The Borough of Manhattan Community College now offers textbook-free criminal justice degree

The criminal justice faculty redesigned 20 courses using #OER

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) students majoring in criminal justice can now potentially complete the degree program without ever having to buy a textbook, saving altogether, an estimated $2,500.

BMCC faculty have redesigned 20 courses to create an Open Educational Resources (OER) criminal justice associate degree. The effort was funded by a 2016, two-year OER grant from the organization Achieving the Dream.

This milestone was reached through the efforts of criminal justice faculty as well as professors in core courses such as mathematics. A number of faculty who worked to bring the OER criminal justice degree to fruition—the first OER associate degree program at BMCC—say the process was filled with challenges yet ultimately was energizing.

BMCC, along with Hostos Community College (CUNY) and Bronx Community College (CUNY), participated in the Achieving the Dream initiative. The thin path to a textbook-free criminal justice degree—where at least one section of each core course is offered with OER materials—is just one component of the college’s multi-pronged efforts to bring Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) to students. Funded by the New York State Department of Education, efforts are currently underway to develop a ZTC animation and motion graphics degree program, along with redesigning gateway and high enrollment courses.

BMCC growing ZTC options
As 2018 comes to a close, BMCC faculty are teaching more than 500 sections of ZTC courses each semester, resulting in an estimated annual savings of $2.5 million for more than 20,000 students. By Fall 2019, cumulative savings for BMCC students will be at least $6 million, according to figures compiled by the BMCC A. Philip Randolph Memorial Library.

Research from a 2017 study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities suggests that OER is an equity strategy: providing all students with access to course materials on the first day of class serves to level the playing field in course settings.

That holds especially true at BMCC where more than half of the students come from households with annual incomes of less than $20,000. This makes the average $1,200 annual cost for books and other supplies a barrier to academic success for many students.

BMCC Open Knowledge Librarian, Professor Jean Amaral, who has been leading the ZTC effort at BMCC, commended participating faculty for their success in the OER initiative.

“Since 2015, when we launched our Open/Alternative Textbook Program, our faculty have been doing extraordinary work in redesigning their courses with OER and other no-cost materials,” said Amaral.

She said BMCC faculty commitment to equity and justice for the college’s students fuels the OER/ZTC efforts.

“Building on the efforts and success of our faculty, CUNY’s participation in the Achieving the Dream Grant contributed to New York Department of Education funding of OER/ZTC efforts over the past two years,” Amaral said. “We are grateful to our funders and our faculty for their contribution and commitment to our students’ success.”

BMCC Interim President Karrin E. Wilks says the OER/ZTC efforts are a critical component of the college’s Designing for Success work, and the college’s commitment to dramatically improve student success.

“We are greatly appreciative and very proud of all the faculty who have contributed to creating our first ZTC degree program,” said Wilks. “We know that for many students, the cost of textbooks is a barrier to their success. We also know from national studies that students find the pedagogy associated with OER highly engaging and relevant.”

While the main goal of OER effort is to lower costs for students ensuring equitable access to materials, there are other benefits as well, according to faculty who participated in the redesign process.

Faculty weigh in on OER redesign process
Criminal Justice Professor Michelle Ronda called the work an energizing process that freed her teaching from the confines of a textbook and reawakened the creativity in how she taught her course.

“The process of moving to open-and alternatively sourced educational materials also encouraged faculty to expand their thinking as scholars, teachers, and take full advantage of the plethora of information in the ever-changing, digitally-driven world we live in,” said Ronda.

Brenda Vollman, also a BMCC criminal justice professor, said by curating course material, she had the opportunity to choose resources that align with her teaching approach, while at the same time challenging her to consider, and adopt something new.

“Moving to low-cost and no-cost resources allows me, and my colleagues, to introduce and support the reality that knowledge should be, and is, free, open, available and creatable, not bound or owned by a publisher or expert knowledge icon or talking head standing at the front of the classroom,” said Vollman.

Vollman says she had to come out of her academic silo in order to bring OER course materials to fruition.

“Joining in the movement of open education has provided me with multiple opportunities to collaborate within and between disciplines,” Vollman says. “Not only do I use material licensed in the Creative Commons, but I also use alternative sources accessible in the public domain as well as through our information platforms and services at the college such as those available at the BMCC Library.”

BMCC Mathematics Professor Chris McCarthy says in the past, he loathed forcing students to buy expensive textbooks and that many students simply did not purchase them because they were so cost prohibitive.

From a faculty perspective, “OER’s most impressive benefit is that professors can customize their course,” McCarthy said. “Since the materials aren’t costing anything, you can assign the students materials from different sources. If you produce the material yourself you can customize it to be exactly as you want.”

Psychology Professor Monica Foust used OER materials in two courses—Child Psychology and Developmental Psychology—that are also writing intensive.

“I think the combination of OER and writing provides students with better ways of engaging with the text and materials,” Foust said. “For one, the readings are more engaging. I use readings from academic journals and popular news sources. I sense that the popular news sources are generally, more interesting the textbooks and are less overwhelming than textbooks can be.”

[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the BMCC News page.]

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