Open Educational Resources (OER) are described as learning materials in text or media formats that are made free and available for consumption. The growth of open textbooks started in 2012 when BCcampus created the B.C. Open Textbook Project with the intended purpose of “making post-secondary education in British Columbia more accessible by reducing student costs through the use of openly licensed textbooks.”
Since the creation and adoption of open textbooks in institutions across the province, BCcampus has reported that over $27 million has been saved by students who were able to find alternatives to purchasing materials at cost. 43 institutions and 233,495 students actively use open textbooks, and 725 faculty members in B.C. have adopted it.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s implementation of open education resources has been hands-on with faculty members conducting research on the benefits of open education, and creating their own open textbooks for classes.
Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani, KPU associate vice president teaching and learning, Arley Cruthers and Melissa Ashman, both faculty members in KPU’s Melville school of business, have played a role in adopting and improving access to open education.
Jhangiani and Cruthers are both part of KPU’s open education team, where they encourage the use of open textbooks and provide faculty members with the support and resources they need for open education.
The work to actively build and grow open education resources at the university started in the 2015/2016 year. Jhangiani says it started with faculty members adopting open education resources that already existed.
How it works is instructors would be made aware of open textbooks and then they would decide if it was something they could use in their courses.
Now, there are KPU faculty members who create and publish their own open textbooks, with a few dozen books having been published so far.
Jhangiani’s role in growing open education resources at the university began with his own implementation of open textbooks for his courses. He taught psychology and he made sure to offer three open textbooks in his classes.
Throughout his research on open textbooks, Jhangiani noticed a pattern with the courses students took and how it heavily depended on what the cost of textbooks would be for the class. He says some students would also go through their semester without ever buying the textbook for the class due to the high cost.
It is reported that one semester can take almost $1,000 from a student’s bank account just for textbooks alone, and these high costs are why Jhangiani continues to advocate for more adoptions of open textbooks at the university.
In addition, the university’s zero cost textbook “Zed Cred” program, which launched in 2017, was the first type of program to be implemented in Canada. With this program, students have access to several courses without having to spend any money on textbooks, as any textbook they need will be an open textbook and any research material can be accessed in the school’s library.
“Students are able to take advantage of more than 800 courses and eight full credentials, including a bachelor’s degree program, with zero textbook costs overall,” Jhangiani says.
With more open textbooks being published by faculty members, an increased number of programs in the university are able to adopt open education and can provide a variety of textbooks for their students.
For example, one of the textbooks a student studying at KPU’s Melville School of Business could be assigned is Business Writing for Everyone, which was created by Cruthers.
Cruthers created her own open textbook after she noticed a price increase in a textbook she previously used. She was used to the textbook being priced at $40 and was shocked to see the new price was closer to $200.
This high price deterred one of Cruthers’ students from purchasing a textbook of their own. Instead they would come to the office hours and read one of the textbooks Cruthers made available. This interaction became so consistent that Cruthers then came up with the idea to create her own textbook. She started acquiring open source articles online and then her book grew from there.
Cruther’s path to creating her open textbook wasn’t too difficult since she had assistance from various faculty members. KPU is a “hub” for OER, she says, adding that she wants to see more growth for it across the university.
Not every program at KPU uses open education resources, and only a few programs at universities across B.C. provide students with the opportunity to complete their degrees without spending large amounts of money on learning materials.
Currently at KPU, students can complete a few programs as part of the university’s zero textbook cost programs without having to foot the cost for textbooks every semester, which can sometimes exceed $1,000. These include the Bachelor of Interior Design program, Bachelor of Arts Degree in General Studies, Associate of Arts Degree in General Studies, Associate of Arts Degree in Sociology, Diploma in General Studies, Certificate in Arts, Certificate in Foundations in Design, and the Adult Graduation Diploma.
“Open [education] is still growing. So there are more and more textbooks and resources being created everyday. For some disciplines, there historically hasn’t been a ton, and now there’s a lot, so [we are] able to connect those instructors with potential open resources,” Cruthers says.
Cruthers also wants to see the open textbooks for KPU being designed with students in mind. She wants it to include and favour KPU students, as opposed to students in other places like the United States or United Kingdom.
Last semester, one of Cruthers’ classes created a book of instructions for various topics like getting through the pandemic, family recipes, arts and crafts, and yoga exercises. Cruthers also worked with Melissa Ashman and the rest of her department to create a digital open course that fellow instructors can use for their class.
Ashman, an avid advocate for open education, says she is always open to learning more about OER and supporting new and current instructors who are looking to implement it in their courses. She recently completed her research on open pedagogy — which is “creating, adapting, or updating OER with students.”
Her research focused on conducting surveys with the students and teachers who actively used open education, and analyzed their reviews and thoughts on teaching and learning.
Ashman is no stranger to teaching with OER and has used open textbooks in her classes for several years, after having multiple conversations with students who asked her if the costly textbooks were really needed for the courses.
“I learned that students are really negatively impacted when they have to buy their textbooks and when they’re spending so much money on textbooks. It can mean the difference between eating three meals a day or eating once a day,” Ashman says.
Since implementing OER in her own classes, she noticed that more of her students were doing the readings.
“My OER is much shorter, it’s much more concise. Students are doing the reading. They’re finding the textbook itself more engaging, more accessible. It makes learning possible in so many more mobile ways,” she says.
While not every program can fully adopt open textbooks, the pandemic and shift to online classes has created an uptick in faculty members using open resources for their courses. Although for some it was more of an indirect decision due to delays in the supply chains, it still shows how easy a shift to open education can be.
Throughout the pandemic, learners have questioned the cost of commercial textbooks. Jhangiani says it’s created “a significant rise in the move towards OER” and it’s something that he hopes grows as time goes on.
Faculty can decide to use OER for their courses, or even just smaller portions, as long as it fits the course outline the university has created for each program.
For instance, the physics department and the education studies department decided to make all their first year introduction courses use open textbooks. The biology department is working towards shifting their anatomy and physiology courses into an open textbook format.
“For an institution that is open access, and that is teaching-intensive, KPU is extremely well placed to continue to push the boundaries over here in terms of making education more affordable and equitable,” Jhangiani says.
He says open education resources are unique because unlike physical textbooks, faculty members can make revisions to open textbooks and other OER. He says as time goes on instructors won’t have to tell their students to skip a chapter in their textbooks, instead the chapter just won’t be included in the creation process.
“I think that’s a huge growth area for us. Not just seeing the growth, the continued growth, and the adoption — but in the creation and adaptation,” Jhangiani says.
He recalls past open house events at the university and conversations with first-year students telling him KPU’s zero textbook cost program influenced their decision to attend the university.
“It’s something really special for an institution like us to be at this point, a global leader in something that is focused on student affordability and access. For me, it’s a major point of pride for the institution,” Jhangiani says.