Be COOL with OER: Using California’s Open Online Library To Save Your Students Lots of Money on Course Materials

Concurrent Session 3
MERLOT Community College

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Brief Abstract

Learn how your institution can lower the cost of textbooks and improve learning opportunities for your students today by leveraging California’s Open Online Library 


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.
Leslie Kennedy, Ed.D., Director, Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) at the CSU Office of the Chancellor provides strategic planning and project and vendor management in support of AL$ initiatives and leads a number of campus and system-wide collaborations. Previously, Leslie served as the director of instructional technology support services at CSULB, engagement and user community relations manager for WebCT, and was tenured faculty at Fullerton College. She has an MA in Linguistics and a second Masters in Online Learning and Teaching. Her doctorate is in educational leadership in higher education with a focus on supporting mainstream faculty adoption of instructional technologies. Her work and education background includes a unique combination of relevant vendor experience, project management of diverse academic technology projects and teams, and first-hand experience as a faculty member which enables her to provide vision and guidance to AL$.

Extended Abstract

Collectively, California State University (CSU) students are spending well over $300 million for textbooks and other course materials. In a 2011 national Student PIRG survey of 1,905 students at 13 college campuses, seven of 10 students report not buying at least one of their required textbooks because it was too expensive. Seventy-nine percent of all students in this survey stated they would do "worse/much worse" in a class without their own textbook. The affordability of course materials is a significant barrier for student success. 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 three 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. 

Additional features of the COOL initiative are (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, and (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.    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.