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Strategic Initiatives

Open Educational Resources


The Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative grew out of recommendations from the Commissioner’s OER Work Group and aims to expand OER use on campuses and provide advice and counsel to the DHE for statewide implementation.


Robert J. Awkward, Ph.D.,
Assistant Commissioner for Academic Effectiveness
(617) 994-6908


2018 – Present

Related Data



Student Identities
Focus Areas

Multiple Campuses

Related Initiatives



Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium—digital or otherwise—that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.

These freely accessible text, media, and other digital assets are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes—this collaboration offers direct benefits to faculty and students at the 29 public higher education institutions in the Commonwealth.

In 2018–2019, UMass Amherst, Worcester State University, Holyoke Community College, and Northern Essex Community College led a collaborative project called “Massachusetts Open Education: Achieving Access for All,” funded by a Higher Education Innovation Fund grant. The project helped build OER capacity across the state and assessed the OER landscape at all public higher education institutions in Massachusetts. By gathering and analyzing data about current OER usage from each college to determine regional training needs, we were able to assist the project in achieving its goal of lowering overall costs for students, increasing student and faculty engagement, and ultimately improving college completion rates.

On October 22, 2019, the Board of Higher Education accepted the Final OER Report & Recommendations, Fall 2019 from the Commissioner’s OER Work Group and endorsed implementation of its recommendations, which are time-based (short-term, mid-term, and long-term), to address:

  1. The growing legislative interest in lowering the cost of educational resources;
  2. The issues of achieving equity for under-served, low-income, and first-generation students; and
  3. The enhancement of instructional effectiveness.

This effort was accomplished due to the strong and consistent advocacy of the Student Advisory Council.

Latest News & Events


    AAC Motion 21-15 & Presentation to the Academic Affairs Committee

    June 22, 2021—Dr. Robert J. Awkward presented on the OER Course Marking Implementation Guidelines and OER Key Performance Indicators as part of the AAC motion 21-15 for the AAC and BHE to read, review, and accept.

    Watch the presentation →

    Review the Motion →


    Massachusetts Public Colleges & Universities Report $7M in Textbook Savings For Students

    March 2, 2021—A consortia of Massachusetts public colleges and universities marked Open Education Week (March 1-5) by reporting to the DHE that efforts to replace expensive college textbooks with free or low-cost instructional materials have resulted in more than $7 million in direct savings to students.

    Read the news release →


    Open Textbooks—Access, Affordability, Equity, and Academic Success in the COVID-Era (webinar)

    May 20, 2021—Sponsored by the DHE and OEN, the OER Advisory Council hosted training webinars for faculty on May 19/20 regarding OER during the COVID-era.

    Watch the webinar →

    View the presentation slides →

    Access resources and question responses from the webinar →

    Review the Open Textbook Review Criteria →


    Presentation to the Board of Higher Education Academic Affairs Committee (.pptx)

    January 26, 2021—Dr. Robert J. Awkward presented an overview and update on the progress done towards the final recommendations from the OER Working Group.

    Download the presentation →

Student Impact

Reducing costs and increasing affordability
  • The U.S. Department of Education projected that cost would keep 2.4 million low and moderate-college-qualified high school graduates from completing college.
  • The top three biggest cost challenges facing college students are tuition (61.65%), course materials (39.56%), and housing costs (38.1%).
  • College textbook prices have increased faster than tuition, health care, and housing, rising 1,041% since 1977!
  • Not being able to purchase required textbooks have cause students to:
    • Not purchase the required textbook (64.2%)
    • Take fewer courses (42.8%)
    • Not register for a specific course (40.5%)
    • Earn a poor grade (35.6%)
    • Drop a course (22.9%)
    • Withdraw from a course (18.1%)
    • Fail a course (17.2%)
Increasing student persistence and success

The development and use of OER can create more equitable learning experiences for all students. In addition, OER closes equity gaps because it provides students who cannot afford required course materials access to the resources they need. Moreover, several studies affirm that OER use also improves student success outcomes.

  1. Students were able to use their textbooks on the first day of class rather than waiting to buy the textbooks – if they bought them at all - until they could afford them.
  2. Students learned and performed better academically when they had immediate access to their educational materials.
  3. Research has also shown the OER initiative addresses and improves the performance of all students, but especially the most under-represented students in the United States.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at the University of Georgia (UGA) began to encourage the use of OER in the summer of 2013. A study of faculty who taught large enrollment courses and were currently using an expensive textbook or textbook/technology package was conducted. For the more than 21,000 students involved in this study, not only did they enjoy significant savings using work mostly created by OpenStax, but there was also a positive impact on their learning. The study at the University of Georgia also showed a significant and positive impact on under-represented students:


When considering Federal Pell eligibility, we observed an increase in A through B+ letter grades and a decrease in B though DFW grades. A significant decrease in DFW rates for Pell-eligible students was found (a 4.43 percent change) when OER was adopted as the textbook for the class. This research [also] revealed significant differences in academic performance (average final grade) for both White and non-White students enrolled in OER courses. However, the magnitude in which non-White students’ grades improved is very compelling (Colvard, Watson, & Park, 2018, p. 272.)

These types of findings were echoed in the Achieving the Dream community college study where 48 percent of Pell Grant recipients and 52 percent of under-represented minorities said OER courses had a significant impact on their ability to afford college compared to 41 percent for other students (Ashford, 2018). When students have access to course learning materials, it positively affects their in-class performance leading to student success, persistence, and completion.

The results from the 2018 study were echoed again in the 2020 Achieving the Dream study conducted by their partners SRI Education and rpk GROUP (2020). This study involved eleven community colleges across the country. The average age of the study participants was 20. At least a third or more of the participating students were eligible for or had received a Pell grant. The proportion of students from historically under-represented ethnic minority groups ranged from 25 percent to 88 percent. “In 6 of the 11 colleges, treatment students1 taking OER courses accumulated significantly more course credits than those who had not taken any OER courses” (SRI International, 2020, p. 20). While the study did not find a significant impact on GPA by students taking OER courses, students maintained their GPAs despite taking more courses. Finally, “the number of credits earned by Pell students taking OER courses relative to their Pell-eligible peers was significantly higher than the number of credits earned by non-Pell-eligible students taking OER courses relative to their non-Pell-eligible peers” (SRI International, 2020, p. 23-24).

Additionally, the benefits for part-time students were equally compelling. Part-time students are often overlooked in higher education, and 71 percent are self-financing their education (Bombardieri, 2017). This population contains many of our under-represented students and tends to be concentrated at community colleges. The UGA study found a 53.12 percent increase in average course grades and a 29.54 percent decrease in DFW rates for part-time students (Colvard, Watson, & Park, 2018).

Open Education Network

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education joined the Open Education Network (OEN), a consortium of colleges and universities working to advance open textbook initiatives. OEN supports the Open Textbook Library, a searchable online catalog of complete textbooks available for faculty and students to freely use, adapt, and distribute to best meet the needs of their courses.

One of the benefits of OEN membership is that the DHE, in conjunction with OEN, will coordinate full-day “train-the-trainer” workshops that will be offered to OER Advisory Council members and their respective institutional OER faculty.

Upcoming Training Dates and Locations

There were two well-attended Faculty OER training sessions recently held:

  • Wednesday, May 19, 2021 from 2–4pm
  • Thursday, May 20, 2021 from 10am–12noon

These workshops focused on:

  1. Identifying obstacles to open textbook adoptions
  2. An in-depth look into OEN membership
  3. Making the case on your campus
  4. Developing an effective program on your campus
  5. Strategies for addressing common challenges

View and download materials from the May 19/20 trainings here >

Review an Open Textbook

Faculty who attend an institutional training event will have the opportunity to review an open textbook and receive a $200 stipend. Faculty will have five to six weeks to complete the open textbook review. Details to be provided. 

Other benefits include attendance at the OEN Summer Institute for statewide OER leaders, participation in their Google group, access to their Open Textbook Library, discounted institutional membership, and their data dashboard. We are excited about this continuing partnership for all our public institutions.

Statewide OER Advisory Council

The OER Work Group was co-chaired by Marilyn Billings, Head, Office of Scholarly Communications, UMass Amherst and Susan Tashjian, Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Northern Essex Community College, who led a team of 21 individuals—comprised of librarians, faculty, administrators, students, and external representatives—from the UMass System, state universities, and community colleges. Their work resulted in a Final OER Report & Recommendations. Among those ten recommendations was the creation of a statewide OER Advisory Council and an OER Statewide Coordinator.

As a result of the October 2019 BHE vote, Dr. Robert J. Awkward from the DHE was designated the OER Statewide Coordinator and the statewide OER Advisory Council was convened, consisting of one representative from each of the 29 public institutions. The advisory council serves to expand OER use on campuses and to provide advice and counsel for OER implementation throughout Massachusetts. The statewide OER Advisory Council and the OER Statewide Coordinator will be responsible for implementing the short-term recommendations of the OER Work Group and developing plans, after conducting additional research, for how to implement the mid and long-term recommendations.


The following are the members of the statewide OER Advisory Council, recommended by their respective chancellor or president to serve to advance OER across the state and within their own campuses.

*Names in bold are from the OER Working Group

Department of Higher Education & Other Representatives
OER Statewide Coordinator Robert Awkward, Assistant Commissioner for Academic Effectiveness
DHE Executive Sponsor Patricia A. Marshall, Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs & Student Success
Student Advisory Council Jorgo Gushi, SAC Chair & BHE Segmental Advisor (CC), Quinsigamong Community College
Student Advisory Council Cindy Mack, SAC Policy Chair, Massasoit Community College
Student Advisory Council Niki Nguyen, SAC Vice Chair, Bunker Hill Community College
Student Advisory Council: State University* Kerry McManus, Fitchburg State University
Employer Representative Cherie Comeau, Sr. Manager, Leadership & Organization Development
Consigli Construction Co., Inc.
Ex-Officio Matt Noyes, Director of Trustee & Government Relations
Ex-Officio Kelly Jo Woodside, Massachusetts Library Systems
Ex-Officio Stacy Bougie, Associate Director of External Relations

*This was designated for UMass System, but nobody responded to SAC Chair Gushi’s entreaties. Thus, the slot has been filled with a state university designee.

Community College Staff and Faculty
Berkshire Community College Karen Hines, Associate Professor, Business
Bristol Community College Dr. Yashwant Sinha, Assistant Professor of Offshore Wind Energy
Bunker Hill Community College Meghan Callahan, Associate Director, Academic Innovation & Distance Education
Ceit De Vitto, AIDE Senior Special Programs Coordinator
Cape Cod Community College Catherine Sughrue Etter, Professor of Science
Greenfield Community College Tim Dolan, Librarian
Holyoke Community College Jessica Egan, Coordinator of Instructional Design
MassBay Community College Bernadette Sibuma, Director of Online Learning
Massasoit Community College Jesse Schreier, Coordinator of Institutional Technology
Middlesex Community College Donna Maturi, Library Director
Mount Wachusett Community College Ellen Pratt, Librarian
North Shore Community College Andrea Milligan, Director, Center for Teaching & Learning
Northern Essex Community College Scott Joubert, Professor of Criminal Justice
Susan Tashjian, Coordinator of Instructional Technology,
OER Advisory Council Co-chair
Quinsigamond Community College Amy Beaudry, Professor of English & Academic Technology Facilitator
Roxbury Community College William Hoag, Library Director
Springfield Techincal Community College Chelsea Contrada, Outreach & OER Librarian
State University Staff and Faculty
Bridgewater State University Jessica Birthisel, Associate Professor, Communications Studies
Fitchburg State University Jacalyn Kremer, Dean of the Library
Framingham State University Millie Gonzalez, Interim Dean of Library, OER Advisory Council Co-Chair
MassArt Rachel Resnik, Technical Services Librarian
MCLA Pamela Contakos, Digital Services Librarian
Mass Maritime Carolyn Michaud, Access Services Manager
Salem State University Elizabeth McKeigue, Dean of the Library
Westfield State University Tom Raffensperger, Dean of Information Services & Library Director
Worcester State University Matt Bejune, Executive Director of the Library
University of Massachusetts Staff and Faculty
UMass Amherst Marilyn Billings, Head, Office of Scholarly Communications
UMass Boston Apurva Mehta, Associate Chief Information Officer
UMass Dartmouth Dawn Gross, Interim Library Dean
UMass Lowell Donna Mellen, Associate Director of Academic Technology
UMass Medical Regina Raboin, Associate Library Director


Meeting Materials

The advisory council generally meets monthly during the academic year (September—May), but may meet more or less frequently as determined by the OER Statewide Coordinator.


September 20, 2021
Download: Agenda OER AY2021 in Review Presentation OER Rotel Presentation

June 21, 2021
Download:  Agenda

May 17, 2021
Download:  Agenda  Fitchburg State University OER Assessment Plan  MA Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER) Update

March 8, 2021
Download:  Agenda  Presentation

January 11, 2021
Download:  Agenda  Repository Committee Report