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Free & Open Textbooks at California Community Colleges Supported by New Center
Foothill College Will Manage the Center
February 08, 2010
Archive Story
Faculty at California community colleges now have a centralized source of information about how to use free and open textbooks to lower educational costs for their students. The newly established Open Educational Resources (OER) Center for California will save faculty from spending many frustrating hours on the Internet to find and use high-quality instructional materials on their own. The California Community Colleges Board of Governors established the center as a statewide pilot program "to provide faculty and staff from community college districts around the state with the information, methods and instructional materials to establish open education resources centers" on their campuses. The pilot program is authorized by Assembly Bill 2261, which was authored by California Assemblyman Ira Ruskin (D-Los Altos) and signed into law in fall 2008. "I was proud to have carried this bill with the Foothill-De Anza Community College District as the sponsor," Ruskin said. "This legislation helps provide educators and students with free access to course materials available in the public domain. It makes education more affordable and graduation more attainable." The Open Educational Resources Center for California is committed to aiding educators in the state's 112 community colleges in finding, using and developing the best and most affordable open learning materials to meet the needs of their students, said Judy Baker, Ph.D., director of the center and dean of distance and mediated learning at Foothill College, which is located in Silicon Valley’s Los Altos Hills. The center will provide many services via the Internet. Baker has worked for the last decade at promoting high-quality open educational resources for use in community colleges, and has emerged as a national leader in the field. Foothill College is managing the center under an agreement with California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. The contract started this January and runs through 2012. "Foothill College was selected to establish the Open Educational Resources Center because it has already done groundbreaking work in this area and is in the best position to make this a success for California," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, Ph.D. The center will provide a structure by which community college faculty and staff in California can locate, scrutinize and customize open educational resources for creating high-quality, free course materials and textbooks for California community college students. These digital learning materials are openly licensed or available in the public domain so that they can be used, shared or customized for classroom and laboratory use. "There are many creative and dedicated faculty who are writing high-quality textbooks and making them available for anyone to use free of cost," said Foothill College President Judy Miner, Ed.D. "It is particularly exciting to consider the potential for improving instruction in basic skills given the current and future needs in that area." In addition to affordability, other benefits of OER include the ability to rapidly and regularly update learning content and the convenience of digital delivery. De Anza College student Maya Kostyuanovsky is one of thousands of community college students who've experienced the benefits of using open educational resources. When asked about her experience using an open textbook for her statistics class at De Anza last year, Kostyuanovsky said, "I definitely would use more, if they were available. It worked really well for me. It was easy to hop online and do what I needed. There was nothing I couldn't do. And it was great to be able to print what I needed and not have to drag along the whole heavy book." The Foothill-De Anza Community College District has been a state and national leader in textbook affordability efforts since 2004 when it established a district policy on sustainable learning resources that supports "the creation, use, accessibility and ongoing maintenance of public domain-based learning augment and/or replace commercially available educational materials, including textbooks where appropriate." "This news is exactly what our board wanted to see happen when we passed our first-in-the-nation higher education governance policy supporting the creation, use and improvement of learning materials that reside in the public domain," said Hal Plotkin, the former president of the Foothill-De Anza Board of Trustees who initially proposed the public domain policy in 2003. "This is an important step toward modernizing our state-supported academic institutions to better serve students and our society during a time of profound economic stress and difficulty." Plotkin currently serves as the senior policy advisor in the office of U.S. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter, Ed.D., former Foothill-De Anza chancellor. The OER Center for California ( will partner with the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources ( and the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative ( to maximize the use of available open teaching and learning resources. Among the available resources are peer reviews of open textbooks and links to more than 400 open textbooks that may be suitable for community college use. "Use of open educational resources is growing in California community colleges, but there is still a learning curve for faculty, staff and students." Baker said. "The center is prepared to assist them in learning to make effective use of these materials free of charge." Among the center's immediate plans is to establish an advisory group and develop a professional development course that introduces community college faculty, staff and course developers to open educational resources and how to use, create and produce open materials that can be offered to students in community college classes. The center also will create an OER information repository that will serve as a central source of knowledge about open educational resources in California community colleges, and provide colleges with tools to collect data about use of open educational resources on their campuses. That data will also be reported to the state chancellor's office. The center's goals dovetail with those of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's digital textbook initiative to evaluate open textbooks for use in California's K–12 public schools, and support similar efforts at the community college level. With 112 colleges and enrollments of 2.9 million students, California's community college system is the largest higher education system in the United States. Some 24 percent of all community college students nationwide are enrolled at a California community college.
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