Northern Virginia Community College Embraces Open Source Degrees


Northern Virginia Community College’s Extended Learning Institute (ELI) is partnering with open courseware provider Lumen Learning to publish two entirely free degree programs.

The 24 open-access courses were designed to cost students nothing and use open educational resources (OER) that everyone can access rather than relying on prohibitively expensive textbooks. Collectively, the courses are known as zELI, with the “z” standing for zero textbook cost.

ELI has offered its students certificates and degree programs with zero textbook expenses since 2013. So far, more than 10,000 students have taken these courses for a total of $1.5 million in textbook savings.

The free courses fulfill the college’s requirements for a Certificate in General Studies, and associate degrees in General Studies and Social Sciences. The school chose these degrees (which are made up of core classes that many students have to take) so that the most students could benefit, according to eCampus News.

According to the ELI webpage, the courses include various levels of English, College Math, Communications, Economics, History, Information Technology, Science, Humanities/Fine Arts, Physical Education, Social Sciences, and Student Development.

The courses will be available on Lumen Learning’s platform, which is designed specifically for OER courses. For a fee, institutions can use its faculty training, technical support, customization resources, and ability to integrate with major learning management systems.

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) hopes that the publication of these courses will inspire other institutions to do the same, which would help expand the OER resources available to students.

Dr. David Wiley, chief academic officer of Lumen Learning, said:

We know from OER adoption patterns that a degree program is a game-changer in terms of generating momentum and scaling the positive impact on students.

NOVA has said that they are the first college to share OER degrees and courses for free online.

Dr. William Preston Davis, director of instructional services, said:

From the very beginning, NOVA’s efforts with OER courses and degree programs have been about both increasing student success and creating material to be shared with more educators to impact more students. With open degree pathways, we provide a huge boost to students who can’t afford textbooks, and we put them on a clearer path towards completion. We want to see the entire education community provide this tremendous benefit.

The courses are being published under Creative Commons licenses, according to Rhea Kelly of Campus Technology, meaning that anyone can use and revise the materials for their own needs. Therefore, not only do the courses pave the way as an example of what’s possible with OER, but they can form the basis for the creation of other online classes.

Besides NOVA’s OER classes, Lumen Learning offers the learning management and resource curation system Waymaker, Candela customizable ebook textbooks, and help for institutions who want to create their own OER classes. Its course catalog spans arts, sciences, history, math, busines, and social sciences.