The OER Trifecta: Access, Affordability and Student Success

Published by: WCET | 11/10/2014

Tags: Practice

A 2014 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award winner, the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) OER-Based Associate Degree Project has saved its students nearly half a million dollars in its pilot year.  Read on as Wm. Preston Davis, Director of Instructional Services, shares with us the values, processes and outcomes of this innovative program.

When I joined NOVA four years ago, I was almost overwhelmed by the size and scope of the institution. NOVA is one of the largest Community Colleges in the nation, serving a broad and diverse student population of over 70,000 students. NOVA also has one of the largest and most robust distance learning programs in the country, with 25,000 students enrolled in online courses. I immediately saw the importance of the college to the extended community, and envisioned a program that could help to alleviate some of the challenges facing students at NOVA by utilizing open educational resources.

OER Associate Degree Project

NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project is a comprehensive approach to addressing concerns over access, affordability and student success. There are three major goals of NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project:

  • To increase access to higher education. By making sure that each course includes all of the course materials and resources that students need, we are putting all students on the same level.  Each student has equal access to the same information, ensuring fairness and equality among all students enrolled in the OER course.
  • To make higher education more affordable. By eliminating the burden of additional textbook costs for students, the actual cost of taking an OER course is reduced.  Often, this is a significant reduction in cost which translates to considerable savings over time. This can result in much lower student debt, making attaining the Associate Degree easier and more valuable.
  • To increase student success at NOVA. By giving all students in an OER course equal access, and removing the burden of additional expenses to those who can least afford them, students have a better chance of being successful in the course, continuing their enrollment, and achieving their academic goals.

NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project is a two-phase project. In phase 1, we focused on a series of first-year, high-enrollment general education courses leading to a general studies certificate. In phase 2, we continued with a series of second-year, high-enrollment courses which allowed us to develop two full Associate Degree track options that use free and open educational resources.

Educational Technology

Open By Jeremy Brooks on FlickrWe developed our OER-Based Associate Degree Project to be delivered online, so that any student at any NOVA campus could have the opportunity to take these courses.  Our online students are familiar with technology and find having OER embedded into their online courses conducive to their learning.

Building digital content and resources into an online course helps to better engage the learner and keep them focused on the course material.  This leads to better knowledge retention, better course outcomes, improves their information literacy skills, and better prepares students to function more effectively in technology adapted careers.

Planning and Implementation

To accomplish this large and challenging project, it was crucial to build a team of dedicated and skilled faculty and staff who shared my vision. We had support from college leadership, and maximized our internal resources to accomplish our goals efficiently and effectively. Our Distance Learning Librarians provided guidance and expertise in locating and curating information and materials. Our Instructional Designers provided content organization and online instructional delivery expertise. Most importantly, we recruited select faculty with a history of innovative teaching as the content experts to design and teach the new OER courses.


The team-based adoption and implementation model developed for NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project can be applied by any institution.  The model is scalable and is applicable to traditional, hybrid and online modalities.  Furthermore, this model can be adapted to the level of education offered by the institution.  Several other institutions have already begun development of an OER Certificate program based on our model.

We have seen immediate benefits of the OER-Based Associate Degree project, measuring cost-savings to students in hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the impact that these OER courses have on each individual student and their success in reaching their educational goals is the true measure of success.  Over time, as our graduation rates grow and student debt shrinks, my colleagues and I will take great satisfaction in the difference that this OER project has made at NOVA and beyond.

Want to learn more? Join me in Portland for my session – OER-Based Associate Degree Program on Friday, Nov. 21 at 9:30 am.

W.Preston Davis headshotWm. Preston Davis, Ed.D.

Director of Instructional Services

Northern Virginia Community College



Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr


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