The Portable Z: We’re Doing Five Blades

Portable ZOne of my favorite Onion articles is an expletive-laced “op-ed” by fictitious Gillette CEO and President James M. Kilts responding to his company’s lack of innovation in the “multi-blade” razor game. Softening up the language a bit so the VCCS will continue to allow me to blog, the modified headline reads: “Screw It. We’re Doing Five Blades.” I’m not going to link to it for obvious reasons, but you get the drift. Google the Onion + five blades if you want to read the whole, hilarious, testosterone-soaked article. Again: lots of cuss words.

Well, Virginia’s Community Colleges are “doing five blades,” too. Not in the multi-blade razor/moisturizing aloe strip space, of course. No, instead–building on the pioneering work of Tidewater Community College–the VCCS is taking OER to the next, audacious, metaphorical five-blade level by scaling the zero-textbook-cost degree–or Z Degree–to all 23 VCCS colleges.

The initiative, called the Z x 23 Project, is made possible by a generous grant from The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, an organization with a deep interest in understanding how to successfully scale OER. The one-year grant will allow the VCCS to kickstart the process of building out the Z Degree by providing funding, support, and training to fifteen (15) VCCS colleges to begin building pathways to their own Z Degrees. An initial cohort of 6 colleges will begin work right away and work through the summer. A second cohort of 9 colleges will get underway in early fall 2015. Each participating Z x 23 college will pilot the open courses they adopt for this project. Lumen Learning, the VCCS’s partner in this endeavor, will work closely with participating institutions to build these pathways, host the courses in Blackboard Learn, and evaluate the outcomes of the pilots. Along the way, we also want to document how OER successfully scales and becomes mainstream, and answer the question, “How do we make Z degrees portable?”

Virginia’s community colleges are known internationally for their innovative OER work and significant accomplishments in developing and using open materials. TCC’s groundbreaking Z Degree, the first all-OER degree in the world, is partially responsible for putting Virginia on the OER map. However, much of this attention also comes from Virginia’s uncommon central structure, which enables the system to translate a commitment to scale OER into action. Sixteen VCCS colleges have developed and deployed OER courses. Over 70 open courses have been developed using Chancellor’s Innovation Funds (CIF), Chancellor’s OER Adoption Grants, Professional Development Grants, or local college funds. Collectively, the efforts of Virginia’s Community Colleges have saved students millions of dollars in textbook costs. And with the addition of 2 new Z Degrees from NVCC, the VCCS now has 3 all-OER associate degrees. All of this has taken place in less than 3 years.

This is a growing, global movement, and the next three years are going to bring even more dramatic results. This grant from the Hewlett Foundation is going to allow the VCCS to continue to lead the way forward.

Details about how your college can become a Z x 23 college will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. In the meantime, feel free to post a comment on here or contact me directly to express your interest or get additional information.

Leave a Reply