Future of Open Education at Community Colleges

Open Education 2016

Author: Una Daly,  Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources, United States

“Open education encompasses resources, tools and practices that employ a framework of open sharing to improve educational access and effectiveness worldwide,” as defined by the Open Education Consortium.

Openness is therefore concerned with eliminating barriers to educational access and attainment. One important example of eliminating barriers can be seen in the “open admissions” policy of institutions such as community colleges in the U.S. and Canada, and universities such as Open University in the U.K. For a good part of the last century and continuing into the 21st century, these institutions have welcomed learners, regardless of previous academic credentials, who are seeking access to affordable and high-quality education.

At community colleges, openness has most often become associated with lowering or eliminating the cost of materials such as textbooks, video lectures, and other instructional resources through adoption of open educational resources (OER). More broadly, though, openness can be interpreted as eliminating barriers that restrict access to successful educational and career attainment. In this broader definition of openness, we need to consider what makes a learner successful and persistent in the timely completion of their academic and career goals.

Community colleges, which educate nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates, have transformed many lives, but studies over the last two decades have shown low rates of degree completion and transfer to four-year colleges and universities. The 2013 Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE) reported that 80% of students who entered community colleges expressed a goal of completing a degree, but six years later only 54% of students attending two-year public colleges had completed a degree or were still attending college.¹  Since the completion rate was first looked at in 2001, many contributing factors to student success have been studied, but two in particular have been cited and align well with emerging open pedagogical theory and OER-based pathways: student engagement and clear, well-defined degree or certificate pathways.

Open pedagogy is an emerging theory based on the potential value and engagement that use of open educational resources and practices can afford to faculty and students. David Wiley has spoken extensively about the use of non-disposable assignments in open education.² These assignments involve student creation and sharing of knowledge with not only the teacher and other students, but publicly through the use of open licensing and posting to publicly available websites. A popular assignment for writing classes is having students develop openly licensed articles for Wikipedia. These assignments meet the student engagement benchmarks of active learning and collaboration, student effort, academic challenge, and faculty interaction, which are all indicators for successful outcomes (course completion, GPA, and degree attainment) as defined by the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) at University of Texas, Austin.³

OER-based pathways represent a growing trend at colleges seeking to expand access through lower costs, enhanced pedagogy, and improved student success as indicated by learning outcomes, persistence, and degree completion. The courses in these degree pathways have been redesigned by faculty to use only open education resources (OER), thus eliminating a significant percentage of the cost of attendance (up to 25%).4 By providing lower-cost pathways to graduation that feature open pedagogical practices designed to enhance student engagement, the institution removes more barriers to successful education and career attainment. In practice, it has been shown that students following a guided pathway complete college more quickly, resulting in more opportunities to earn a living in their chosen career.5

In the next twenty years, I expect to see the further development of open guided pathways to expand access and improve student success. Colleges that focus on key factors of student engagement through open practices and policies will empower their students to be not only consumers of knowledge, but producers as well. As producers of publicly shared knowledge, students can become drivers of their own academic and career success. Recognizing the role that open policy and programs can play in their students’ success is key to an evolving and effective institution that remains relevant in the 21st century and beyond.

  1. See Community College Center for Student Engagement (CCCSE), Student Engagement and Learning Outcomes: Key Findings, 2007, http://www.ccsse.org/aboutsurvey/docs/CCSSE%20Validation%20Summary.pdf
  2. See David Wiley, Iterating Towards Openness Blog, Oct 21, 2013 http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975
  3. See Community College Center for Student Engagement (CCCSE), Student Engagement and Learning Outcomes: Key Findings, 2007, http://www.ccsse.org/aboutsurvey/docs/CCSSE%20Validation%20Summary.pdf
  4. Success Story: Tidewater Community College, http://lumenlearning.com/success-story-tidewater/
  5. Center for Community College Student Engagement. (2012). A Matter of Degrees: Promising Practices for Community College Student Success, https://www.ccsse.org/docs/Matter_of_Degrees.pdf

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This work by Una Daly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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