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Home | Tag Archives: oer

Tag Archives: oer

Op-Ed: How Dual Credit Courses could save millions of dollars for School Districts

A big trend in high school public education is the “Dual Credit” course. This type of course provides students a parallel avenue to take college courses while at the same time getting high school credit.

For instance, a student might take a “Dual Credit” Chemistry course where the course is taught both at a Community or Junior College as well as the student’s home high school. In the end, if the student is successful, she will get both high school credits towards graduation as well as college credit for the course she took.

The idea behind Dual Credit is that students will be more likely to matriculate into college if they can get a head start. A side benefit is that the student and often the parents save money because college will not be as expensive if a student has a few years of credit in their back pocket with they move to college.

Great deal right? Of course, it is. School districts can provide an added value to their student’s education, Community Colleges get a jump start on recruiting post-secondary students, students get a jump on their college careers, and parents save a few bucks.

How is it all paid for? The public school districts typically bear the brunt of the burden of paying not only for the student’s tuition for the classes but also for the textbooks as well.

While that might not seem too much of a burden, considering the return on investment, but in a medium to large size school district, the yearly investment can run into several hundred thousand if not millions of dollars.

A big chunk of that cost is for textbooks, which as everyone is well aware of, are typically excessively expensive. The average new college text, according to CBS News Marketwatch was $153 in 2017.

A district with 1000 students taking dual credit courses could easily spend close to $200,000 just on textbooks alone. (And how many of us were forced to purchase a text in college that was hardly ever opened?)

While the costs of texts might be high, it doesn’t have to be that way. Colleges and Universities across the world are choosing to opt-out of the crazy publisher-driven closed ecosystem of college textbooks. The choice to move away from the old model is driven in part by the Open Education Resource (OER) movement, where textbooks are created and released free of charge for anyone to use at any time anywhere.

One such effort is the OpenStax program at Rice University where over 9 million students worldwide have used these free and open textbooks, for a combined savings of close to $850 million since 2012. These books are University-produced, university curated and vetted.

No one can say that they are not of high quality, and rival even the most expensive texts in the close to 50 university-level subject areas form Biology to Economics. They are, in all measures, quality college-level textbooks.

And they are free. Free to use, free to share, free to download, free to print, even free to modify if a professor so chooses. It is a great deal.

And OpenStax is not alone. Across the country, universities from MIT to UNY to Boston College, to Carnegie Mellon have all created and put out OER materials for students and professors anywhere to use. (Check out just some of the free texts here)

Some universities have even moved away from the old textbook model altogether. UT Austin had a modified dual credit program (dual enrollment) called UT OnRamps that simply acknowledges that all of the information a student could use is available online already for free and does completely away with the traditional textbook.

All of the course information is just posted in an online repository and used as needed throughout the course.

It is time that the partner community and junior colleges join the OER movement and adopt these free materials as the de-facto standard for any course that has students enrolled in dual credit.

Of course, professors will complain that this limits their ability to teach freely and to choose their class materials, but that argument is negated by the fact that the information in any text is freely available anywhere and that general information should not be “owned” by anyone or any company.

How Pearson, for instance, explains economic theory cannot be that different than how OpenStax does it. The Periodic Table is the Periodic Table, no matter if a paid publisher or an OER publisher creates it. Hydrogen will always be H, and Keynesian economics is always Keynesian economics.

It is also time that public school districts stand up and say to the institutions of higher learning that they must become responsive to the needs of the school districts who are their customers after all. If there are opportunities to save money while maintaining the rigor of the curriculum, then why NOT use OER? Who isn’t for saving money?

OER is not going away. Students getting credit for post-secondary work is not going away either. Both are good ideas and both need to be married to make a good idea a great idea.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink Read his previous columns here.

He values your feedback, feel free to leave a comment. 

Op-Ed: Dual Credit Programs – It Could be Better

Last week, our local community college sent out a press release that their Dual Credit and Early College Program was up for a national award. Congratulations. Kudos. Bravo.

For those that are not up on the latest edu-lingo, Dual Credit programs allow high school students to take freshman and sophomore college classes at an associated college or university. The course is taught by a certified high school teacher who has had their course approved by the college they are attending (like EPCC). A college professor acts as a facilitator for the course, and approves the work of the students.

Theoretically, a student could take these courses and graduate high school not only with a high school diploma, but also with an Associates Degree because, as the name implies, the student gets high school AND college credit simultaneously. These programs have been in place for several years now, and each district in the area has some form of it in place for their students.

That’s a big deal.

School districts are essentially paying for your child to attend college. Parents or students could save a ton of money towards a four year college degree. Imagine 2 out of your 4 years of college already taken care of by the time you graduate high school. That is the promise of Dual Credit: Save money, earn college credits.

These programs have proven successful for a number of years, and have benefitted many local community colleges across the nation by increasing enrollment. (All those high schoolers are also community college attendees after all…) Research shows that getting students into higher ed in high school improves their chances of actually finishing a four year degree.

Again, that is a big deal especially for many in El Paso which has a high poverty rate.

After reading the press release from EPCC, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were ways that this type of program could be improved. I think there are.

Saving Money?

Tonie Badillo, Dean of EPCC’s Dual Credit and Early College High School Programs said “These students have the opportunity to save time and money by getting a head start on their college career.” Notice who is saving money: Just the students. The public schools that are sending their students actually are not saving any money, and in most cases, have split their ADA funds with the college.

Teachers have to be certified to teach dual credit, which costs additional money, and the public schools also have to supply college level textbooks to students taking these courses. College textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars for a single copy. The national average cost of a college textbook is $153 per book.

Clearly, the Community College is not losing any money in these transactions. They could, if they so choose, help out the local public schools by requiring all of the professors that teach any of these courses to use Open Education Resource (OER) textbooks. Typically, an average college textbook costs between $125-$250. Multiply that by the number of students enrolling each year in Dual Credit, and the burden placed on the providing public school district becomes prohibitive.

OER textbooks are created in the public sphere, and are free to use and download. And before anyone says “Free must mean bad” consider the Open STAX textbooks from Rice University . These are written by college professors specifically for college classes and have close to 40 college level courses available. For free, for anyone, forever.

The University of Minnesota also has an entire online library of OER college level textbooks, reviewed by college professors for rigor viability in the subject area. Even the State University of New York has an online library of OER textbooks. Surely, if OER is good enough for Rice University, the University of Minnesota, SUNY and hundreds of other institutions of higher education, it might just be good enough for El Paso Community College. The money saved by the public schools could be reinvested in teacher training or student technology.

There is no reasonable argument for paying $200 for a textbook when a OER equivalent is available for free. (This scenario also applies to Advanced Placement courses as well, where students are expected to take college level courses in High School. There is no reason to use expensive college texts when an OER text would be just fine.)

From Free Textbooks to Textbook Free

Another way to pass a savings down to public schools is to simply eliminate the need for a textbook altogether. The University of Texas Austin has an online program called UT OnRamps, which differs a bit from the Dual Credit programs offered in our area.

The OnRamps program is a Dual ENROLLMENT program, where the students are enrolled and taking a high school class AND taking an online college class offered by UT Austin. (Texas Tech has a similar OnRamps program.) The high school teacher acts as a facilitator for the university professor, working closely with the students who take the course 100% online, but have their high school teacher as a guide. Under this model, students receive a grade and credit from UT Austin and another grade from their public school, thus the term “Dual Enrollment.”

Often the grades are different, as the rigor of the college course is more than the that of the high school one. (EPISD offers OnRamps at several of its campuses.) What makes the OnRamps program interesting is that there is no textbook required. All of the material is online in the program’s learning management system. No text, no extra cost. Districts pay only for the cost of enrolling the student.

Like so many programs in education, the Dual Credit program is a boon to students, especially those coming from families in the lower income brackets. But also like many programs, it could be better. Using Open Education Resource textbooks in all dual credit classes would save money for local school districts that could be invested elsewhere.

There is no logical reason, when possible, that this is not happening.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: The Promise Of Open Education Resources

“That can’t be any good” the teacher said to me.

“Why not?” I asked back, interested in the answer that I knew was coming.

“It’s free. It can’t be any good if it is free.” she stated flatly. Her mind was pretty much made up. We were looking at a Chemistry book from an organization called, a philanthropic educational organization that, among other things, creates free of charge textbooks for Math and Science.

These free books are part of a larger education trend called Open Education Resources, or OER.

“So what’s wrong with it?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I just feel that it can’t be good if it is free.”

The teacher’s response was not surprising. Education is famous for spending millions of dollars year after year on student textbooks, and if a textbook is free then there must be something wrong with it or there is some kind of hidden fee that we aren’t aware of.

Traditional ideas are hard to break, especially in education. We have been buying textbooks for well over a century. Why stop now? However, the books are truly free of charge, written by experts in the field, vetted, and are part of a growing movement of writers all over the world that are willing to share their work free of charge.

(Author’s note: Go ahead, check out what CK12 has to offer for free. No cost to anyone, anywhere.)

OER promises to upend the business model of school districts blindly purchasing textbooks simply because they came from well known publishers like Pearson or Harcourt.

The question I like to ask teachers that are hesitant to move towards more free resources is “Who owns the Periodic Table of Elements?” Of course, no one “owns” it, and more than anyone owns the Constitution, the Magna Carta, the rules for chess, multiplication tables or number lines.

General information is free to use in a free society. What districts pay for in textbooks is not the Periodic Table per se, but rather how the Periodic Table is presented.

We pay for the pretty pictures of elements, the color pictures and other “add ons” designed to make the book more interesting.

However, with the rise of the internet use in classrooms across the globe, that information which used to cost a pretty penny is now readily available for free in microseconds with a Bing or Google search. OER takes advantage of that freely available information to create textbooks and other educational materials that rival that of the traditional textbook publishers.

Indeed, with the CK12 textbooks, not only can a teacher “adopt” a free textbook and share with their students, they can also modify the text to suit their needs. Don’t like the order of the chapters? No problem. Just rearrange the chapters. Don’t like the video that is embedded in the section on mitosis? Don’t worry, put an alternate video that you do like in it’s place.

Not only has the textbook itself become a freely available item, it also has become 100% editable, something traditional textbook publishers would shudder to think was happening to their highly copyrighted material. Teachers can adapt to the needs of their students, instead of the students having to adapt to the needs of the textbook.

The OER movement is not simply limited to offerings. Several states have adopted OER materials as alternatives to traditional textbook adoptions, and community colleges and universities across the world are saving their students millions of dollars by adopting OER textbooks.

Rice University in Texas has created 44 (so far) OpenStax textbooks that can be used by anyone, anywhere. These texts also are being used for Advanced Placement (AP) classes across the state with the blessing of the Texas Education Agency, which has an entire office now dedicated to Open Education Resources.

The US Department of Education even has a large nationwide initiative called #GoOpen that encourages school districts across the country to use free resources to save themselves some precious dwindling financial resources.

The trick of course for any paradigm shift like moving to free textbooks to take hold in a classroom is to show the benefit to students. Besides the obvious benefit of saving huge amounts of money, the other benefit to students is that most of these texts are digital, can be shared and saved over years, not just a school year.

So a student in 12th grade can easily go back to his or her freshman Biology OER textbook for reference without having to worry about checking it out from the book room or the library. They never wear out and they are free. “Free forever.” That is the motto of OER.

Did that teacher ever make the switch to the CK12 Chemistry textbook? Not the first year. By the second year however, her students were insisting that she make the switch because the classroom set of chemistry textbooks were nearing 12 years of age and had seen a lot of wear and frankly, the information was as worn as the covers.

And the children shall lead.

Funny or Die had a pretty biting satire about how textbook publishers do what they do:


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

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