Cool 4 Ed is the online presence of the California Open Education Resource Council’s state-backed effort to reduce the cost of higher education. Because it is hosted by the California State University System, it is thoroughly integrated with MERLOT, one of the best-known OER repositories.
The best thing about this site is the collaboration between the three segments of California’s higher education system – the Community Colleges, the Cal States, and the UCs. The “eTextbook Reviews” tab will eventually showcase materials for the 50 highest-impact courses that articulate across all three levels of the system. What’s important now, even though the collection is still in development, is that faculty from each segment provide detailed reviews of each textbook. So if you’re using the site to search for OER, you can put the reviews in context.
It’s always great to see OER with reviews attached to them because of the common objection that open resources might not be high-quality. Yet sometimes reviews are too skimpy to be really useful. On this site the reviewers use a consistent rubric, and if you scroll to the fine print you can download a sample rubric (adapted from the K-12 Achieve OER Rubrics) and try it yourself. All this is to say that California’s project is advancing the field by articulating and sharing exactly how they evaluate their materials.
There’s a kind of sneaky way in which the rhetoric about quality concerns for OER can make it seem like textbooks put out by traditional publishers, by contrast, are always high-quality. In fact, that point is not at all settled. Students and faculty alike are often dissatisfied not only with the traditionally published book itself but also with the online add-ons that can’t be resold or placed on library reserve. Being so customizable, OER have the potential to solve these problems; reviews are a time-saver and a starting point in meeting this goal.