Open educational resources (OERs) are teaching, learning, and research materials residing in the public domain or licensed to allow free use or repurposing. Over the last decade or so, interest in OERs has grown significantly, and Toronto’s Seneca College joined many other higher education institutions around the world in implementing a campus-wide OER initiative.
Seneca’s OER program began in 2017 after Jennifer Peters, eLearning and Digital Literacies Librarian, returned from the eCampusOntario Open Education Summit. Inspired by the event, she shared insights gained from the summit with members of the Seneca Educational Technology Advisory Committee. The committee wholeheartedly endorsed the idea, and an open educational resources subcommittee was struck to promote awareness and recommendations to integrate and sustain OERs across the College’s curriculum. Prior to then, several isolated OER projects were already underway, but this was the College’s first formal coordinated initiative.
All potentially interested parties on campus were brought together to discuss the initiative, including staff from the bookstore, student services, and counselling and accessibility services. An OER strategy and a faculty resource guide were created, and librarians were trained.
The college previously received eCampusOntario grants for open content development, however, a change in government resulted in the grant program being frozen. Undeterred, Ms. Peters approached the academic vice-president, Laurel Schollen, who decided Seneca would offer grants from internal funds to incentivize OER development. Hence, the Seneca OER program began to take shape.
Seneca decided to focus on the adaptation of open textbooks by remixing existing resources wherever possible, rather than developing them from scratch. Faculty interested in creating OERs for their courses have the option to proceed independently or receive various kinds of support. Supports available include:
- Grants from the academic vice-president’s office to release faculty from teaching to develop open texts with potential to be used across campus.
- Support from deans and department chairs to create open texts for specific courses.
- The Teaching and Learning Centre helps faculty get started with OERs and helps with issues such as appropriateness of material for course learning outcomes.
- The Copyright Team answers questions about copyright and creative commons licensing.
- Liaison Librarians help faculty find existing OERs.
- The OER sub-committee answers technical questions about development tools and hosting services.
Seneca supports seven tools to allow faculty choices when developing their open texts, including:
- Google Sites
- OER Commons Open Author
- Open Case Book
Each of these tools have different features and their choice often depends on what multimedia features they would like to incorporate, or faculty may simply choose to use Microsoft Word if they do not wish to learn a new tool.
Digital accessibility and adherence to universal design principles are stressed in the Seneca OER program. Faculty need to ensure materials are accessible to all students, including text, quizzes, video, and images. If the materials they are re-using from other sources are not accessible, the onus on is on faculty to adapt them to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 accessibility criteria.
Three central grants were awarded for piloting open texts in 2021 for courses in project management, nursing leadership and management, and technical communications. In addition, many open text initiatives are currently underway in a variety of fields, including anatomy and physiology, applied science and technology, business, communications, disability studies, information technology, and macroeconomics. A partial listing of .courses is available.
Benefits and Outcomes
Textbook cost savings is one of the outcomes of Seneca’s OER program. The College estimates a cost savings of between $1,645,597 and $2,468,396 from September 2019 to December 2020 for textbooks for students in OER courses.
While student cost savings was expected, a surprising outcome is faculty now feel empowered to design their own course materials, according to Ms Peters. She adds they no longer feel compelled to organize their courses around the dictates of publishers’ textbook content. Instead, they can choose the most appropriate topics for their courses and receive support to build an open textbook to cover that content.
Other outcomes of the initiative include:
- Reduced barriers to course materials as students gain access to them on the first day of classes;
- Improved accessibility because students do not have to wait for course materials to be digitized for screen readers;
- Integrated multimedia materials in OERs allows students to learn through multiple modes; and
- Materials can be readily updated throughout the course.
Through an arrangement with the campus bookstore, students have the option to print their text for approximately $15 with a 24-hour turnaround.
Challenges and Enhancements
One of the biggest challenges the program is facing now is faculty have less time during the pandemic to work on OERs. This is because the sudden switch to remote learning is consuming much faculty time to convert their courses to online learning, and students who are learning online for the first time require additional support.
Another challenge Ms. Peters noted is finding open materials to adapt in specialized, niche subject areas. The need for faculty to learn new tools, such as Pressbooks and H5P, can be time consuming but necessary if they want to effectively integrate multimedia content.
Going forward, Ms. Peters would like to have a central repository established in the library for all OER content to facilitate sharing, as they are currently dispersed across different servers. She would also like to see funding available for faculty to develop content from scratch because now the program relies largely on adaptation of existing open materials.
eLearning & Digital Literacies Librarian
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M2J 2X5