Friday, October 14, 2016 News

Student Support for OER in British Columbia, Canada

Open Education

Student Support for OER in British Columbia, Canada

For the past three years, student leaders in the province of British Columbia (B.C.) have recognized the need for greater OER adoption on their campuses. While the approaches taken on campuses have varied, the efforts from the OER movement’s youngest advocates are always rooted in collaboration. With libraries being recognized as a reliable and knowledgeable ally on campus, the actions taken by B.C. student leaders have all been in conjunction with library staff. This blog post provides an overview of the efforts taken by student government’s across the province. As a former B.C. student leader myself, I am incredibly proud of the work accomplished on this front and that progress continues today.

How it all started

It all started in October 2012, when the B.C. government announced that it would become the first Canadian province to offer students free, online open textbooks in  the 40 most popular subject areas. Thanks to the hard work of the agency charged with leading the project, BCcampus, these open textbooks started to become available by the following fall. At that time, few student leaders, let alone the student body at large were aware of what this development could mean. However, one student leader at Simon Fraser University (SFU), was quick to realize the impact they could have: former Simon Fraser Student Society External Relations Officer and President Chardaye Bueckert.

When asked why she began advocating for greater open textbook adoption, Chardaye said, “Open textbooks present an opportunity to make university more affordable and to improve educational outcomes by ensuring that all students can access course materials, regardless of their financial means. I was eager to save Simon Fraser University students money by promoting the high-quality, free resources made available through the B.C. Open Textbook initiative as an alternative to traditional costly textbooks.” Throughout the 2013-2014 school year, Chardaye made open textbook promotion part of the student society’s advocacy agenda.

That is where my story begins. The following year, I was elected to the board of the student society and worked closely with Chardaye to develop a comprehensive campaign involving a student petition, outreach to departmental and faculty curriculum committees as well as meetings to discuss increased support for open textbooks with university administrators and provincial elected officials. During the 2015-2016 school year, the campaign was rebranded under the name #textbookbrokeBC and involved a creative social media campaign run in conjunction with neighbouring student societies.

One key to our success was collaboration with the SFU Library. Working together, we lobbied our administration to become a more open campus. This spring, we reached a historic milestone when the Office of the Vice President Academic announced funding to develop SFU’s first ever OER Grants program. Utilizing the expertise of both the Library and Teaching and Learning Centre, select faculty members will now receive the support needed to redesign a course to use OER as the primary course material and to help adapt existing OER for that purpose. Since completing my terms as a student leader, OER advocacy from students has continued to grow within the province with student organizations at five institutions now running campaigns of their own.

Expanding across the province

Open textbook advocacy efforts have started to spread to other B.C. institutions as well. Student leaders at Thompson Rivers University and the University of British Columbia have been very active promoting OER on their campuses.

Open Textbook Spokesperson Michael Zaitlin and University Governance Coordinator Alex McLellan from the Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union (TRUSU) took some time to speak to me about their campaign which began on August 30th. When asked why the campaign started, Zaitlin shared that the high cost of course materials was identified as one of five top issues during the Union’s annual student budget consultations. After receiving this clear mandate from students, they decided it was time to act. “The campaign has two main goals,” said Zaitlin. “The first is to increase student savings at TRU through the use of open textbooks to 300,000 dollars. Our second major goal is to get TRU’s administration to start a fellowship program aimed at providing faculty with the support they need to create and adapt more open textbooks.”

The University already has a commitment to open education, and Zaitlin and McLellan believe that the fellowship will fall in line with its goals. When asked what the Union’s next move is, McLellan said, “We are planning presentations to Faculty Councils and University Senate with our OER Librarian.” Having dedicated OER support from their library in addition to a number of faculty champions, Zaitlin and McLellan are hopeful that their Administration will move forward with the fellowship program.

At the University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society (UBC AMS), Vice President Academic and University Affairs, Samantha So and Associate VP Academic and University Affairs, Kevin Doering have been leading their campuses OER efforts this year. Building upon a successful #textbookbrokeBC campaign, the team at the UBC AMS has continued to engage students on the issue of textbook affordability this school year. Having expanded beyond tabling outside of their campus bookstore, So mentioned that their campaign hosted a “Price is Right” game where students guessed the cost of textbooks and degrees. “It was interesting to hear the guesses and see people unsure of the cost of textbooks for specific course sections like Math 110,” said So. The event attracted a vibrant crowd of over 50 participants, 30 of which won prizes.

When asked what role their library was playing in their efforts, Doering noted two ways in which the groups were collaborating. “The first is that we have been working with our library in coordinating events for Open Access Week. The other part is that we are planning a listening tour with our open textbook strategist and the library, and will be visiting some of the highest enrolled courses.” Doering said that the goal of their faculty outreach is to better understand the current barriers to adoption and to collaboratively design “campus-specific solutions such as policies, committees or funds to make open materials more prevalent on campus.” With a well established campaign underway for its second year, the UBC AMS is hopeful for greater faculty adoptions this academic year.

In the upcoming months, efforts to educate students and faculty on both the financial and pedagogical benefits of OER will continue across the province. I will be sure to keep you up to date as these updates progress. With five B.C. student organizations representing over 140,000 students actively promoting OER, there is growing momentum for other institutions to join – particularly in the area of student-library collaboration. For those students in B.C. feeling the pressures of textbook costs, fret not, there are those advocating on your behalf.


As the newest member to the SPARC team, I am incredibly excited to be in a position to support OER efforts on campuses across Canada and the United States. If you know of any individuals or organizations doing amazing work to advance OER, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

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