KPU’s General Studies Degree Is Now Completely Textbook Cost-Free

The new degree gives students a rare opportunity to feel what it’s like to have money and textbooks at the same time

(Kristen Frier)

KPU’s Zero Textbook Cost programs now include an entire arts degree in which students won’t have to pay a single penny for their textbooks — ever.

The Bachelor of Arts Degree in General Studies program at KPU is the first four-year program to introduce the new ZTC framework, thanks to its utilisation of Open Educational Resources. The degree accreditation is based on the completion of 120 credits of coursework, or approximately 40 courses, completely free of textbook costs.

According to the definition on KPU’s open education website, the phrase OER refers to any type of resource that can be used for teaching and learning which is available for free and published with an open usage license. This allows students to use the text in different ways.

Open textbooks are published educational materials which can be made available to students at no cost. They usually come in free digital formats and at a low price in print.

KPU currently has over 700 courses that have zero textbook costs. It also has seven ZTC programs including the Adult Graduation Program and a certificate in Foundations in Design.

A lot of the OER development at KPU is tied to the work of Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani, the university’s associate vice provost for open education. He is also the co-director of the Open Pedagogy Notebook, a website that educators can use to learn about the concept of open pedagogy. This way of teaching incorporates ideas of increasing education accessibility and social equality as well as using open licensed materials.

“At KPU we are the leading institution … of open textbooks and other kinds of open educational resources in Canada, so we have a very large community of faculty who are creating, adapting, and then adopting open textbooks,” says Jhangiani.

While making the ZTC degree, he found that 54 per cent of B.C. students told him and his team that they were not buying at least some of their required course textbooks because of their cost.

He says that just over a quarter of students consulted say that they were either choosing courses or even withdrawing from courses on the basis of rising textbook costs.

“We later found that the students who were making these kinds of choices would be … likely to be holding student loans, to be students of colour who self-identify as a physical minority and those who were first in their family to attend university,” Jhangiani says.

As stated in KPU’s five-year Open Education Strategic Plan, some of the institution’s strategic goals include establishing open education initiatives to attract working adults interested in pursuing post-secondary studies, providing program completion encouragement, and offering education alternatives for mature learners.

Jhangiani says that he sees a lot more international collaboration in the field of OERs. Right now, KPU has many of its faculty working with colleges in other countries to develop open textbooks together.

KPU also offers OER grants to faculty and staff which serve to support the creation, adaptation, and adoption of OERs at the university. This means that they can be given financial incentive to propose the creation of an open textbook from scratch, to implement OERs in the classrooms, or to update or localize textbooks in ways that make them more accessible.

The OER Adoption Grant focuses on supporting faculty who choose to use OER textbooks instead of more costly ones. Those who make this change and apply are able to get $500. If it’s more than one person wanting to switch to open textbooks, $1,500 can go towards the project.

These textbooks are updated to include interactive videos, quizzes, games and presentations.

OER Adaptation Grants are funded by the Office of Open Education and examined by the Open Education Working Group. Grant recipients can receive in-kind support and funding up to $2,000.

KPU is working with a number of organizations dedicated to developing, spreading awareness of, and distributing open education resources. A local example of one of these organizations is BCCampus. According to the BCCampus website, its primary focus is to support the post-secondary institutions of British Columbia as they adopt, adapt, and evolve their teaching and learning practices to create a better experience for students and increase education accessibility.

Another one of these organizations is the International Council for Open and Distance Education, which focuses on promoting equal access to higher quality education and helping likeminded people and organizations connect and cooperate.

Similarly, OERu, a not-for-profit network which hosts free online university-level courses for students internationally, is partnered with several institutions around the world. Some of these include KPU, Ryerson University, TRU and Athabasca University.

Both KPU and BCCampus work with the national Centre for Open Education Practice, a collaborative organization that was established by Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, as well.

Mary Burgess, Executive Director for BCcampus, says that the work KPU faculty members are doing with resource development is one of a number of OER plans BCCampus has supported throughout the province.

(Kristen Frier)

“Many KPU instructors have come to events that BCcampus has hosted to [learn] about how to do open education,” says Burgess.

“BCcampus has provided a number of grants to KPU over the last several years. Some were direct to the educators at the institution to work on individual resources. In some cases, it’s been a grant to the institution so that they are able to make a decision about how best to spend that funding on open education.”

Burgess says that BCCampus is working to implement ZTC in other areas like nursing, early childhood education, and business. She says that removing the textbook cost from certain programs can increase enrolment for institutions by attracting more students.

Jhangiani explains that, at the moment, KPU has more than 300 instructors who are actively involved in the ZTC program.

“Textbook costs have risen substantially in recent years. They have risen more than three times the rate of inflation,” he says.

“So if you translate the cost savings of doing an entire Bachelor’s degree program … all 40 courses you are taking [are] about an average student savings of over $5,000.”

BCcampus has been working on open education since 2004, but seriously started to look at the idea of zero textbook cost education frameworks in 2012.

In 2017, it awarded grants to three B.C. institutions which developed ZTC programs: KPU for its Certificate in Arts, Thompson Rivers University for its Certificate in General Studies, and the Justice Institute of British Columbia for its Law Enforcement Studies Diploma.

“As far as B.C. is concerned, KPU is really leading the way in terms of the kinds of resources and support that they are putting behind open education,” says Burgess.

She says that BCcampus has sponsored a number of research projects, some of which have come from KPU, on how to improve the open education resources in the province.

BCcampus also offers an introduction to Open Pedagogy for teachers interested in getting involved in the discussion.

As stated on its website, “When you use open pedagogy in your classroom, you are inviting your students to be part of the teaching process, participating in the co-creation of knowledge.”

For its ongoing Open Education Strategic Plan, KPU wants to provide tools, technologies, training, and support for faculty to embrace open pedagogies and to develop an institutional open education policy.

“It’s really wonderful, I think, that an institution like ours that is access-oriented, that is focused on teaching excellence, is leading not just B.C. but Canada in this way,” says Jhangiani.

“It’s a great leadership move for the system — for other institutions to see that KPU is able to find ways to use funding in order to create those kinds of programs for students,” says Burgess.

Jhangiani expects that students who are from less privileged backgrounds would benefit the most from programs like the General Studies Degree because of its financial accessibility.

“I increasingly see student work being part of what ends up contributing to the creation of open resources for future students,” he says. “I’m proud of the KPU community, and at the same time very grateful for the many partnerships that have made this happen.”