Through a series of sessions offered on campus from Mar. 7–11, Open Education Week provided both students and faculty with information regarding the use of free educational resources and their place on the University of Saskatchewan campus.
Open Education Week at the U of S was organized in affiliation with the international event by a variety of groups on campus, including the Distance Education Centre, the University Library and the U of S Students’ Union. The event touched on topics such as finding and using open resources, open access publishing and the process of customizing an open resource.
Heather Ross, instructional design specialist at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, worked with these groups on campus to co-ordinate the event and speaks about the presence of open resources already in use at the U of S.
“There’s actually seven [open textbooks] being used on campus this year, saving students about $90,000 [in textbook costs this year],” Ross said. “Nine hundred students are being affected by it this academic year.”
Open textbooks are being used by a range of programs at the U of S, including biology, chemistry, agriculture, economics, history and sociology. With the adaptation and creation of several more open textbooks currently in progress, Ross estimates that nearly 800 additional students will be affected within the next few years. With these additions, she anticipates an estimated total savings of $170,000 for students each year, in regards to textbook fees.
Ross speaks to the importance of Open Education Week, as awareness and interest in utilizing such resources is becoming more present on campus.
“It was a chance for us to inform faculty, staff, students about what options are available for working with these, what these things are and how we can support the moving forward in the use of them,” Ross said.
While a large goal of the event was to raise awareness, another important aspect Ross drew attention to was the obstacles that instructors often face during the process of adopting an open resource.
“I think students need to recognize that there’s real barriers using an open textbook,” Ross said. “If [instructors] use it right out of the box, as is, they still have to update their course notes, update their assessments and all of that [stuff] that goes along with adopting a new textbook.”
Open resources provide the opportunity for students to customize the textbook themselves. The texts are instantly accessible from any device, can be downloaded as a PDF file and can be printed according to the student’s need or preference.
According to Ross, students can take their business to the Campus Bookstore.
“We’ve worked it out with the bookstore that they’ll offer print on demand for students, for open textbooks. The quote I was given was a 600-page book, and that’s a huge book. They’re just going to print it off like it was a course pack, and it was $30; $35 if the students want it hole-punched.”
Ross discussed how there is a rising interest in utilizing open textbooks and how the Gwenna Moss Centre and the University Library will continue to support that interest.
“We’re going to continue to do educational sessions,” Ross said. “It’s not that there’s not interest. So continuing to educate on that, continuing to support instructors when they want to do this, when they’ve decided they do want to do this … I do see this as absolutely continuing to grow, but it’s just education and support, those are the big things we can continue to offer.”
Ross encourages students to be patient with their instructors, as the adaptation of open resources often stems from an instructor’s dissatisfaction with available commercial resources, the strain they put on students’ expenses and the desire to provide the best material available for their course.
“Let me just put it [this] way: it’s not just students that are frustrated with textbooks.”