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Nashua Community College to debut first ‘textbook-free’ class

Nashua Community College is committed to finding ways of keeping college affordable, and each semester the cost of textbooks remains a significant financial pressure. According to CollegeBoard.com, the national average cost is about $1,137 per year, in addition to tuition and fees.

Which is one reason why Nashua Community College will launch its first OER, or Open Educational Resource, this fall with English course offerings. The Community Colleges of New Hampshire Foundation’s Trustee Initiatives Fund supported the development of the debut OER courses at NCC.

OER is a similar concept to Open-source software, in which source code is released under a license, and the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. For OER, what’s produced could be a printable PDF to create a traditional textbook, or it could be a more dynamic multimedia package of video, text, presentations, and other materials.

Open Educational Resources relies on professors, administrators, librarians, and students to develop, edit, and update curriculum for OER courses, with standards maintained by an OER committee.

At NCC, Professor Jennifer Tripp worked with several adjunct instructors; Ann Healy, Elizabeth Fontanella, and Ann DeCiccio; to make English 101, one of the most commonly enrolled courses, textbook free in fall 2019. English 101 was selected for its broad impact as nearly every student must satisfy the course requirement – there are 16 sections scheduled this fall, and 9 in spring 2020. Professor Tripp also did much of the legwork prior to OER by creating a digital space for the course’s “best practices” on Canvas, the online portal for faculty and students at NCC.

Course developers use OER websites for support, “They’re all vetted from places like SUNY, and every few years they go through a new update,” Professor Tripp said. Institutions have freedom over the curriculum, “You can pick and choose chapters and sections to create new books.” Aside from the OER websites, other institutions developing OER courses have offered support. Within New Hampshire, faculty across the Community College System of New Hampshire and the University System of New Hampshire have been helping each other work toward establishing more OER courses.

“We’re working with Robin DeRosa at Plymouth State University, and Meghan Eckner in the Chancellor’s Office at CCSNH,” said Professor Tripp, adding, “Every school has appointed a faculty member or librarian to the CCSNH OER Task Force, which will create the protocol for OER implementation at CCSNH.” Professor Tripp plans to attend the Northeast Regional OER Summit in May at UMASS Amherst where new and experienced OER advocates can share effective practices in awareness building, implementation, collaboration, strategy, and research.

While the OER movement is good news for students, advocates are also mindful of its impact to other areas of higher education, such as the transferability of courses, which makes the collaboration between community college and four-year institutions all the more critical.

Professor Tripp noted OER is about more than saving money; separating a course from a static textbook allows the curriculum to stay on the cutting edge within each discipline. But the cost savings of just one course over one year adds up, “The cost savings will be about $67,284 based on the cost of used English 101 texts. We hope to decrease the overall costs for students, and help increase retention. The cost savings of three OER classes equals about the cost of tuition for one course,” said Professor Tripp.

The OER English 101 course is listed in the course schedule and ready to roll out this fall.

Lucille Jordan is president of Nashua Community College, located at 505 Amherst St., Nashua.