Open Learning For All! Tools and Strategies For Saving Students Money on Course Materials with OER

Concurrent Session 9
Streamed Session MERLOT

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

Learn how your institution can lower the cost of textbooks and improve learning opportunities for your students today by leveraging free and open educational services and resources in academic disciplines, career & technical educations, and virtual labs. 


Gerard L. Hanley Ph.D. is the Executive Director of MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, and SkillsCommons ( for the California State University, the Director for the Center for Usability for Design and Accessibility and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach. At MERLOT and SkillsCommons, he directs the development and sustainability of the international consortium and technology strategy to provide open educational services to improve teaching and learning and continues to development the US Department of Labor's open repository of educational resources for workforce development. Gerry's previous positions include Assistance Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services at the CSU Office of the Chancellor, the Director of Faculty Development and Director of Strategy Planning at CSU, Long Beach.

Extended Abstract

If every student in California’s public higher education system (3 million students) saved $170 in course material costs per semester, the collective savings would total $1 billion annually. 

In a 2016 Florida Virtual University survey found that about 2/3 of the students don’t buy at least 1 textbook per semester and 47% said they take fewer units per semester because of the cost of textbook. Strategies for improving the affordable choices of course materials for CSU students have become an important part of a number of campus Graduation Initiative programs. When the total cost of education is more affordable, students graduate in less time, providing greater access to a CSU education to more of our citizens.

On January 1, 2013, California legislation was enacted which directed the California Community Colleges (CCC), the California State University (CSU), the University of California (UC), and the Intersegmental Council of Academic Senates (ICAS) to establish the California Open Education Resource Council through Senate Bill (SB) 1052 and directed the CSU to establish the California Open Online Library through SB 1053. The bills established the goal of making higher education in California more affordable by providing faculty and students access to free and lower-cost instructional materials.

In the four years since the legislation was enacted, the California State University, Office of the Chancellor was awarded grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which provided the private funds to release the state matching funds for this project.   The California Open Online Library (COOL) initiative has established a curated collection of open and free etextbooks for 50 general education courses resulting in over 150 open etextbooks and 450 faculty reviews.  The etextbook reviews are posted to the  website, and they are available for any instructor who is considering adopting affordable, digital course materials for their students.  The COOL4Ed website is a layer of webtechology that leverages the MERLOT (www.merlot) library of OER and free educational materials as well as the advanced capabilities of its open educational services.

With recent additions to the COOL4Ed services, users have free access to (1) the collection of faculty showcases sharing their open textbook adoption experiences which could possibly assist instructors with  their decisions to adopt an open or free etextbook in the future and (2) the collection of etextbook reviews by faculty from California’s higher education segments, (3) the collection of accessibility evaluations of the free and open etextbooks that enables faculty and students to decide if the resource is accessible for their learning, (4) collections of virtual labs in a variety of STEM areas that are free or low cost, and (5) collections of open courseware for career and technical education degrees, credentials, and certificates. 

 This session will provide a brief background on the COOL initiative and will share examples of the faculty adoption experiences in addition to sharing multiple resources that support faculty in the search for quality open and free etextbooks.  The session will also have participants use the website to explore the course catalog of free and open etextbooks, review and discuss the faculty reviews of the etextbooks as well as the interpretation of the accessibility evaluations.   Finally, we will discuss how to use these tools and resources for their own textbook affordability initiative, which could be modeled after the CSU’s Affordable Learning Solutions initiative ( and ask participates to draft a plan for the first year of their program and share with the rest of the audience.