But Will It Fly? OER and Articulation

ASCCC Curriculum Committee chair, past chair, Transfer & Articulation Committee
Academic Program Planning, CSU Office of the Chancellor
CCC Articulation

One legitimate concern many California community college (CCC) faculty have is the fear that adoption of OER materials will jeopardize the ability of their course or their students to receive credit at four-year colleges and universities. At least among California's public four-year institutions, this fear is largely unfounded, though there are some precautions faculty should observe.

What's a Textbook?
For articulation purposes, the term "textbook" does not refer only to boat-anchor compendiums of knowledge, often collectively written, and supplied by textbook publishers with a host of ancillary materials and at ever-increasing prices.

For articulation purposes, the term "textbook" refers to the primary required reading materials students must master in order to complete a course. Some courses are organized entirely around single-source teaching aids: Susan Dean and Barbara Illowsky's Statistics text, referred to the accompanying article, is an example of just such an uncontroversial text. It does not matter whether such a text is obtained from the college bookstore or via the Internet.

Other courses supplement a primary text with additional required texts; a U. S. History course might require that students purchase both a narrative textbook and supplement it with some combinations of historical monographs, novels, or primary source anthologies. For purposes of articulation, each of these varieties of books may be considered a "textbook," though The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is clearly in a different category from the several standard narrative U.S. history texts required by many community college faculty members. Any combination of these texts may also be made available to students via OER, and the use of any combination of these kinds of materials should provide no threat to articulation.

What Won't Fly?
There are electronic teaching materials that would not be adequate to meet the requirements of articulation and transfer. Faculty course notes made available on a website do not constitute a text, though they might provide an excellent supplement to a text, whether published in hard copy or via OER. Collections of URLs and webpages are probably also inadequate as substitutes for the rigor and focus provided from a source that requires sustained attention. On the other hand, the integrated use of a variety of scholarly journal articles that are available online may provide a superior level of education for students who are made to realize the way our body of knowledge is advanced by contributions from the academic community at large.

It is important to bear in mind that courses transfer toward a variety of kinds of requirements: lower-division major requirements, general education requirements, and elective unit requirements. There may be cases in which the use of OER in a course provides no obstacle to elective or GE credit, but where a receiving department may question the appropriateness of a course. In the majority of cases, however, CSU and UC faculty are more likely to be concerned about the range of topics adequately covered and not whether students got their copy of Moby Dick from the bookstore or from Bartleby.com.

Open Educational Resources constitute a new frontier for higher education faculty, regardless of segment. Some materials available via the Internet are superior to any textbook faculty might require students purchase at the bookstore, and there are also internet sites that spew hatred clothed in academic garb. Faculty need to consider the mix of materials they use to educate their students with care, but the fact that course materials originate on the Internet is not an obstacle to a course's potential to articulate and transfer.