panOpen Wins Z-Degree Award with the Houston Community College System

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Partnership supports HCC’s multi-pronged approach to lowering textbook costs

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We find it most compelling when an innovative OER-focused company like panOpen participates in all of our channels... and we look forward to working with panOpen to build on this in the years to come - Dr. Nathan Smith, Professor of Philosophy, and System-wide Coordinator for OER

panOpen, a next-generation courseware platform for institutional adoption of Open Educational Resources, announced today that it was chosen by the Houston Community College System to support its Z-Degree, or zero-cost, textbook program. The three-year award, which was won through an RFP process, helps ensure that thousands of HCC students will have day-one access to interactive OER-based courseware for their core Associate’s degree curriculum.

panOpen began working with HCC’s Z-Degree program in September 2019, when it was awarded a Sole Source Vendor agreement for its work on OER-based Texas Government Courseware, a significantly more developed version of which has just been released. In reference to that agreement, Jerome Drain, Associate Vice Chancellor, Instructional Services, noted: “Lowering the cost of educational materials and improving equity of access should not mean that faculty need to compromise on the quality of the content or the tools and support for it. The partnership with panOpen means that ultimately, students will benefit from the high-quality tools and support afforded the faculty. We are excited to work with them to open up access and help improve student persistence and success.”

panOpen courseware includes interactive formative and summative assessments, teaching slides, videos, flashcards, student study tools (such as highlighting, note-taking, and classroom note sharing), and deep-linking Learning Management System (LMS) Integration, with single sign-on and gradebook synching. Faculty adopters can also fully customize the content, down to the line level, and auto-generate the courseware within their LMS classroom shell.

The Z-Degree program, and panOpen’s participation in it, is part of a multi-pronged strategy at HCC to lower student textbook costs while preserving faculty academic freedom over classroom content and student choice. Other dimensions of this effort include Inclusive Access, in which panOpen participates through its partner VitalSource Technologies, and the designation of “low cost” textbook options, for which panOpen courseware also qualifies. Whether accessing panOpen courseware through the Z-Degree, inclusive access, or as a designated low-cost option, students retain perpetual access to the materials for the course in which they are enrolled.

“The shift from physical to digital learning resources has given faculty and students more choice than ever and there is no single content strategy that covers them all,” noted Dr. Nathan Smith, Professor of Philosophy, and System-wide Coordinator for OER. “For this reason, we find it most compelling when an innovative OER-focused company like panOpen participates in all of our channels. This partnership helps ensure that HCC continues to bring exciting course material options to our faculty and students, and we look forward to working with panOpen to build on this in the years to come.”

The partnership comes at a time of significant hardship for many in the Houston area who are either attending HCC or who have deferred because of the pandemic. “The cost of course materials should not be yet another burden for students, '' commented Dr. Brian Jacobs, Founder & CEO of panOpen, “However, faculty too are often struggling under these conditions, and the adoption of learning materials should not exacerbate this through new demands on their time. panOpen exists to allow faculty to balance precisely these factors by delivering a rich set of tools and direct human support for the adoption of OER.”

Houston Community College System is an open-admission, public institution of higher education offering a high-quality, affordable education for academic advancement, workforce training, career development, and lifelong learning to prepare individuals in our diverse communities for life and work in a global and technological society. HCC's service area is Houston Independent School District, Katy, Spring Branch, Alief Independent School Districts, Stafford Municipal District, and the Fort Bend portion of Missouri City.

Designed by educators, panOpen is a courseware platform that realizes the promise of OER by providing all of the components required for its widespread use. panOpen offers complete peer-reviewed content, customization tools, assessments, analytics, LMS integration, and a means of financially sustaining campus-based OER efforts. With panOpen, faculty adopt enhanced interactive OER as they would a commercial textbook, with confidence in the quality and reliability of the content. panOpen preserves the virtues of OER—radically reducing textbook costs and freeing faculty from the constraints of commercial copyright—while delivering the quality, features, and ease-of-use faculty expect from their learning materials. The result has enormous implications for pedagogical practices, changing the relationships of instructors and students to their educational content. To schedule a demo of the panOpen platform, click here.

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Daniel Santamaria
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