Since 2011, at least 46,000 students at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada students were exposed to a range of open educational practices, including 16,450 who enrolled in courses in which instructors replaced traditional textbooks with open or freely accessible resources (Engle, 2016). The catalysts for these practices are multifaceted.
Quality Resources for Students
One primary faculty motivation is to provide students with high quality learning resources customized for their specific courses or subject areas. For example, in the UBC Department of Mathematics, in which 16 courses are currently using open or freely accessible textbooks, faculty were motivated to create open resources because traditional textbooks did not cover topics areas integral to the course or did not align with how they wanted to teach their subjects (McCabe & Sasagawa, 2016).
Reduce Student Costs
Another important motivation for the uptake of OER was the goal to reduce costs for students. The increasing price of textbooks deters many students from purchasing required textbooks, even when they understand this will have a negative effect on their learning. According to a university wide survey, 75% of students have foregone purchasing a textbook or other required course resource due to cost; 37% do this frequently (So & Doering, 2016). Starting in September 2015, UBC’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) ran a biannual “#textbookbroke” campaign to engage students in conversations around the costs of traditional educational resources and make them aware of OER (Munro, Omassi, & Yano, 2016). These campaigns resulted in students advocating for OER at all levels of the university - with each other, faculty, and university administration.
An emerging motivation for OER uptake at UBC is the increased presence of university policies that support OER. UBC’s Senior Appointments Committee’s 2016/17 Guide to Reappointment, Promotion, and Tenure Procedures now includes contributions to open educational resources and repositories as evidence of educational leadership for candidates in the educational leadership stream (University of British Columbia, 2016).
OER Funding Programs
Additionally, the 2017 UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund at the Vancouver campus includes a priority focus on the development or integration of OER, while the Aspire Teaching and Learning Fund at UBC at the Okanagan campus encourages faculty to develop and integrate open educational resources that can be used in single or multiple courses (Engle, 2016).
Support for Development
Furthermore, UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology and the UBC Library provide in-depth faculty development opportunities and direct support for finding, creating, evaluating and teaching effectively with open resources.
Leadership from individual faculty and departments led to development of a broad array of innovative OER integration and practices. A showcase of the open resources and courses mentioned below, as well as many others, can be found at https://open.ubc.ca/projects%20 /. Links are also provided at the end of this article.
For example, in the course Differential Calculus with Applications to Life Sciences, an open textbook was iteratively developed by faculty members (Edelstein-Keshet, 2015). The course goal is to make calculus meaningful for life science students and to best achieve this, it includes multimedia tools, such as YouTube videos and problems based in WeBWork, an open source online homework application with automatic grading. The Math Exam/Education Resource Wiki, an open community project started in March 2012 by graduate students, featuring hints, solutions to past math exams and explanatory videos, was integrated into Math courses as well.
In Introductory Physics, an textbook from OpenStax, a website offering access to peer-reviewed open textbooks, was integrated as the problems and questions could be easily imported directly into the LMS (the edX system Edge).
The course, Computation, Programs, and Programming, historically used an open textbook but more recently incorporated open multimedia resources, including lectures and peer review assignments that the instructor created for a related edX MOOC. The use of these resources allows for development of a flipped model, with class time used for activities and the resources used online. (Sasagawa, 2017).
Faculty in UBC’s Linguistics Department developed an open “eNunciate!” site that features videos and self-directed courses using ultrasound technology to help students to learn abstract concepts and ideas related to speech production (Gick et al. 2015).
Faculty in Geography launched an open geography portal to host and share OER, such as virtual field trips that leveraged new learning environments, education technologies and pedagogical approaches to help students explore twenty-first century environmental issues (Green, 2016).
In a Canadian Studies course, the instructor incorporated a Wikipedia-based assignment in which students were asked to develop and contribute open materials directly to Wikipedia which resulted in new and improved Canadian-specific articles that were viewed over 20,000 times (Grafton, 2017).
According to a study of instructors across British Columbia, including at UBC, faculty generally recognize the quality of OER is comparable or superior to commercial textbooks (Jhangiani, Hendricks, Key & Lalonde, 2016). However, faculty working with OER rate their quality significantly higher.
Benefits to Students
Most importantly, students stress how using OER specifically designed for their courses and made readily available from one website benefits their learning. Students, using commercial textbooks, may have a hard time reading the technical jargon commonly used. Because of this, they appreciate the links in their OER course notes to the videos and homework problems that better explain relevant concepts (Jhangiani et al. 2016).
Aligned with Course
Faculty also appreciated OER because they can continually refine them, add content, integrate the content with new interactive technologies and make the content more aligned with their lessons. OER helped them become better teachers.
According to the study, some faculty note that the close relationship between the OER they develop or adapt, based on their course notes, and their research interests permit faculty to talk more freely about issues related to their research investigations. This is considered to be a useful way a research university can integrate research with education.
Savings for Students
In addition to these benefits, OER leveled the playing field by ensuring all students have equal access to the course resources by eliminating textbook costs. As students are forgoing the purchase of course resources due to costs, this benefit is becoming more important for faculty who are motivated to ensure students have access to their course materials.
As a consequence of these benefits, OER adoption is increasing. For example, in the last five years, at least 16,450 UBC students enrolled in courses in which instructors replaced traditional textbooks with open or freely accessible resources, saving those students between $1.7 and $2.9 million dollars. These figures are increasing as the number of students impacted by open resources in academic year 2016 is double what it was in 2015 (Engle, 2016). In the the UBC Math Department alone in 2016, more than 7,000 students enrolled in courses that utilized open resources, representing savings for students of more than $600,000 and possibly as high as $1 million (McCabe & Sasagawa, 2016).
The challenges associated with locating high-quality, relevant and up-to-date OER were reported to be significantly lower by faculty at research-intensive universities than by faculty at teaching-intensive universities or colleges/institutes (Jhangiani, Hendrics, Key, & Lalonde, 2016). However, much of the utilization of OER at UBC was the result of individual faculty leadership and the most significant challenge to OER implementation is the faculty time and effort required to implement and use OER effectively. This time load is even heavier when faculty wish to integrate more interactive content and videos.
Additionally, the higher demands for course development, and the resulting increase in the time investment of faculty in adopting, adapting, assembling, and/or developing the OER, is not recognized in tenure and promotion criteria for UBC research stream faculty.
According to an environmental scan, additional barriers to faculty adoption are related to the process for integrating OER into courses, which is often part of a broader curriculum renewal process. In courses with more than one section, OER must often be negotiated with multiple faculty members or departments as a whole. Additionally, perceptions of quality for open materials and adequate staff and departmental support hampered OER efforts (Alma Mater Society, 2015).
As OER adoption increases at UBC, open resources and practices are increasingly aligned with effective pedagogy. A challenge is to make the use of open resources and practices more sustainable. As open practices are often driven by individual faculty, their sustainability often relies upon those same individuals to maintain them. Increasing UBC’s open policies and programs can tie OER efforts to the University’s mission and help raise and broaden support for such efforts. Funding from both internal and external sources also plays an important role in the implementation of OER initiatives and sustainability and mentorship can also help increase the base of support for OER. Another important development at UBC is the recognition of curricular innovation as important for tenure, promotion and reappointment.
Senior Associate Director
Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology
University of British Columbia, Vancouver
e-Mail: [email protected]
Strategist, Open Educational Initiatives
Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology
University of British Columbia, Vancouver
e-Mmail: [email protected]
Alma Mater Society. (2015). OER at UBC: Environmental Scan & Possible AMS Action Items.
Edelstein-Keshet, L. (2015). Differential Calculus: Mathematics 102. Retrieved from http://www.math.ubc.ca/php/MathNet/courseinfo.php?session=2015W&t=outline&name=102:110
Engle, W. (2016). Open UBC Snapshots: Textbook Displacements by Open Resources. Retrieved from http://open.ubc.ca/open-ubc-snapshots-textbook-displacements-by-open-resources/
Gick, B., Currie Hall, K., Rullmann, H., & Wiltshcko, M. (2015). eNunciate!. Retrieved from http://enunciate.arts.ubc.ca/about/project-overview/
Grafton, K. (2017). ENG470D-003: Canadian Studies. Retrieved from https://dashboard.wikiedu.org/courses/UBC/ENG470D-003_Canadian_Studies_(2017)/home
Brown, L. & Green, A.G., (2016) Open Geography. Retrieved from http://open.geog.ubc.ca/about/
Jhangiani, R. S., Hendricks, C., Key, J., & Lalonde, C. (2016). Exploring faculty use of OER at BC post-secondary institutions Retrieved from http://wiki.ubc.ca/images/b/be/BCFacultyUseOfOER_final.pdf
McCabe, H. & Sasagawa, E. (2016). Open textbooks save Math students up to $1 million this year. Retrieved from http://flexible.learning.ubc.ca/news-events/open-textbooks-save-ubc-math-students-up-to-1000000-this-year/
Munro, D., Omassi, J., & Yano, B. (2016). BCcampus OER Student Toolkit. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/studenttoolkit/
Sasaqawa, E. (2017). Open Dialogues: How to do open courses. Retrieved from http://open.ubc.ca/open-dialogues-how-to-do-open-courses/
So, S., & Doering, K. (2016). AMS 2016 Academic Experience Survey Report
University of British Columbia. (2016). Guide to Reappointment, Promotion and Tenure Procedures at UBC 2016/17.
Analysis/stats on open textbook adoptions at UBC between 2011 and 2016:
Description of Math adoptions of OER (largest impact on campus/in the province):
Adoption of OpenStax textbook in PHYS100:
Open resources developed by Geography (including FieldPress plugin or virtual field trips)
From Exam to Education: The Math Exam/Educational Resources wiki
Math Exam Education Resources Wiki