Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) is a public undergraduate teaching university with four campuses located in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia, Canada. Individual instructors at KPU began identifying, adapting, and adopting Open Educational Resources (OER) as open textbooks as early as 2012, most notably in the Physics department, where faculty adapted the United States-based OpenStax College Physics textbook for use in their first-year classes.
The launch of the BC Open Textbook project in 2012 signaled a system-wide initiative funded by the Ministry for Advanced Education (BC Open Textbook, 2016). KPU was able to provide faculty with a web-based platform (Pressbooks) to more easily edit open textbooks, to make digital copies available across a variety of formats, and to provide professional quality print copies of open textbooks at low cost. The BC Open Textbook project also supported the creation and adaptation of open textbooks to suit the local context, such as for Canadian History and Research Methods in Psychology.
The year 2012 marked the arrival of KPU’s current President, Dr. Alan Davis, under whose leadership KPU took more deliberate strides towards embracing open educational practices. For example, the University’s current academic plan (2014-18) established KPU Open Studies as an innovative unit supporting personalized competency-based learning using online resources and OER. This unit was also charged with liaising with the BC Campus Open Textbook project, and the Open Education Resource University (OERu).
That KPU has since emerged as an open education leader in British Columbia is in part due to this support from its senior executives. Yet, KPU’s current status as the leading institutional adopter of open educational resources in British Columbia is equally a function of grassroots support that is motivated out of concern for justice and interest in pedagogical innovation (BCcampus, 2016).
Several BC Open Textbooks were subsequently adopted by KPU faculty, who learned about these resources from their colleagues, or through provincial articulation committees.
Development of a Question Bank
In addition to funding OER creation/adaptation projects, the BC Open Textbook project also supports the development of necessary ancillary resources, such as question banks. In 2014, twelve KPU psychology faculty used this funding and, working together with colleagues from five other institutions, developed a question bank to support a BCcampus-funded Introductory Psychology textbook. Participating in the development of the question bank paved the way for the adoption of the open textbook by Psychology instructors at KPU as well as at other institutions.
OER Working Group
Between 2012 and 2015, KPU organized numerous professional development opportunities for its faculty in partnership with BCcampus to learn more about adopting, adapting, and creating open textbooks and other OER. This activity, together with growing interest in formally supporting this work, culminated in the fall of 2015, in the creation of a campus OER Working Group, consisting of key administrators, faculty advocates, librarians, and staff from the Teaching & Learning Commons.
This group has since worked to plan and coordinate textbook affordability/OER awareness campaigns and to organize professional development opportunities, including workshops and talks. In 2016, the KPU OER Working Group received BCcampus funding to offer and manage an OER small grant program to support faculty who wished to adapt or create OER. These small grants (up to $2,000 per team) were used to support OER creation, adaptation, and adoption in additional areas within the university, including History, Punjabi, Nursing, Biology, and the Trades. In this fashion, KPU has steadily managed to grow the community of open educational practitioners. This growing community now communicates via a special institutional Open Education listserv set up in partnership with BCcampus.
University Teaching Fellow
In January 2017, KPU established a University Teaching Fellow in Open Studies (with 50% teaching release time), a faculty member whose mandate includes supporting the various open education initiatives on campus (including KPU’s partnership with the international OERu network and its related course development). This University Teaching Fellow (who reports directly to the Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning):
- Regularly consults with individual faculty and departments;
- Plans additional professional development opportunities related to OER and open pedagogy (in collaboration with the OER Working Group);
- Liaises with the Kwantlen Student Association, the bookstore, the office for services for students with disabilities and other key internal stakeholders;
- Performs project management for the OERu course development as well as the OER grantees;
- Developed a section of KPU’s website <http://kpu.ca/open> to provide information about open educational practices; and
- Developed and published ten department-specific open textbook guides, with several additional ones to follow
With the escalating cost of university textbooks, KPU faculty found a growing number of students are opting to not purchase some of their required textbooks. This had a predictable negative impact on student learning. By ensuring free, immediate, cross-format, and permanent access to required course textbooks, students (especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds) have assured access.
KPU faculty are also increasingly interested in adapting OER to suit their local context (e.g., by removing unwanted sections, adding missing information, replacing outdated information, contextualizing examples and statistics, and embedding assignments). Working in collaboration with colleagues and having the support (e.g., OER grants) to develop resources not available commercially (e.g., to suit a specific context or for a niche topic) were additional benefits for KPU’s faculty who are creating or adapting OER.
In some cases, KPU faculty set up course assignments in which students create OER, including instructional videos and test questions. In one such case, a Psychology instructor required his students to produce a brief (2-3 minutes) instructional video on the principles of persuasion. These students submitted their video to an international student competition, in which they placed third, receiving a monetary award while having their video used by instructors internationally.
The response from students to the growing adoption of OER was very positive, not only because of cost savings, but also for the convenience of not having to carry textbooks. Other students thought they had received a better grade in the OER course, principally because they would not have bought the textbook and so would not have had access to the information and resources.
KPU Psychology instructors designed and embarked on a research study in 2015, aimed at investigating the impact on student outcomes of adopting the open textbook (vs. the commercial textbook). A year later, the result was clear: across three instructors and nine exams, KPU students assigned the open textbook (whether in print or digital format) either performed the same as or better than those assigned the commercial textbook. This research study, which was itself supported by an internal research grant from KPU, resulted in the Psychology department (which by 2015 created its own OER committee) permitting its instructors to adopt an open textbook for Introductory Psychology in place of its standardized, contracted commercial textbook.
KPU’s OER initiative also benefited from a lot of positive press, as shown in the list in the Resources section below.
Finally, students at KPU benefited from an estimated cost savings of more than $500,000 and these savings continue as OER use expands.
KPU’s faculty faced several challenges with adopting OER. Primary among these is the low awareness of the existence of relevant OER along with misconceptions about what OER represent (e.g., only free? only digital?). Once the awareness, discoverability, and technical know-how barriers were addressed (via workshops, OER integration in library searches, open textbook guides, etc.), the next challenge was in finding the time necessary to support adoption and/or adaptation. Since 2016, a dozen interested faculty have been able to take advantage of OER grants to hire student assistants to support this work. Since January 2017, additional support is available to faculty in the form of the time of the University Teaching Fellow in Open Studies.
Additional challenges include committee-level adoption decisions (which make it more challenging for an individual instructor who wishes to adopt OER), reliance on commercial online platforms (e.g., for homework) tied to new commercial textbooks, the unavailability of ancillary resources with OER such as question banks to support certain open textbooks, and heavy faculty workloads.
Challenges reported by students assigned open textbooks largely focused on logistical issues, such as delays in receiving a print copy (printed on demand by a neighbouring institution) of their open textbook
In addition to supporting OER adoption in new areas, KPU plans to focus on four areas in the near future:
- First, KPU launched “Zed-cred” on November 1, 2017, a set of courses in a specific program area that allows a student to earn a credential with “Zero” textbook costs by using open educational resources and/or free library materials.
- Second, OER implementation will be broadened to include open educational practices and open pedagogies, where students are creators of OER.
- Third, working with international partners as a member of the OERu network, KPU will develop entire courses as OER and launch a first-year program of study.
- Finally, the KPU OER Working Group will draft an institutional open education policy to further embed OER use within the normative practice of the institution.
Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani,
Special Advisor to the Provost on Open Education
Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
BC Government News. (2016, October) BC Open Textbook Project celebrates four years of success. Retrieved from https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016AVED0099-002013
KPU Strategic Plan (2014-2018). Retrieved from http://www.kpu.ca/president/strategicplanning
- The open educational resources movement is redefining the concept of online textbooks | University Affairs
- ‘Open textbooks’ catching on at BC colleges and universities - NEWS 1130
- Universities seek open-source solution to ‘absurd’ textbook prices | CTV Vancouver News
- Could ‘open textbooks’ be the answer to reducing student costs? - NEWS 1130