The University System of New Hampshire has become the first in the nation to promote open education in a three-prong effort involving Open Educational Resources, Open Pedagogy, and Open Access.
Open education maintains that all individuals should have access to education and information, and its proponents seek to reduce socio-economic and geographic barriers to that access. According to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, open education is “the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good.”
In 2015, the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) made a foray into one area of open education, specifically in Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources provides free digital textbooks and course materials to students. UNESCO describes Open Educational Resources as offering “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.”
According to a survey of students conducted in 2013 by PIRG, 65% of students did not buy a required textbook because of its cost and 94% of those students were concerned about a resulting negative impact on their course grade (http://www.studentpirgs.org/sites/student/files/reports/NATIONAL%20Fixing%20Broken%20Textbooks%20Report1.pdf). The cost of higher education and mounting student debt have been concerns for policy makers at the University of New Hampshire where it is estimated that the average debt load of a graduate of the Durham campus is $36,000 (https://www.unh.edu/it/oer). To address this problem, the University of New Hampshire conducted a pilot program resulting in a savings of more than $148,000 in textbook expenses for students in the fall 2015 semester.
The open textbook initiative has now spread to the four other campuses of the University System of New Hampshire: Granite State College, Keene State College, and Plymouth State University. A recent conference held at Keene State College between May 31 and June 3, the sixth annual USNH Academic Technology Institute, included a presentation by Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) https://at.usnh.edu/event/2016/ati-2016.
After the success of the Open Educational Resources initiative, the University of New Hampshire system is now expanding its initiative into two other areas of open education. According to Scott Robison, co-director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Plymouth State University, “We have seen very successful OER programs at many institutions, but they have mainly focused on lowering textbook costs for students. While that is an important objective, we believe the broader scope of open education has the power to radically transform higher education, both improving access and making it a learner-driven process that emphasizes collaboration and connected learning.” (http://www.usnh.edu/sites/www.usnh.edu/files/media/news/docs/press/20160601_open_education_intiative.pdf).
Currently, forty-five instructors from several academic disciplines and from all four institutions are participating in projects to advance Open Pedagogy and Open Access. Open Pedagogy seeks to foster collaboration between faculty and students; Open Access seeks to make scholarly research free and available to the public.