What if the reading material for your classes was accessible online, completely free of charge?
UFV held an Open Educational Resource forum last Friday, October 23, hosted by UFV copyright librarian Martin Warkentin. About 15 people were in attendance .
OERs are teaching and learning resources — like textbooks in PDF form, journals, articles, or online courses offered by other universities or other online services like Wikipedia or Khan Academy — that are available online at no cost to users. Users are encouraged to redistribute and alter their own copies of OERs to better fit their learning environments.
Department head of mathematics and statistics Ian Affleck, kinesiology professor David Harper, and SUS VP external Sukhi Brar sat on a panel to discuss the advantages and challenges of bringing OERs into UFV classrooms. David Harper uses OERs in their classrooms, and Brar was invited to speak on her advocating efforts for open access at the student level as well as provide a student perspective to the discussion.
Textbooks on the path to extinction
Brar was quick to say that reason number one for open resources is to save money — and that many students would likely agree.
“Costs have definitely been a barrier to course selection. I know that this drives a lot of student decisions,” she said. “I’d love to take an art history course, but when a textbook costs $400, I just can’t do it.”
Affleck agreed, saying information that doesn’t change in subjects like history shouldn’t be overpriced.
“I don’t think there should be a price tag on knowledge that’s hundreds of years old,” he said.
In the audience, director of ancillary services Cameron Roy confessed that — as the manager of the UFV Bookstore and therefore the middleman between publishing companies and students — he feels “guilty by association” with textbook publishers.
“We look like shills for them,” he said. “We want to hound the publishers and tell them that they’re putting themselves out of business.”
UFV director of teaching and learning Maureen Wideman echoed that sentiment. “Textbooks are dead,” she said. “Dead like dinosaurs.”
Open resources in classrooms
Classrooms that embrace OER have the added challenge of incorporating interactivity into the classroom.
Harper then talked about his online physiology course, which is fully interactive and uses only OER-sourced material. The course would require students to finish assigments before accessing the next reading.
“I rebuilt my course from scratch,” he said. “It takes a lot of time, but it’s a good exercise to rebuild things from the ground.”
The wide access to OERs means that a wide range of people with the time and ability can design OERs, and that raises the concern that using them can affect their credibility and quality. Affleck remarked that OERs are not consistent across disciplines, so it’s necessary to pay close attention to the material.
Harper replied that, while this is a current issue, because of the open-source nature of the materials, mistakes in content are able to be edited or corrected.
“It’s kinda like Firefox,” he explained. “Because it’s open-sourced, people are always tweaking it to make it work better.”
In the spirit of OERs, Harper said that he would be fine with sharing his OER-sourced course with others.
“Though maybe [I would share it] with a ‘Thanks, Dave!’ note at the bottom or something,” he added with a laugh.
Taking the plunge head-first into an open pool of resources
Brar has been an outspoken proponent of OER not only as a student, but also as a member of consultation groups like UFV 2025. “I think not having open sources would be an injustice to students,” she said.
She supposed that because universities are “risk-averse” institutions, the uptake for OERs has been slow. But she urged that if students want to see the use of open resources, they should compare their own textbooks with open sources, and discuss OERs with their professors.
“If students push for it, it’ll get the wheels turning,” she said.
Harper agreed, noting that the change is nearly inevitable.
“Once we hit a critical mass with this, and once most course material is online, students will begin to say to their professors, ‘You’re going to make me pay $400? Are you crazy?’”