Supporting Open Textbook Adoption in British Columbia

Higher education practitioners in British Columbia have built and are sustaining an Open Practice community, but it hasn’t been a straight-line development process over the past 13 years, nor has it been completely planned and there have been many of twists and turns, all the while building a community from the successes and the missteps along the way.

This article has been adapted from the closing keynote address: Supporting Open Textbook Adoption in British Columbia with Mary Burgess and David Porter during the 12th Annual Open Education Conference: The Impact of Open – November 18-21, 2015, in Vancouver, B.C.

Open Education community

Here we share one short retelling of B.C.’s Open Education journey, engineered by many of our colleagues, including some of those highlighted in this post. Like all stories, it may suffer some gaps or provide the viewpoint from only our eyes. Others will have their own thoughts on B.C.’s progress on the Open path, and we invite you to ask them for their perspectives.

In these videos, Clint Lalonde, Manager, Educational Technologies, BCcampus, Gina Bennett, Chair, Academic Innovation and Applied Research, College of the Rockies, and Irwin DeVries, Director, Curriculum Development at Thompson Rivers University help to show that we came together from many different paths.

The success of the B.C. Open Textbook Project that we see today has had many sources, but, in essence, it boils down to a few key factors:

  • creative individuals,
  • cooperative teams of professionals,
  • enlightened government supporters (providing money as an open educational investment),
  • and willing partners, both locally and internationally.

Historically, there has been a bias for action in B.C., a province in western Canada well known for its out-there thinking on most issues of public policy. B.C.’ers also harbour an innate desire to lead Canada, and especially in thoughtful academic practices – We like to think of ourselves as the thought leaders of the Great White North.

The history of OER use in British Columbia goes back further than 15 years, with pioneering organizations in B.C., such as the Open Learning Agency (OLA) founded on the principles of making education accessible and affordable for all citizens.

In 2002, our government set up BCcampus to provide leadership in online education and one of its primary tasks was to bring a collaborative approach to online curriculum development and to build a sharing culture among all our institutions. One of the ways to do this was to come up with a collaborative content development strategy and in the early days, we set out to build a strategy that would foster innovation in the relationship between materials developers and funders. The participants in our Online Program Development Fund (OPDF) projects brought their own experiences, values and ideas to the open approaches we were exploring.

In this video, Brian Lamb, Director, Innovation and Open Learning, Thompson Rivers University, highlights the key difference between what was happening in the open technical space of the day and what actually needed to happen to build an Open community.

Members of our BCcampus team were innovators and creative thought leaders with their own affinity groups beyond our organization. Scott Leslie, Systems Manager, BC Libraries Cooperative, was one of the B.C. pioneers who pushed boundaries and brought ideas into BCcampus that broadened our approach to open pedagogy and stretched our thinking on what might be possible. Scott’s thoughts on open educators as DJs was a powerful metaphor for empowering a remix culture among post-secondary educators. Here’s a short clip from a presentation Scott made in Utah in 2009. I think you’ll agree that his thoughts of that day are only now beginning to get a broad expression in classrooms today and it remains an open field.

Our government supported our earliest efforts with $10M of investment over a period of eight years. Paul Stacey, Associate Director of Global Learning, Creative Commons, led the OPDF Project for BCcampus and in this video, he shares some of his thoughts on the earliest efforts and how they influenced where we are today.

None of the development we see today in B.C. through BCcampus could have occurred without support from the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, whose staff saw the opportunity to create good public policy by supporting Open Practices, Open Licenses, and later, Open Textbooks. Also, our colleagues like Cable Green of Creative Commons and Connie Broughton of the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges were generous with their support and advice as we moved forward to a more robust approach to Open Education in British Columbia.

It became clear after all those years of creating, reusing, and building that we needed a strong focus to move ourselves to the next level, but while we had made some great progress, we needed some clarity, something specific to come together on and what emerged was textbooks. This was something everyone understands, not an abstract concept like a “learning object” or “curricular resource”, but we needed to simplify the concept in order to bring it to mainstream education.

The B.C. Open Textbook Project

At the Open Education Conference in 2012, then B.C. Minister of Advanced Education, Jon Yap made an announcement we had all been hoping for, and one that BCcampus had actively planned with the government. The announcement was that we would be funded to manage the B.C. Open Textbook Project. All the work, planning, collaborations, and discussions had finally come together and we had a specific goal – to work together.

When the announcement for the B.C Open Textbook Project was made, we were concerned that the focus on the top 40 would be too constraining as we were accustomed to encouraging those who wanted to do the work by adding a few parameters on the projects beyond collaboration and open licensing, and allowing for maximum creativity and flexibility. However, as it turns out, Open Textbooks were exactly what we all needed. To hear more, watch these videos from Amanda Coolidge, Senior Manager, Open Education, BCcampus and Gina Bennett, Chair, Academic Innovation and Applied Research, College of the Rockies.

It takes a community

We knew that we needed to rely on our community, so we asked people to help and this became the Open Textbook Sub-Committee, our first group of community members, who helped us make decisions about how to move forward. The committee members were students, faculty, librarians, instructional designers, bookstore staff, and senior administrators – all representing our different institution types as well as our geographic diversity. This was an opportunity for us to walk the walk, rather than reinventing the wheel and beginning to create textbooks, we instead started researching what was already in the Commons, and through there we found high-quality resources from OpenStax, College Open Textbooks, and Merlot.

Our community stretched well beyond the boundaries of B.C., and we were very lucky to have Connie Broughton and Una Daly come to B.C. to help us. With their vast experience, they helped us understand the world we were wading into and how to get started. BCcampus also had plenty of help and advice from other amazing people, such as David Harris and Daniel Williamson of OpenStax, and many others – We reached out and they responded.

We wanted to ensure a supportive academic focus to the project to counter claims of lack of quality, and to make it something that faculty would want to participate in. To do so, we relied on our allies such as Jesse Key, Faculty, Vancouver Island University, Christina Hendricks, Faculty, University of British Columbia, and Rajiv Jhangiani, Faculty, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, who all came on board as Faculty Fellows to advise us and advocate on behalf of the Project.

We got the librarians involved, with our own Leva Lee, Manager, Professional Learning and Open Education Resources shepherding the BCOER Librarians along the way. We also implemented a review process, which had a side benefit of the reviewers also becoming part of our community. As you can see, our community is getting bigger, we’re stronger and we are making real headway.

We also wanted to make it easier to create and adapt so we established a relationship with Hugh McGuire of Pressbooks and our own Brad Payne, Web Developer – Technical Analyst, BCcampus, who began adapting that platform to our needs. We held a crazy book sprint and yes, created a textbook in 5 days! We did a bunch of adaptations, growing our collection and localizing it at the same time.

We were approached early on by Tara Robertson of the Centre for Accessible Post-Secondary Resources (CAPER) and we were grateful for the help and direction she provided. This lead us to work on the accessibility of our books with Tara Robertson, Accessibility Librarian, CAPER-BC at Langara College and Sue Doner, Faculty, Instructional Designer at Camosun College, both experts in Accessibly. Here’s Sue, talking about the relationship between OER, Accessibility and Universal Design for learning.

Where to next?

We have some calls to action for you to take forward to move Open to the next level, and we want you to help us get there.

We want to make Open the default.

The time has come to make Open the default instead of the alternative, unsupported, off the side of your desk thing you do because you’re passionate about it, but nobody actually recognizes your effort within your institution. This is where the rubber meets the road and we are at a point in the movement where we can take a critical next step towards normalizing Open Practices. How do we do that? Well, we have some ideas, and we asked our friends, and so did they. Here are few of their thoughts and ideas: Gina Bennett, Clint Lalonde, Irwin DeVries and Paul Stacey.

It’s time to get the whole academy involved, and while this may rub some folks the wrong way, we know from experience the impact that support from institutional senior leaders can have on the uptake. So we’re calling on Presidents, Vice Presidents Academic, Vice Presidents Finance and Operations to learn about Open Practices and support them in their institutions. We’re proud to have some leaders in B.C. who are doing just that, such as Alan Davis, President, Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

We need more, and here’s what YOU can do.

You can go to the senate and talk about this at every opportunity, tell your department chair about it, show them research results, talk about the impact on learning and on cost, talk about the role of the academy in society, and talk about student-centred learning. You could also Invite BCcampus to come to your office and talk to you and your senior leadership team about Open Practices.

Here’s Todd Mundle, University Librarian, Kwantlen Polytechnic University with a message for Library Directors. Also, Gwen Bird, Dean of Libraries, Simon Fraser University, shares her thoughts about moving from Open Access in libraries to other Open Practices.

We need Bookstores willing to print copies of texts for students who don’t want to use open digital copies. University CIOs need to know about tools like Pressbooks, open repositories, and wikis that enable access to the outside world and collaboration to push beyond the walls of the LMS and school intranets.

We need instructional designers knowledgeable in the ways of Open Pedagogy and able to help faculty design instruction in ways that is student-centred and makes use of not just OER but also engages students in the creation and publication of their own OER and processes. We need, as a starting point, a provincial level group of Instructional Designers like we have with the BCOER Librarians, and then we need to expand that beyond our jurisdiction again. We need to share processes for faculty support, and resources for teaching faculty how to engage in open practices to improve student learning.

Policy needs

Institutions need to implement policies that explicitly talk about how they will support Open Practices. Here’s a great resource by Tidewater Community College that speaks to what will be expected of faculty engaging in open practices, how they will be supported, the goals of the institution in supporting the use of OER, and how the process works. We extend a huge kudos to Daniel DeMarte and Richard Sebastian of TCC and the VCCs for making this happen. You guys rock, and are leading the charge!

We need infrastructure in place to support Open Practices, and not just technology though that is a crucial element to making this mainstream, but also through institutional support. There should be OER Librarians on every campus whose role it is to not only speak to Open Access, which is wonderful, but also where to find OER, and create lib guides of resources for faculty to use.

Open pedagogy

Rajiv Jhangiani, Faculty, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, shares his excitement and optimism about the future of Open.

Tracking the adoptions

All B.C. faculty who have adopted an Open Textbook, either from the BC Open Textbook Collection or another collection, should fill out the Adoption of an Open Textbook form, tracking these statistics is important to the viability of the B.C. Open Textbook Project.


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