Shaping the Future of OER

Cheryl Costantini

Editor’s note: Cheryl Costantini, vice president of content strategy at Cengage, discusses how Cengage is using open content to create learning solutions that impact success for both learners and institutions as a whole. Costantini and her team recently launched OpenNow from Cengage, an affordable, curriculum-aligned open educational resources (OER) solution delivered in an easy-to-use, ADA-compliant platform. Cengage is a partner in the American Association of Community Colleges’ Corporate program, which brings together companies that provide solutions to the community college sector.

What led to Cengage being interested in OER?

A: Because OER is openly-licensed content, it has the potential to change both the teaching and learning experience. Instructors have the freedom, authority and flexibility to adapt the content to their course in any way they want, as well as the opportunity to improve it. For students, they can actively contribute to it and make it their own. Not only does this empower both teachers and learners, but it also has the potential to make learning more engaging and effective. Our goal is to provide the most valuable teaching and learning solutions that produce results; the content included doesn’t always need to be ours. We have enjoyed discovering the benefits of OER and exploring how we can support the values within the OER community.

Where are you seeing the most interest in OER?

A: We are seeing interest across all types of schools, but two-year schools are leading the way with organized and large-scale initiatives. Many two-year schools have been pioneers and the Z-degree programs have gone national. As a result, many two-year schools have prioritized courses in a degree program to move to OER and many of those courses are in the general studies curriculum to impact the largest number of students. Additionally, OER is most prevalent in these introductory courses, giving instructors and institutions more options when it comes to choosing OER solutions. We saw demand for these courses early on and it’s the main reason we chose to develop the courses we did in OpenNow.

What is the role of a publisher like Cengage when it comes to open content? Why would anyone pay for a solution built around free, open resources?

A: For all the benefits of OER, there are challenges. Many instructors are skeptical about quality; it can be hard to find, maintain and sustain; it may have gaps in coverage; and it may not be available in ways that are efficient to use. We are also seeing that programs cannot simply provide OER as piecemeal or standalone content and expect the same results as a fully-developed, instructionally designed course. There are countless stories of institutions building OER courses — investing tens of thousands of dollars — with little to show for their efforts, and even less design and maintenance support to ensure the course remains relevant and functional.

We help solve those obstacles. We have been developing content for over 150 years. Fortunately, we know how to design, curate, permission and ensure content quality and longevity. We have applied this expertise to OpenNow. We have also delivered the content within our innovative Learning Objects platform that enables personalization, LMS integration and real-time insight into student engagement and grades. Additional elements of each OpenNow course include personalized learning paths, over 1,200 assessments per course, badges and shareable portfolio tools, 65+ curated videos per course, data-driven performance dashboards at the individual and course level, all designed and maintained by our Cengage Curriculum Services team. And, if you want to build additional courses, redesign a course, add your own content or adapt anything we’ve done, we can provide curriculum services that will ensure you have what you need to be successful. There’s value in the reliability, support and service that we provide. A small fee beginning at just $25 per student, per course helps us offer these services and provides a way for us to contribute to the sustainability of open content. We are not charging for open content in any way.

Q: Why is Cengage using open content when you have so much content of your own?

A: Colleges and universities want to use OER, or in many cases, are being required to implement more open content into their programs. We are here to enable this direction and empower our institutional partners to deliver the best learning experience possible to their students.

We are currently using a mix of existing OER from providers such as OpenStax, as well as releasing our own OER into the commons. I am incredibly proud that our OpenNow content is CC-BY-licensed (5Rs), so instructors and institutions can adapt and reuse all narrative and assessment content as needed. Our goal is to make higher education more accessible, affordable and effective for learners. We aim to deliver value through materials and services that help students achieve their goals, while staying within their budget. OpenNow is a great example of how we do that.

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