On Twitter last week I asked whether anyone had created a list of available a Zed Creds and Z-Degrees. As a way of definition BCcampus writes: “a Zed Cred/Z-Degree is a set of courses in a specific program area that allows a student to earn a credential, such as an associate degree or certificate program, with zero textbook costs by way of using open educational resources and/or free library materials.”

It’s easy to find lists of colleges and universities working on these, but much harder to find specifics (e.g., what are the main credentials? what are the main disciplines? and so on). Through Rajiv Jhangiani, I learned that Richard Sebastian had created one such list of Z-degree, Zed Cred, and OER Degree programs. If you cite this list, please use the following attribution: Created by Richard Sebastian, Achieving the Dream.

So, there’s a list and we can all help improve it.

But, we had an interesting conversation on Twitter that I am going to rehash here, partly because it relates to the list, partly because my Twitter posts are automatically deleted and that conversation will eventually consist of fragments. David Wiley asked: “Are you looking for programs that use OER (even if there is some cost to students) or programs that are completely free to students (even if there is some All Rights Reserved content used)?”

This question relates to ongoing effort in the field to disambiguate terms and intentions. Both Z -degrees and OER degrees may be one and the same and may cost zero to students. But, they may also cost zero to students and consist of entirely different (non-OER) materials. A Z-degree for instance may consist of copyrighted library resources that require no additional costs to students to access (e.g., a seminal piece of work that faculty deem necessary to include). Library resources aren’t “free,” of course as students pay for them through tuition and fees. But beyond cost, the core argument here is that the permissions that OER enable are expected to lead to more effective and worthwhile teaching and learning experiences.

And here’s the final caveat: Imagine a typical course that uses a commercial textbook. Now consider that course being redesigned such that it exclusively uses library resources. Imagine an instructional designer and a librarian working with a faculty member (or two) to identify resources, define learning objectives, create activities, and align assessments. The permissions that the library materials allow won’t match the ones that OER allow, but the benefits of OER use reported in the literature don’t always just come from OER – they also come through the redesign process. This is not a dispute with OER. Rather, it’s an argument for instructional design. Or, learning design, or learning engineering. Alas, disambiguating these terms is probably best left for a different post altogether.