students relaxing on college grounds

Students on the quad at College of the Canyons. Photo courtesy of College of the Canyons.


James Glapa-Grossklag is Dean, Educational Technology, Learning Resources, and Distance Learning at College of the Canyons (California, USA). He supervises Distance Learning, Libraries, Tutoring, and OER. From 2016-19, he co-coordinated the Zero Textbook Cost Degree grant program for the California Community Colleges. Previously, he served as Board President of Open Education Global, President of the Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER), and President of the Directors of Educational Technology in California Higher Education. In 2019, Open Education Global recognized him with its President’s Award for “advancing open education around the world through his exceptional dedication, outstanding contribution, and exemplary service.”

In this interview, we asked Glapa-Grossklag to share his thoughts on Open Education and the future of OER.


Please tell us about how you discovered the Open Education movement.

I’ve been advocating for open education for over a decade now, but I was originally inspired by the work done under MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW).

MIT OCW has been inspirational in many different respects, but most basically through the fact that MIT OCW exists. If you dial back 30 years, the idea that the most renowned and respected research institution in the entire world would undertake this massive project to give away its content is just mind-boggling! This is an incredible example of using your resources for the public good.

Honestly, MIT OCW is a shining example for higher education around the world, in no small part due to the overall institutional reputation. In addition, the resources created across the breadth of the curriculum and scale of the collection are also stunning—digitizing and openly licensing these materials to share with the world.

And let’s not overlook the fact that the institution made these materials available for free—at a time when comparable institutions were trying to figure out how to monetize everything online. So again, a shining example for the rest of us!

OpenCourseWare is free and open every day so learners and educators anywhere can have access to resources from MIT. We are sustained by everyday learners who give back, when they can with what they can, to keep OCW growing with new resources. If you’re able, please consider a gift in support of our mission to share knowledge

We hear from learners, educators, and students about how MIT OCW has helped them achieve their academic and personal learning goals. How does open education support the communities you work with?

My work in open education has fallen into a couple of different categories. My home institution, College of the Canyons in Southern California is one of the 115 California Community Colleges. Community colleges are all about helping more people access education. We take pride in serving the top 100% of applicants. This idea of open access is a core value of open education. So advocating for open education in my environment and within the community colleges makes perfect sense.

When I stand up in front of audiences of community college faculty, staff, administrators and trustees all across the United States, I start my presentation by saying, “do you know where open education was initiated in the United States or in higher education?” Then I reveal that it’s MIT, jaws drop, the room goes silent, and you can start to see people turning to each other nodding their heads. Saying MIT OCW immediately lends an air of credibility to the whole concept of open education.

For students in community colleges to be able to access and benefit from these high quality learning materials fosters an incredible potential and a concrete benefit in their learning. It boosts their self-confidence, self-esteem, and their thinking that they can master these materials. And of course, many of our students simply can’t afford commercial textbooks, and I hear from many students that they’ve relied on OERs – including from MIT OCW – to succeed in their classes.

When Dr. Martha Kanter and Mr. Hal Plotkin learned about MIT OCW and connected with Dr. Dianne Vanhook at College of the Canyons, they decided to take this concept of open education and bring it to the community colleges where it fits perfectly with the open access mission. They started to develop content for community colleges.

Since then, hundreds of community colleges in the United States and Canada have supported tens of thousands of students and have saved them a billion dollars in commercial textbook costs too.

In addition, I’ve been fortunate to exercise various leadership roles in professional organizations focused on advancing open education, including the organization currently known as Open Education Global (OEG). OEG originally arose from MIT OCW. Through this organizational work, I’ve had the pleasure of taking the message and mission initiated by MIT OCW to educational institutions around the world. And the message that MIT OCW was foundational to open education garners instant credibility around the world.


What are your hopes for the future of OER?

In my work as an advocate, one way I encourage the entire open education field to evolve is to leverage what we understand about culturally relevant teaching practices and the importance of our teaching materials. We want to give students an opportunity to see themselves reflected in these materials. For example, at College of the Canyons, we have a small but mighty team of student employees who help our faculty adapt and author open educational resources.

A number of years ago some of these student workers came to me and told me they had a confession to make. “When some of these senior faculty members bring us a manuscript and they want to use names like Joe and Sally, we change the names to Jose and Maria because those are the names our students have.”

I was so inspired, I said, “Congratulations! It’s wonderful you’re doing that. But let’s actually work that into our formal workflow so that the faculty and authors can sign off on that.” We know through a lot of research now that students are more likely to be successful and more likely to persist in their programs when they can see their lived realities reflected in the learning materials.

For too long, many creators of OER have replicated the knowledge found in commercial textbooks, which may mean replicating patriarchy and white supremacy. For the future of OER, we, in the open education field, must be conscious of making OER more inclusive and undo structural inequities of higher education. One of my current projects, Open for Antiracism, supports instructors to use OER and Open Pedagogy as tools to make their classes explicitly antiracist. For example, if you’re using an OER textbook that has images only of white people, thanks to the open license, you could engage your students to create and integrate images of people who look like their community. As more people explicitly use the affordances of an open license in this way, we’ll  hopefully create a world in which we can all understand one another better.