Just why support for Open Educational Resources has taken off in Ontario is a matter of need, timing, and relationships. As Canada’s second largest province, Ontario has 45 universities and colleges that are diverse and geographically spread out.
OER appeals to educators who are looking for ways to be efficient, innovative and share resources. There, like everywhere, students are facing rising textbook costs and they are eager to save money using digital materials.
Add to that training and support from organizations such as the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) and eCampusOntario, a consortium promoting online education, and it’s easy to see why 39 of Ontario’s 45 higher education institutions use OER.
“In the past two years we’ve really seen people own the uniqueness of Ontario and embrace the idea of creating our own local OER community,” says Lillian Hogendoorn, Acting Manager of Digital Access and OER at eCampusOntario, a hub for people interested in connecting with OER users and materials.
In the first quarter of 2020, .page views in the consortium’s Open Library/Pressbooks increased more than 400 percent (155,608 to 882,889) and downloads were up by more than 200 percent (2,793 to 9,005). Educators in Ontario report over $10 million in student savings to date using OER, according to eCampusOntario.
Sparking ideas and collaboration
Enthusiasm in the province started to grow in 2016 after David Porter came to lead eCampusOntario, bringing expertise from British Columbia’s counterpart BCcampus (a long-time leader in OER, which received the SPARC Innovator Award in 2018). An open education-focused summit in Toronto for interested educators working in Ontario that Porter helped host made an impression on Olga Perkovic, Research and Advanced Studies Librarian at McMaster University.
“For me, the summit ignited this idea that we had to do something. It lit a fire,” says Perkovic, who returned to her campus and formed an OER Committee to help raise awareness of the benefits and use of OER. In 2020, with joint funding from the Office of the Provost, teaching and learning institute, and university libraries, committee members created a 3-year OER Grant for McMaster educators to create, adapt or adopt open resources.
CARL formed an OER Working Group that was a critical step to advancing the network of open advocates at the national level. The group helped support activities on campuses, by providing training and community calls to connect those involved in supporting OER work on their campus.
A CARL leadership event in January 2020 brought together a group of 58 librarians at different stages of implementing OER initiatives to share perspectives, resources, and develop open education leadership skills.
“The goal was to give them a primer on what to think about with stakeholders, their individual context and how to implement OER initiatives on a broad scale,” says Stephanie Quail, a Teaching and Learning Librarian at York University who serves on the CARL OER Working Group. “Ontario has a lot of traction with OER.” Quail says that the program drew inspiration from some of the topics in SPARC’s Open Education Leadership Program, but delivered them in a shortened in-person format. Quail participated in the SPARC program in 2017-2018.
At York, Quail is co-teaching an open education training program this summer for over 60 faculty members who received funding from the university’s academic innovation fund program. The training program will help them turn part of their funded projects into OER.
Leveraging OER as a solution to new challenges
With the switch to online learning during the pandemic, interest in OER has grown. Quail wants to respond and educate her campus further about open resources and open licensing.
At Ryerson University, too, the COVID-19 crisis is revealing faculty misconceptions about the availability of digital material. “Some don’t understand licensing. This is a huge educational moment for talking about open,” says Ann Ludbrook, the Copyright and Scholarly Engagement Librarian at Ryerson. “This has opened people’s eyes to the problem of commercial textbooks and the lack of access.”
In Ontario, the library community has worked together to generate interest in OER and inspire each other. Ludbrook credits eCampusOntario with coordinating efforts and refining its approach based on the model from BC. Its leaders helped bridge the divide between colleges and universities. “We became more collaborative. It was really empowering to break down those barriers,” Ludbrook says. “The consortium has helped create a cross-institutional culture of cooperation.”
Ludbrook used the resources from eCampusOntario to promote OER at large campus events on her campus. In the past, she has worked with its OER Rangers group to help foster communication and also runs an Ontario listserv to exchange info about OER in the province.
With Ryerson’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Ludbrook worked on a collaborative project that interviewed Ryerson faculty members about their reaction to working in the open education space. The project resulted in a book, Open Moments, that was posted on the Ryerson website on its Pressbook platform.
The information is helping the campus craft support for OER development. When faculty members express interest in OER, the library searches for alternative open sources. Ludbrook is also helping departments begin to create programs that use more OER and add materials that students can freely access.
Building a movement in partnership with students
Hogendoorn says it’s important to build campus champions of OER. Focusing on equal access to materials and giving students tools they need to succeed are messages that can connect.
At McMaster, Perkovic says OER was very much a grassroots movement led by the library and the campus teaching and learning institute. She worked with staff and students in the teaching and learning institute to develop an OER by Discipline Guide of open textbooks organized by disciplines at McMaster. The Guide is currently being expanded to include other OER such as videos and modules to support curriculum.
Students at the University of Guelph have helped fuel OER efforts on campus. A 2016 survey by student government and the library helped generate solid data about how much students were spending on textbooks. The information was put into a final report that was widely distributed and instrumental in garnering support for wider open education efforts both at Guelph and beyond.
“To show the more human elements of textbook affordability was huge,” says Ali Versluis, Open Educational Resources Librarian at Guelph. Stories of students not having enough money to fix their car because they spent so much on textbooks or not being able to travel home on breaks to see their family because they needed to access the library’s reserve copy helped in making the case for OER.
Guelph also offered students the opportunity to contribute to the creation of OER textbooks through an independent study project. Versluis says feedback on the materials has been positive and the open publishing experience has been valuable for the students.
A student representative serves on Guelph’s Open and Affordable Course Content Task Force, a group that is co-sponsored by the library, the Provost, and the Director of Open Learning and has been around since 2017. The group also includes faculty, library staff, and educational technologists.
“Projects can be more successful because of institutional buy-in. It helps to have support from groups across campus – not just from the library – to give OER credibility,” says Versluis. “It’s about more than resources. It’s about access, equity, and social justice.”
Versluis cautions open advocates against comparing their efforts to that of others. “Really get to know your campus. Not just the people, but also the politics and what’s happening there. Things that work well at one institution don’t always work well at others…organize some focus groups, do some research. See what resonates with people so you can direct your efforts in the most strategic way.”