Open Educational Resources and the California Community Colleges

California Open Educational Resources Council Members
California Open Educational Resources Council Members
California Open Educational Resources Council Members

On September 27, 2012, Governor Brown signed two bills into law that were indicative of the legislature’s acknowledgement of high textbook costs and an effort to reduce those costs.  The two bills, SB 1052 and SB 1053, authored by Senator Steinberg, called for the establishment of an open educational resources council and a digital open source library.  The two pieces of legislation were generated during a year which saw multiple bills aimed at increasing access and success in California community colleges, including SB 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012. In February 2012 a Joint Legislative Audit Committee Hearing was held as legislators investigated causes of and solutions to high textbook costs which negatively impact college students. The use of Open Educational Resources (OER) was expected to provide “students and their families with sorely needed financial relief” (SB 1053). Per the legislation, the CSU would facilitate collaboration among the UC, CSU, and California Community Colleges to design and deliver intersegmental open education resource services for students and faculty of the three segments.

SB 1052 and 1053 apportioned $5,000,000 for the council and digital open source library and directed the CSU Office of the Chancellor to seek private matching funds. The CSU Office of the Chancellor submitted and in Fall 2013 was awarded grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to release the state matching funds.

SB 1052 specified that the California Open Education Resources Council (CA OER Council) be established under the administration of the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates (ICAS) of the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges.  The bill called for addition of §66409 to the California Education Code to define the makeup of the council and its responsibilities.

Education Code §66409 (b) states, “The council shall have nine members: three members shall be faculty of the University of California, selected by the Academic Senate, University of California; three members shall be faculty of the California State University, elected by the Academic Senate of the California State University; and three members shall be community college faculty, selected by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.” Additionally, a council chair/project coordinator selected by ICAS is a non-voting member. Participation of council faculty members, the council coordinator, and support staff is funded by the matching grants.

Responsibilities of the council were established initially by legislation, and ICAS further defined the council’s responsibilities. Responsibilities defined by legislation are as follows (§66409):

  • Select up to 50 lower division courses in the public postsecondary segments to target for the development and acquisition of digital, open source textbooks and materials.
  • Create and administer a standardized, rigorous review and approval process for open source textbooks and related materials.
  • Promote strategies for production, access, and use of open source materials.
  • Regularly solicit and consider input from each segment’s respective statewide student associations.
  • Establish a competitive request for a proposal process in which faculty members, publishers, and other interested parties may apply for funds to produce the high quality, affordable, digital open source textbooks and related materials in 2014.
  • Explore methods for reviving classic or well regarded, out-of-print textbooks in digital, open source formats.

The Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates further defined the responsibilities of the council:

  • Meet goals of SB 1052 legislation.
  • Work collegially under the direction of the California OER Council Project Coordinator to produce the deliverables specified in the Hewlett grant proposal timeline.
  • Submit policies and processes to ICAS for review and approval; document and archive policies and processes approved by ICAS.
  • Develop policies for building the collection of open textbooks in the California Digital Open Source Digital Library (CDOSL).
  • Develop a process for review teams which will include composition, timelines, rubrics for evaluating texts, minimum standards for text to be included in CDOSL, an appeal process for authors, training necessary for review and normalizing, and a process for communicating names of texts approved for inclusion in CDOSL by discipline or alternate ways to categorize the texts.
  • Send regular reports to ICAS about disciplines, texts, challenges, etc.
  • Prepare content for the CDOSL website and ICAS webpage.
  • Prepare and administer or delegate professional development opportunities by or across segments.

The legislation mandated that appointments to the council by the Academic Senates representing each of the three branches of California public higher education be made within 90 days after the act became operative. The council first met via conference call on January 27, 2014, after matching funds were awarded and then at Coastline Community College February 3, 2014, where it identified the first 50 courses for which to find and review OER textbooks.

The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), in its effort to create a teaching and learning network for free-to-use educational resources from around the world titled, created a definition of open education resources that served as a starting point for the CA OER Council’s efforts to define OER. According to ISKME,open education resources are “Teaching and learning materials that are freely available online for everyone to use, whether an instructor, student, or self-learner. Examples of OER include: full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world.”

The California Open Education Resources Council decided that while the ISKME definition of OER provided a starting point, it was too broad given the legislation’s emphasis on textbooks. Ancillary materials should be open and available to students, faculty, and the public but are potentially too voluminous and would be difficult to count using the legislation’s emphasis on OER textbooks for 50 courses. The council focused efforts on finding and reviewing digital, open source textbooks, referred to most commonly as eTextbooks on the website.

Using the Hewlett Grant and C-ID (Course Identification Numbering System) course descriptors, the council identified criteria by which the 50 courses would be determined and, in February 2014, identified more than 50 courses for which to evaluate OER textbooks.  As noted in the Progress Report delivered to ICAS on February 6, 2014, the criteria were multifaceted:

  • The course is highly enrolled
  • The course works for as many campuses as possible and meets the designation for general education
  • The course selection is likely to generate significant textbook savings
  • There is some consistency between textbook products for the courses
  • The course selection provides opportunities for faculty to augment open textbooks
  • The courses and textbooks are conducive to discipline-based pedagogies
  • The courses selected need to have access to multiple OER textbooks for each course

In terms of copyright and access, open education resources should be licensed CC-BY, a Creative Commons Attribution license. According to the OER Glossary on the CA OER Council website, “OER licensed CC-BY can be modified, used commercially, and may or may not be shared in the same manner, provided credit is given to the author.”  Variations of CC-BY include attribution licenses that forbid commercial use, forbid modification, allow for use without credit to the author, and more. By having courses licensed for modification and open use, faculty are encouraged to adopt OER materials and further modify them to best meet their own needs.

While SB 1052 called for the creation of the CA OER Council, SB 1053 called for the creation of the California Digital Open Source Library (CDOSL) by the CSU in collaboration with the council. CSU already had an online open education resource library, MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching). Both UC and the California Community Colleges system have partnered with CSU on MERLOT and related open resource projects, so the type of partnership and sharing of educational resources called for by the legislation already had precedent.

According to the website, “the California Digital Open Source Library is being designed so faculty can easily find, adopt, utilize, and/or modify OER course materials for little or no cost.” The textbooks being reviewed for the fifty high impact courses identified by the CA-OER Council will be housed on the COOL for Ed website and made available to faculty and students. is considered the first library service of the digital open source library, and more will be developed as warranted to meet the needs of specific stakeholders.

Within the Course Showcase of the website, faculty can see courses listed by C-ID number and see recommended free eTextbooks and faculty reviews of free eTextbooks and can even follow a link to recommend additional free eTextbooks appropriate for each course.  Disciplines represented on include art, accounting, business, biology, chemistry, child development, communication, computer science, economics, English, history, mathematics, music, physics, psychology, sociology, and Spanish. While many of the disciplines only have one course identified with a free eTextbook available, more courses are being considered and textbooks are being reviewed throughout Fall 2015; the list will be more complete by the end of November 2015. 

Each textbook is reviewed by at least one faculty member from each of the three system partners before being added to the list.  Highly rated eTextbooks are those averaging at least a 4 out of 5 from all reviewers. Most reviews available include comments in addition to the rating system required. Efforts are underway to encourage faculty discipline review groups to consider including the highly rated eTextbooks with the list of recommended texts in each C-ID course descriptor to better publicize the availability of free or low cost eTextbooks.

The language in SB 1053 states what faculty and students in all three systems, but especially the community college system, are already aware of: textbooks are too expensive. While some faculty may already use OER materials or may have even published OER materials, many continue to use commercial textbooks.  If a student does not buy a textbook because of the extreme cost of the textbook, then that student is less likely to succeed in a class. Having free or low cost textbooks that cover the material needed for a class as well or better than commercial texts is expected to increase student access to the required material; the exorbitant cost of a textbook will no longer be a barrier to students needing the information. The more faculty members start to use OER texts, and the more people utilize the freedom of the creative commons license, the more resources will be available and the stronger the resources will get.

The initial provisions of SB 1052 and SB 1053 conclude at the end of 2015. A new bill, AB 798 College Textbook Affordability Act of 2015 authored by Assemblymember Bonilla, was signed by the governor on October 8, 2015. Resolution 06.05 S15 Support Textbook Affordability Act called for the ASCCC to “endorse the intent of AB 798 (Bonilla, as of April 6, 2015) to promote the consideration of appropriate open educational resources through funding that is dependent on the agreement of local academic senates.”  Information about CA-OERC and the work being done in open educational resources will be presented at the ASCCC’s Instructional Design and Innovation Institute as well as other events throughout the year, and the ASCCC urges faculty to educate themselves and their colleagues about open educational resources and their potential benefits to our system.


California Community Colleges State Legislative Update. California Community Colleges Chancellors Office. July 9-10, 2012.

California Open Education Resource Council

OER Glossary. Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME).

About the Project. California Open Online Library for Education.