Collaborating to support community college faculty in teaching with MIT open educational resources

Collaborating to support community college faculty in teaching with MIT open educational resources

With support from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, MIT OpenCourseWare launches collaboration with Maricopa Community Colleges and College of the Canyons.
From left: Shira Segal (MIT OpenCourseWare), Lisa Young (Maricopa Community Colleges), James Glapa-Grossklag (College of the Canyons), and Sarah Hansen (MIT OpenCourseWare) at OEGlobal 2023. Photo: Brett Paci
MIT Open Learning

By Shira Segal

What can the Massachusetts Institute of Technology learn from faculty at other institutions who use open educational resources (OER) from MIT OpenCourseWare in their teaching? How do implementers of open education at community colleges meet the unique needs of their curriculum and students? What can we learn about open practices by collaborating across sectors of higher education, and how might these collaborations shape what we do, and how?

To begin to answer these questions, MIT OpenCourseWare — part of MIT Open Learning — launched a collaboration with Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona and College of the Canyons in California to support and learn from community college faculty. Supported by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this pilot project has yielded a rich set of reflections and observations about the range and use of MIT OpenCourseWare materials, the nature of open education practices, and the value of collaboration itself across institutions.

In this project, MIT is turning to open-enrollment community colleges as important thought leaders and implementers in the field of open education. By pairing OER from MIT OpenCourseWare with the impactful classroom applications of open education principles and practices, our work together furthers the shared goal of increased equity, inclusivity, and access for students. And, by collaborating across different sectors of higher education, we build on one another’s strengths and create new pathways for learning.

Why these three institutions?

“Community colleges were created to give access to education, to bring democracy to education, to make education more local. That’s why I’m interested in open pedagogy, open educational resources — because I really believe that it’s perfectly aligned with the mission and the vision of the community colleges.” — Fernando Romero, Chandler-Gilbert Community College (Maricopa)

Community colleges have long provided an affordable pathway for both traditional and nontraditional students to pursue high-quality post-secondary education, which intersects with MIT’s dedication to providing high-quality OER for free to the world. By collaborating to train and support faculty as they adopt and adapt MIT-created open materials, we are learning what it means to modify educational resources for localized audiences.

With the launching of MIT OpenCourseWare in 2001, MIT became the first higher education institution to make its course materials freely available online to anyone, anywhere in the world. As a catalyst and model in the global open education movement, MIT OpenCourseWare provides materials from more than 2,500 courses that span the MIT undergraduate and graduate curriculum, and has reached over 500 million learners and educators around the world. While we publish new course material from MIT faculty on our website and to over 5 million subscribers on our YouTube channel, our commitment to access and lifelong learning is incomplete without learning from members of the open education community who leverage open resources and practices to promote more equitable educational experiences for learners.

Maricopa Community Colleges is one of the country’s largest community college districts and the first higher education institution in the United States to enable students to search its course catalog specifically for no-cost or low-cost courses. Since launching the Maricopa Millions project in 2013, the Open Maricopa initiative has saved students over $40 million on textbook costs. Leading the implementation and growth of open educational practices and academic innovation initiatives across the district, Lisa Young serves as faculty administrator for open education and innovation at Maricopa Community Colleges and also as vice-chair of the Board of Directors for Open Education Global.

Similarly, College of the Canyons is part of the California Community College system, the largest system of higher education in the United States, and has long played a key role in advancing the use of OER across California, including the implementation of the Zero Textbook Cost Degree Program for 115 community colleges. At $115 million, this is the largest-ever public investment in OER. As a recognized global leader in the field of open education, James Glapa-Grossklag not only oversees this statewide grant program but also serves as dean of educational technology, learning resources, and distance learning at College of the Canyons and co-leads the Open for Antiracism faculty training program (OFAR) with the Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER).

By joining forces across different sectors of higher education, we are utilizing one another’s strengths to build a strong foundation and model for successful cross-institution open collaborations. So far, we have implemented content curation for specific course topics, provided individual consultations for participating faculty, started building community across those participating, and conducted reflective practice interviews where we are learning about community college faculty’s approaches and curricular needs.

Key findings from community college educators

What are we learning in this pilot project? In our first round of reflective practice interviews conducted by Sarah Hansen, assistant director of open education innovation at MIT OpenCourseWare, here are some of the recurring themes that have emerged from our conversations with community college faculty thus far. Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

The democratizing force of community colleges

Many of the interview participants stressed that community colleges offer educational opportunities to students from underserved communities. And the education provided by community colleges doesn’t only benefit the individual students, opening the doors to further education and successful careers; it also has a transforming influence on the families and communities those students come from, expanding their awareness of what is possible.

“When I see the students in my class, I really see the four-letter word H-O-P-E. Hope. Really — the hope of the family. Many of them are Hispanic families and first-generation college students. They are really the hope of their families and the community.” — Isaac Koh, College of the Canyons

“Community college is an awesome place to be. […] We not only do the first two years better than anybody else, we also do job training and career enhancement. […] We’re not a junior college, we’re a community college. We serve our community. Our communities have such varied needs. And we take care of them.” — Anne Marenco, College of the Canyons

The nature and value of collaboration

Across several interviews, faculty emphasized the value of having access to teaching ideas from a variety of sources and expressed the desire to learn from one another as well. Erik Altenbernd from College of the Canyons articulated it in terms of having a dialogue, suggesting that when ideas are shared back and forth rather than in a one-way flow, the resulting conversation amongst a community of educators can enrich everyone’s teaching and approach. Through this project, participants appreciated the “opportunity to grow and connect with others,” as Isaac Koh from College of the Canyons put it, in order to brainstorm together and to learn with, from, and alongside one another.

“I believe in collaboration at the institutional level, and I believe in cultural change. […] When we join forces, we become stronger. […] Creating a community of learning is very important.” — Fernando Romero, Chandler-Gilbert Community College (Maricopa)

“I always learn from partnering with people. I love to do collaborative projects because it really increases my repertoire, so that I have more options for my students, more ways to approach an assignment, more ways to solve a problem.” — Lori Walk, Glendale Community College (Maricopa)

A window into how others teach

Faculty identified various reasons why they value the free course materials available through MIT OpenCourseWare. Many instructors value MIT’s materials primarily as sources of insight or inspiration for their own curriculum design and pedagogy. Thus, MIT OpenCourseWare provides a window into how colleagues at MIT are teaching or organizing their courses, and that information can be just as valuable as the OER themselves. One instructor particularly liked the way courses are structured and the modular way the materials are laid out; another praised MIT instructors’ passion for their fields of study, and also the fact that the materials on MIT OpenCourseWare are often the product of many years’ experience in teaching a given subject.

“[MIT OpenCourseWare] opens me up to accessing content that’s been cultivated by other people. So I feel like I have this unlimited world of data that I can pull in and curate and create my own classes, create my own curriculum– create my own style of how I want to teach and what I want to highlight.” — John Francis, College of the Canyons.

Benefits of open education

Of course, MIT OpenCourseWare is only a small part of the much larger ecosystem of open education, and our interviewees’ enthusiasm for OER is by no means limited to the educational materials offered by MIT through OpenCourseWare. Faculty appreciate the fact that open licensing allows them the freedom to pick and choose when adapting materials to meet their curricular needs, and that bringing in perspectives from colleagues at other institutions allows students access to a richer learning experience.

“Having more voices in the room is better. Just having a textbook written by one or a few individuals doesn’t do service to the expanse that there is in knowledge. So I really like the idea of using OER materials not just as a textbook, but to build a class so students can see all the different applications, all the different people involved, all the different processes involved in developing science and what science is.” — Tricia Foley, College of the Canyons

Spotlighting the voices of community college faculty for the global open education community

Joy Shoemate (College of the Canyons) discusses the Exploring OER & Open Pedagogy course during a panel discussion at OEGlobal 2023. Image: OEGlobal on YouTube

The learnings from this project have been informative and impactful, and have the potential to shape how we view and practice open education at large. As such, we wanted to share community college faculty’s insights with the global open education community.

Along with our collaborators, MIT OpenCourseWare presented our work in an Open Education Global (OEGlobal) conference panel titled Planned Communities: Building the Foundation for Successful Cross-Institution Open Collaborations. Aptly, this year’s convening focused on the theme of “Building a Sustainable World through Open Education,” and was hosted by NorQuest College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, making it the first OEGlobal conference to be co-hosted by a community college. In our presentation, we shared audio interview excerpts from the faculty (some of which are featured in this article) which sparked a great conversation with attendees.

We continued this conversation with an additional conference panel titled “Open for Collaboration: Joining Forces Across Different Sectors of Higher Education” at the OER24: Open Education Conference, hosted by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) in partnership with Munster Technological University (MTU) and their Department of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) in Cork, Ireland. The theme for this 15th annual conference for open education research, practice, and policy was “Digital Transformation in Open Education.”

The feedback from the global open education community makes us eager to involve MIT faculty who have published their course materials on MIT OpenCourseWare, so that community college faculty can influence how teaching happens at MIT, too. Doing so would accomplish what Erik Altenbernd from College of the Canyons imagines as a dialogue between a two-year college and a major research institution like MIT. In other words, instructors at community colleges and those at MIT might be able to learn from each other, in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Resources you can use

A foundational training element that was designed and implemented as part of this project is a free Canvas course on OER by College of the Canyons titled Exploring OER and Open Pedagogy. Designed by Joy Shoemate, director of online learning at College of the Canyons, and her team, this self-paced Canvas course is an open training that resides at the intersections between equity, OER, open pedagogy, and culturally responsive pedagogy. Topics covered include open licensing as well as how to find and use OER in equitable ways; bonus materials include resources used during this project, such as the reflective practice interview protocol. If you are already enrolled in this self-paced course, you can log into Canvas Free for Teacher.


Collaborating to support community college faculty in teaching with MIT open educational resources was originally published in MIT Open Learning on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. Hear the excerpts of these interviews on the Open Matters blog.

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