Quality, Convenience, and Passion: OER at Minnesota State

Minnesota State Educational Innovations received funding in 2019 from the State of Minnesota 91st Legislature to develop at least three Z-degrees across the state. A Z-degree is a complete associate or bachelor’s degree program that exclusively¬†use¬†course resources that¬†are¬†no cost to students. As of today, seven Minnesota State colleges offer degrees that qualify as Z-degrees, and more are in progress.¬†

Before that funding was available, campuses like Lake Superior College and Central Lakes College had already been building pieces toward developing open educational resources (OER) or other no-cost course resource materials for students. Central Lakes College had the first Z-degree in the system, before funding was secured. 

‚ÄúThe true beauty of the¬†open¬†movement is the academic freedom that OER provides for our faculty to create and use resources that meet the needs of their learners,‚Ä̬†said Central Lakes College psychology faculty and Minnesota State OER Faculty Development Coordinator Karen Pikula.¬†¬†

‚ÄúIt allows faculty to select resources that match their teaching styles and philosophies, align with their course objectives, and to differentiate instructional materials and activities to be inclusive of the diverse cultures of our learners while ensuring equitable and accessible learning environments.‚ÄĚ 

Once funding to develop Z-degrees was announced, there was a mix of excitement and hesitancy regarding academic freedoms for faculty, according to Hanna Erpestad, Lake Superior College Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  

“They key to success was identifying faculty champions, who had the passion and enthusiasm,”¬†Erpestad¬†said. Lake Superior College successfully developed a Liberal Arts and Science A.A. after the first round of Z-degree¬†funding, and¬†received additional funding for Z-degree expansion.¬†

“The value of OER and other no-cost options can really result in some robust materials that can really enhance the teaching and learning, well beyond and above just the cost savings,” Erpestad noted after the college took a student survey that included 160 participants.  

Read a few quotes from that student survey: 

“The zero-cost courses are literally a life saver, saved me from using too much of my financial aid and allowed me, as a freshman, to be more financially responsible.”¬†

“My reaction to seeing that a class is zero-cost is a big YES. Not just because of the cost savings, but also because I have good reason to expect that the professor will instead provide materials that they are personally familiar with.”¬†

Anonymous students, Lake Superior College

Erpestad gathered from the survey that the quality of the Z-degree courses and the quality of the learning taking place is greatly enhanced because the instructor is personally connected to the material and their passion and expertise really gets to shine. 

The cost-savings aspect of OER is important, but the convenience of being able to download or link to course resources from day one and the overall course quality are other huge benefits to students. 

Faculty OER Resources 


Contact Tim Anderson.

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