Educators and policy makers recognize that the status quo in education is simply not enough to meet the country's emerging need for a workforce with advanced skills and credentials.
"The majority of new jobs created by 2018 will require a post-secondary credential, certificate, or degree," said Rio Salado College Vice President of Academic Affairs Vernon Smith. "We need to educate workers to fill those positions. We don't have a choice but to address the barriers that prevent bright, capable students from completing a degree."
By tapping into open educational resources, the innovators at Rio Salado College are planning to reduce the cost of course materials, improve the quality of course content, and create a standard procedure for open course development.
"We're creating a process for gathering and vetting publicly-available information and packaging it for the benefit of a global student body," said Physics Department Faculty Chair Shannon Corona.
In addition to the cost-free textbook program and open source classes built in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rio offers a variety of creative solutions for non-traditional and underserved students. The potential integration of open content into these existing programs will mean better access to higher quality course materials for all of Rio Salado's students.
Merging content provided by top tier universities, including recorded lectures from experts at Yale University or open course work from MIT, with Rio Salado's low cost delivery methods will result in a top quality educational product that's available to underserved students: active duty military, working single parents, and anyone who relies on community college pricing to complete a degree.
According to Michael Cottam, associate dean of instructional design at Rio Salado College, the OER movement is not new, but advances in communication and data analysis are making it much more viable.
"Educators have been sharing what they do in the classroom and what they do online for a long time," Cottam said. "It just hasn’t had the kind of reach that it has now. Technology is so much better. It’s much easier to share information, collaborate and peer evaluate now."
Cottam said that finding learning objects to re-use is much easier as well. "It’s easier to get feedback from other educators who can say 'hey this is a great resource.'" He added, "We're removing barriers to access, and at the same time we’re improving quality. It's very exciting."