Think Big – Act Small: Student keynote panel Day 2

Chardaye Bueckert

@ChardayeB – President of the SFU Students’ Society

My experience as an Open Textbook advocate started in 2013, as a political science student. I came across the open textbook program, and thought it was a no brainer.

At first I thought it was going to be easy, but as it turns out it wasn’t that simple. I talked to students, who were quickly on board. We engaged professors with an email campaign, but we didn’t have the mass uptake we were hoping for. I started to appreciate the many nuances and stakeholders involved in open textbooks.

Average book and material cost per student per year is $300-$1,000; 38% of total educational costs for domestic students. Ever-changing editions render expensive books worthless.

Approx. 1.5 million full-time students in Canada are each spending $600 year on textbooks – that equals close to $900B in sales – a market controlled by 4 major publishers.

In B.C., we have found that teaching-intensive post-secondary institutions have more uptake of OT than research-based institutions.

Chardaye asked students: “What have you done to avoid paying for a textbook?” The results were astounding: illegal downloading, buying, photocopying, then returning a text, or borrowing and scanning, etc. Some students go without, some will actually drop a class because they can’t afford the textbook. People will pick classes based on textbook costs, which is not good for curiosity-based learning.

One student said used every trick in the book, including putting a foreign-language edition through Google translation, rather than buy the book.

Not only do students want to save money, but we want the best possible education – OER are good for academic outcomes. Cost savings = increased student retention rates.

When students are taking the time to go to extreme measures, that’s time they’re not spending actually studying. In BC, 46,000 hours of minimum wage work have been saved by students using open textbooks.

OT are cost-effective, non-partisan, and mutually beneficial. Government has spent $2M and students have already saved $700K – for the OT project’s first two years. That’s a good ROI for a start up! and that ROI will continue to grow as adoptions increase.

What we did: Student outreach, faculty and administration engagement, talks with government, library collaboration, leasing with other student unions. We have asked for more funding for the OT program. SFU has highest reviewer rate – hoping that translates into adoptions soon.

Still, publishers have a lot more resources to market their products – that’s a challenge. Also we want to respect academic freedom.

We have a lot of allies in this movement, and there’s always more to learn, and always room for one more. Open is really the future of academia – open data and open access. Through OER, we’re moving away from ivory tower to a more democratic form of knowledge which really excites me.

Erik Queenan

@ErikQueenan – Mount Royal University in Calgary

Last year I found out about OER on my own, and went through a lot of learning. I wanted to save students money, it was a very natural place to start.

But I continued being an advocate because I found that OER are so cool. Giving students resources is more valuable than saving them money. With OER, there are so many ways students can get involved and engage with materials in a different way.

When I talked to faculty, they told me “this is a good idea, but not me and not now” – such an intangible set of road blocks from professors. Their minds seemed closed.

We put a higher bar for quality on online, open textbooks than the paid, costly textbooks. Why is that?

When the government of Alberta set aside $2M for their own OT project, I felt like I was really close with getting a business statistics textbook adopted. But it took me months to find a professor willing to apply for the funding. I found the professors were reluctant to change because they were using the ancillary resources to administer quizzes, which came with the traditional textbook. Finally, after months and almost at the last minute, I got a professor to apply for funding to develop the ancillary resources.

This is a long game, and I’m a student in my position for 2 years, but it’s going to take patience, and take small steps, and we’ll get there.

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