The New Hampshire Open Education Public Consortium

A couple of years ago, as the Community College System of New Hampshire was just beginning its formal Open Education initiative, Chancellor Ross Gittell, himself the author of an early open textbook, expressed interest in applying for the new federal OER grant offered by the United States Department of Education. The grant required that applicants represent a minimum of three institutions working together, but CCSNH knew they would have an uphill battle competing for this funding given the newness of their own large-scale effort. CCSNH and the University System of New Hampshire were just beginning to partner together on this work, and USNH was several years into a robust Open Education initiative that stemmed out of our yearly Academic Technology Institute. The two systems decided to form a consortium in order to apply together for the federal grant, and thus the New Hampshire Open Education Public Consortium was born. Here’s how we framed our effort as we launched:

The University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire are proud to announce a Consortium effort to increase access and affordability around post-secondary education in our state. Our effort focuses on adopting and developing openly licensed learning materials to: drive down the real cost of college; improve learning outcomes, throughput and completion rates, and student engagement; improve higher education’s capacity to prepare graduates for the needs of a changing workforce; and develop 21st-century pedagogical approaches to serve our students and our state. The public institutions of higher education (IHEs) in New Hampshire believe that public colleges and universities have an ethical duty to explore, develop, and evaluate learning and research models expressly designed to benefit the publics that they serve, and we believe open education is a powerful way that IHEs enact their public missions. “Open education” can be understood as a three-pronged approach to the creation and sharing of knowledge. It involves the use and development of free, openly-licensed educational materials in courses; the centering of pedagogy focused on learners as contributors to—not simply consumers of—knowledge; and the commitment to broad sharing of research through open access publishing. We will leverage OER to help to drive down costs which are a significant barrier to students in accessing college and completing their degrees, and innovate around the related open pedagogies that can improve student engagement, success, and retention. We will make New Hampshire a model for how systemic and statewide approaches to open education can strengthen public higher education and its contributions to the public good in the United States.

The New Hampshire Open Education Public Consortium includes the four USNH institutions as well as the seven of CCSNH:

University System of New Hampshire, consisting of:
Plymouth State University, Plymouth
University of New Hampshire, Durham & Manchester
Keene State College, Keene
Granite State College, Concord
Community College System of New Hampshire, consisting of:
Great Bay Community College, Portsmouth
Lakes Region Community College, Laconia
Manchester Community College, Manchester
NHTI, Concord’s Community College, Concord
Nashua Community College, Nashua
River Valley Community College, Claremont
White Mountains Community College, Berlin

We are grateful to the chancellors, presidents, and provosts of these institutions for their enthusiasm for the partnership. President Donald Birx of Plymouth State summarized one institution’s perspective on joining the consortium:

PSU President Donald Birx

[This Consortium] supports our new vision and learning model for the university. The proposal to adopt and develop Open Educational Resources (OER) fits well with our holistic transformation to an Integrated Cluster based organization. The opportunity to utilize open textbooks and resources support our learning model by providing more relevant textbooks to solve challenges that more and more require an interdisciplinary approach. We anticipate that this will allow New Hampshire to continue to lead the nation in this field, will attract more students to enroll in OER courses as well as foster collaboration between the public university and community college systems. In addition, the goals to drive down the real cost of college; improve learning outcomes, throughput and completion rates, and student engagement; improve higher education’s capacity to prepare graduates for the needs of a changing workforce; and develop 21st-century pedagogical approaches to serve our students and our state are not only commendable but necessary.

We also appreciate the support of Governor Chris Sununu, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, and a large advisory team of workforce and non-profit partners, higher education policy-makers, and educators from across the state. As the Governor wrote in the first application that we undertook as a consortium,

Governor Sununu

[This is] a landmark collaboration between all of the public institutions of higher education in New Hampshire. It includes every single public college and university in the State – including the seven community colleges and the four institutions of the University System. Thus the coverage of the OER work would be statewide and highly impactful. In fact, the impact will also be felt at the secondary school level thanks to the robust dual enrollment program that exist? in New Hampshire (the “Running Start” program) as a partnership between the community college system and nearly every high school in the state. Grant-supported OER work will extend to college courses offered in NH high schools for concurrent credit. As a statewide effort, the proposal will impact both urban and rural communities and will yield useful insights into the effectiveness of OER roll-outs in regions with different demographic characteristics and challenges. I cannot imagine a more comprehensive scope within any state than is represented by this grant proposal.

I wish I could end this post by saying that we were successful in winning that first grant that mobilized our formation, but unfortunately, California, which has significant infrastructure (including embedded open publishing technologies) dedicated to Open Education already in place across many of its institutions was home to the winning consortium for this first year. But what New Hampshire now has is a blueprint for collaboration, a comprehensive plan, and a commitment to focus on Open Education from every sector of our state.

Some of the USNH and CCSNH participants meet at Granite State College to work on Open Education initiatives and projects

This commitment has yielded several exciting new projects in the state. With much gratitude to Manchester Community College’s Library Director Deb Baker, we are getting an OER Hub launched for the Consortium, which will be a wonderful way for our faculty to share and recommend open resources across our eleven institutions. Deb and Plymouth State Librarian Christin Wixson were also key in developing our first statewide Learning Circle on OER, an open course that brought together faculty and administrators for a month-long, open, online professional development course hosted by P2P University; it was a wonderful way for many of us to get to know each other, and it has yielded a new cross-system mentorship list that will hopefully allow faculty and staff to get assistance from their peers in the state on specific OER-related questions. This allows us to mine our expertise across our campuses, and partner together to make sure every campus has the information and support they need to help faculty get started in this work. Perhaps most excitingly, our Consortium has joined an emerging leadership circle comprised of several state university systems (led by the University System of Maryland and SUNY & CUNY in New York) to build a national network of statewide OER initiatives that can share best practices and guide OER policy and capacity-building in the United States; this “Driving OER Sustainability For Student Success” (DOERS3) network will have broad impact on college affordability at a national level.

There are so many other ideas I personally would like to see the Consortium tackle as we move forward: developing a statewide strategic plan for Open Education in public higher education; linking that plan to our K12 initiatives in OER; developing curricular continuity through these partnerships to aid in postsecondary transferability; linking OER to other basic needs wraparound services that emerge as key barriers to enrollment and persistence (food insecurity, transportation, veteran’s services, childcare, and mental health are some of the key ones that many of us are working on in our institutions now); developing policies and support pathways to help faculty find encouragement, time, and assistance to transition their courses to OER and reinvigorate their pedagogies where appropriate; and creating avenues for collaboration to encourage the developing of multiple zero-cost degree programs (called Z-Degrees) that use open resources. All of these things now seem possible to me, given the framework of the Consortium.

Yesterday, I spent the day with legislators, higher education administrators, and policy-makers as part of the New England Board of Higher Education annual meeting. NEBHE has moved Open Education to the forefront of its list of strategic initiatives, and I was proud to talk with lawmakers and leaders about all that the New Hampshire Higher Education Public Consortium is poised to do, to share the successes that we have had already here in New Hampshire, and to express our enthusiasm for linking our Consortium with larger regional efforts that will be spurred by NEBHE’s new investments. It is an exciting time to be part of Open Education in the northeast, and I was again and again impressed by how the conversations that catalyze this work continually return to the basic core tenet: serve learners, serve learning.

The New Hampshire Open Education Public Consortium is, more than anything, a relationship. It is an agreement among leaders, teachers, and institutions to focus together on something that is truly do-able, and a commitment to center the needs of our state’s learners above business-as-usual educational structures. As we look toward a collaborative future, we are finding, in the spirit of Open Education, that students who study here in New Hampshire are students who belong to all of us. Our shared mission is to make learning more accessible, and our collective hope is that by working together, we can remove some of the barriers that keep our students from finding success in college. I am so grateful for the work of many individuals and organizations in moving this Consortium forward, and I wish I had room to name many more, but I must mention at USNH: Reta Chaffee, Director of Educational Technology, Granite State College; Jenny Darrow, Director of Digital Learning, Keene State College; JoAnn Guilmett, Director of Client Services & Academic Technology, Plymouth State University; Terri Winters, Assistant Vice Provost for Digital Learning & Communication, University of New Hampshire; and Karen Cangialosi, Open Education Fellow and Biology Professor, Keene State College. At CCSNH, Chancellor Gittell, Chief Operating Officer Charles Ansell and all of the college presidents have joined faculty champions such as Jennifer Tripp, Rita MacAuslan, and Julie Robinson to link with the USNH group. Our initial team list on the grant proposal stretched across multiple pages. A small state, but a big, big effort underway to do right by our students.

I look forward to how the Consortium will serve New Hampshire now that we are focused and connected. With support from our legislators, our public, and our institutions, we are poised to make a big difference in college affordability and the future of learning in our state.

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