraging faculty innovation and student access to open educational resources with the help of a $4 million state investment.

by / July 25, 2017 0

An infusion of $4 million from the state into the City University of New York this year will help the city's largest community college speed up its open educational resources (OER) development.

Over the last two years, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) has trained 75 faculty members on how to find, create and remix OER so that more of its 29,000 students from low socio-economic backgrounds can access learning material at no charge. Now, with funding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget, BMCC leaders hope to train 150 more faculty within the next year. 

"The $4 million funding from the state is going to allow us to just really expand that program in ways that would have taken us years to do otherwise," said Jean Amaral, outreach librarian for the college.

Along with grant and state funding, the BMCC Office of Academic Affairs has been setting aside money in its budget since 2015 for faculty stipends so those who switch to OER can be paid for their time. But how to sustain the effort long-term is a question that everyone around the country is trying to answer.

Aside from internal funds, team leaders are planning to bring up the idea of tying development of OER to the tenure and promotion process, Amaral said. Currently, professors have to choose between conducting research and writing papers or developing OER. If they want to advance through the academic ranks, their choice will typically be research. But professors may have more incentive to develop OER if it helped them advance.

"Right now that's a hard choice because I don't know anywhere where it's written into tenure and promotion guidelines that OER counts as scholarship," Amaral said.

At the same time, faculty members who do develop OER are enjoying the opportunities they have to be creative and innovative with learning material. A chemistry professor adopted an existing open-source textbook, and then created a lab manual to go with it; now, the entire department may end up using both. Social sciences and humanities professors often pull together works that are in the public domain. And science, technology, engineering and math professors may adopt open textbooks, then supplement them with videos and exercises they find elsewhere.

"It's a great opportunity for us to talk about pedagogy together," said Michelle Ronda, assistant professor and program coordinator for criminal justice. 

They're also able to pull in resources that the library subscribes to or holds. Even though these aren't necessarily open resources, students don't have to pay for them, so professors incorporate some of these resources into their courses.

BMCC professors currently teach about 175 sections of zero-textbook-cost courses for 4,000 students, which saves them about $450,000 each year. But surprisingly, students cited access to learning materials as the No. 1 benefit of these courses when asked in a survey, not the dollar amount they saved, Amaral said. They now have the materials they need to learn successfully in their courses, and that's important to them.

The college is on its way to finishing its first zero-textbook-cost degree program in fall 2018, with 24 sections of criminal justice-specific courses already at zero cost so the 2,900 working adults in the program can access them. 

"You can't succeed in the courses if you don't have access to the material," Ronda said.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.