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A few years ago Myra Snell coined the term “stupiphany” to describe that forehead-slapping moment when you realize something that’s so obvious in retrospect that you feel stupid for not having seen it sooner.

I had one of those this week around OER and dual enrollment.

Most public high schools supply textbooks free of charge to their students. Most colleges don’t. When a college teaches courses in a high school for high school students, someone -- whether the district, the students, the parents, or the external funder, if any -- is likely to get sticker shock at the cost of the books. That’s because they’ve been working on a “free textbooks” model forever. The aspect of OER that seems so novel in the college setting is old hat in the high school setting.

Put differently, aggressive adoption of OER at the college level can make dual enrollment classes much easier to sustain.

To the extent we move in that direction, we’re addressing cost on a couple of fronts. We’re taking textbook costs off the table, and we’re making dual enrollment classes available on a sustained basis to more students. Those can be remarkable money-savers in themselves, and because they aren’t eligible for Pell grants at this point, they can help students conserve their Pell eligibility. 

The stupiphany came in realizing that the two are connected. Meaningful progress in OER adoption would make meaningful progress in dual enrollment much easier.  Even the most strapped school board can manage to cover “free.” Even better, many OER resources are consistently updated; as recent news coverage from Arizona has shown us, that isn’t true of traditional textbooks. Nothing against Blake Shelton, but when I saw that a young girl was issued the same textbook he was issued at her age, I had to grimace. If the social studies book refers to President Reagan in the present tense, it’s time to replace the book.

The common denominator between OER and dual enrollment is access. In fact, with dual enrollment we’ve had questions raised about how much access is too much.  Several high schools allow students who don’t register for the college course to sit in on it.  Some faculty here have objected that the free-riding students are setting themselves up for better grades later by getting a free preview.  I’m torn. Yes, free-riding creates obvious issues of sustainability. But you could also read it as studiousness. I don’t object if students use libraries to read up on the subject matter of classes before taking the classes, or even if they view MOOCs on subjects prior to taking the classes.  If anything, I tend to have a soft spot for students who are so eager to learn that they jump ahead. It’s a good problem to have.

Outside of certain literature or philosophy classes, I’m generally skeptical of the claim that a given subject can only be taught with The One True Text.  Part of the point of the focus on “student learning outcomes” is that it frees up faculty to try different approaches to help students learn. As long as the students get what they’re supposed to, any of a number of different resources could work. Yes, a course on Shakespeare requires texts by Shakespeare (or by the true author of “his” plays, if you’re more conspiratorially-minded). But an Intro to Marketing course could use any number of different resources and still get the students what they need. 

Dual enrollment has fans and foes, but I’ve never heard anyone complain that the books weren’t expensive enough.  If the growth in dual enrollment leads to speeding up the pace of adoption of OER, everyone wins. Except maybe for folks who collect textbooks owned by famous people now over 40.

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