A new open educational resources (OER) adoption grant program will support Brock University faculty who wish to replace expensive commercial textbooks with free open learning materials that are more accessible and affordable to students.
The news comes during International Open Education Week, and on the heels of Brock becoming the first university in Ontario to join the Open Education Network.
The OER adoption grant program is funded by the Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU) and will be available to faculty as early as April, with the intention that OERs could be implemented for the upcoming Fall Term. Additional details are forthcoming, but it is estimated that funding could support at least 20 grants, which translates to an estimated overall savings for students of about $250,000 in textbook fees every year.
“BUSU is incredibly excited to be a part of this new OER initiative at Brock University,” said Andrea Lepage, BUSU Vice-President, University Affairs. “The high cost of textbooks and course materials act as a barrier to academic participation. We believe that this initiative will level the playing field for all students and create a more equitable and inclusive learning environment within Brock’s classrooms.”
Brock University Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning Rajiv Jhangiani says the grant addresses a need identified in Brock’s new Academic Plan to make course materials accessible and affordable by supporting the creation, adaptation and adoption of OERs.
“The affordability of learning materials is an issue that affects all students, especially those who are already marginalized, such as students who are the first in their family to attend post-secondary, those with student loans and people of colour,” says Jhangiani.
Research conducted through the Brock University Library a few years ago suggests students will alter their academic plans based on the price of the learning materials required for a course.
“Students will choose courses with lower textbook costs or attempt to progress through courses without buying required books,” says Jhangiani. “This is among the reasons why so many of our faculty members already look at assigning library materials and other affordable options for course materials.”
Beyond accessibility and affordability to students, OERs also benefit faculty by offering more flexibility in course design. Jhangiani says there is also evidence that suggests universities that adopt OERs see gains in course enrolment, persistence and performance.
“OERs offer a lot more academic freedom because faculty don’t have to bend their courses to map onto the table of contents of a textbook,” says Jhangiani. “They can modify the instructional resources to suit their pedagogical goals. They are free to localize it, contextualize it and adapt it.”
When comparing OERs to commercial digital textbooks, Jhangiani says OERs come with additional advantages. Traditional digital textbooks are leased, which means students lose access after a certain period of time. With OERs, students can keep the digital copy and can use it as a resource in their career.
OERs may also come with interactive components such as simulations, quizzing, digital annotation and the ability to copy and print materials without the constraints of having to abide by the digital rights management associated with commercial publishers.
Although OERs are digital by default, the Campus Store is working towards providing a print-on-demand service for open textbooks to support learners who prefer print materials.
Anyone interested in learning more about OERs is invited to attend upcoming webinars hosted in support of International Open Education Week, which takes place from Monday, March 6 to Friday, March 10.
Jhangiani is leading two virtual presentations on Wednesday, March 8: the first at 11 a.m. focusing on leveraging OERs to advance organizational goals as part of the Goodman School’s Business Breathers webinar series, and another at 2 p.m. on building institutional supports for open educational practices as part of the University of Calgary Open Education Week initiatives. eCampusOntario is also offering an introductory session on OERs. All webinars are free and open to anyone.
Instructors interested in adopting OERs are invited to reach out to the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a consultation. More information on the new open education adoption grant program will be communicated in the next several weeks.