A new academic year presents opportunities for ways education can be more affordable and accessible to students. With tuition costs ever increasing and an ongoing lack of funding from the BC government, creative approaches to addressing student debt must be pursued.

One avenue is in exploring Open Educational Resources (OER), which is supported by BCcampus and the BC Federation of Students’ #textbookbroke campaign, calls on the government to fund the creation or revision of low-cost digital textbooks. In turn, faculty in post-secondary institutions need to adopt these open-access resources.

This shift towards greater access to learning resources would not only make post-secondary education more affordable, but also call for a revision in the ethics and practices of sharing and considering who “owns” and has access to information and knowledge. Furthermore, within the classroom, adoption of not just OER but also more “open pedagogies” could change the way we, as a whole campus community, engage in learning.

Let’s start with a basic understanding of what “open” educational resources are. Back in 2002, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proposed the following definition for OER: “The open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use, and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes.”

In the same year, Creative Commons licences were created providing legal tools for creators to share their works with clear allowances for reuse by others. In keeping pace with advances in technology and a need for more clarity around the types of resources which might be included, the definition was further refined by Atkins, Brown, & Hammond in 2007:

“OERs are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

OER are freely accessible, downloadable, and shareable. In many cases, they are also reusable, adaptable learning resources that are made accessible via the internet. These can be used for self-study, integrated into online or massive open online courses (MOOCs), or as resources to support learning in formal, higher education. OER may supplement or replace the need for a course textbook, allowing for greater accessibility, flexible formats, versatile and remixable educational content. A growing body of research suggests that many faculty and learners report that OER are of high quality, do not negatively impact learning outcomes, and offer educators the freedom to adapt and revise the materials as needed.

Imagine if students were not required to purchase the newest edition of a textbook every year, but instead had a resource that is itself a living document.

Many of these resources are updated by a community of editors who keep the material current and relevant. This allows for more resource options to support the diversity of learning in post-secondary environments. OERs work to enhance academic freedom through more adaptable resources which can be customized based on the local context, allowing faculty to specifically choose sections of textbooks relevant to course outcomes and goals.

Further, an ongoing self-reflection of professors’ chosen course materials and the active choice to utilize OERs can ensure up-to-date, relevant, and diverse perspectives in many disciplines. From this perspective, professors at VIU have utilized OERs and open pedagogy in creative ways that empower students to redefine and explore existing knowledge bases.

We all experience the wonders of the internet daily: providing access to information on demand, allowing us to research and explore, and connecting us to our friends and communities of interest. However, the ways in which the internet has impacted our academic lives have been a slower change.

Why are we still asked to purchase bulky and expensive textbooks to support our learning on the first day of class? The cost of these resources often come as a surprise to the student, as they realize in the first week that additional education costs are represented through sometimes unnecessary resources. Some of these texts may not be required at all, or only partially used, before being resold at the end of the term for a fraction of the cost.

In British Columbia a significant, provincially funded, open-textbook initiative was announced in 2012. During the Open Education Conference hosted in Vancouver, John Yap, the Advanced Education Minister at the time, announced a provincial commitment to supporting OER. There are now over 260 textbooks in the BCcampus Open Education collection, covering many subjects and disciplines, and providing educators with a familiar resource to adopt in their teaching. This initiative has resulted in over 2000 textbook adoptions by 435 faculty, which equates to learners saving between eight to nine million dollars in textbook costs across the province. British Columbia was the first province in Canada to implement a provincially supported open textbook project, and several additional provinces in Canada are now establishing their own projects.

In September, advocates of open resources and learning experiences at VIU (The Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning, VIU Students’ Union, the Library, the Campus Store, and faculty representatives) gathered together in a working group to discuss opportunities and needs for our university. A number of events are planned during Open Education Week in October including a showing of the film “Paywall” on October 24 at 12 pm in the Library, room 509. This film discusses the rationale behind the $25.2 billion a year that flows into for-profit academic publishers (which accounts for a 35-40 percent profit margin). Watch also for an upcoming Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon in November (Wikipedia itself is an OER).

If you want to advocate for OER yourself, consider reviewing the list of resources in the BC Open Textbook repository. You might find a textbook that could be a compliment or a potential replacement to your current course resources. Share these with your professors for consideration. If you want to learn about how others students are advocating for OER, check out the