Collaboration: The Key Ingredient for a Sustainable Open Education Movement

In terms of educator awareness and grassroots support alone, the B.C. Open Textbook project is among the most successful in the world. Yet much work remains, as expensive commercial textbooks still represent the choice of the overwhelming majority of B.C. faculty for their courses. This is despite the fact that their high cost leads a majority of B.C. post-secondary students to not purchase at least some of their required course materials.

Post by Rajiv S. Jhangiani, Special Advisor to the Provost on Open Education, KPU & Amanda Coolidge, Senior Manager of Open Education, BCcampus

In recent years, research has shed light on the major barriers to the widespread adoption of open educational resources (OER) in B.C. Similar to what has been found in other jurisdictions, difficulty with finding relevant and high-quality OER, not having adequate time to search or review OER, unsupportive colleagues, and unsupportive institutions appear to be the most significant barriers to adopting OER in B.C. Additionally, although a majority of B.C. faculty members possess a working knowledge of open educational resources, in just over a third of cases individual faculty do not have sole control over the choice of required course materials (it is sometimes a department committee, course developer, or other faculty members who make this selection). Unsurprisingly, the most significant enabling factors mirror the aforementioned barriers and include locating OER that are relevant, high quality, easy to access, and recommended or used by one’s peers.

Overcoming the major barriers to adoption has required a sustained effort on several fronts, including building a repository of high-quality and peer-reviewed open textbooks, supporting institutional OER grant programs, and developing local capacity. However, one other ingredient stands out as critical to the success of the open education initiative in B.C.: collaboration. In this article, we highlight three examples of deliberate efforts to foster inter-institutional collaboration in B.C. that we believe are key to the success and sustainability of our movement. In doing so, we share concrete strategies and a model that we hope is useful to open education initiatives in other contexts.

Communities of Open Education Practitioners (COEPs)

As outlined above, unsupportive colleagues can pose a significant challenge to the adoption of OER. Conversely, disciplinary colleagues are key to raising awareness of OER and even the perception of the quality of OER. It is with a desire to connect, support, and embolden like-minded colleagues (including and especially open textbook adopters who are a minority within their department) that BCcampus recently launched its first two Communities of Open Education Practitioners (COEPs) for physics and psychology (with more to follow). Membership in these groups is not restricted by geography and these disciplines were selected on the basis of having the largest number of faculty adopters of open textbooks across the province. By connecting directly with one another, these faculty members are able to share ideas, resources, and practices. Furthermore, given that individual faculty usually do not have the time or support to embark on a large OER project, these groups are able to identify and prioritize OER projects, information that is critical to funders and facilitators.

At BCcampus, we support these COEPs using two tools: 1) Google Groups, a familiar and free forum platform, and 2), an open-source social annotation browser extension. The latter represents an especially interesting use case as each COEP has its own private group to enable members to annotate open textbooks within their discipline to flag errors, highlight passages that require revision, and even to simply share pedagogical resources. Given that the continual update of open textbooks is a frequently asked question by potential faculty adopters, we believe that communities such as the two COEPs we have launched represent one solution to this puzzle.

Collaborative Sprints

Because COEPs represent large yet organic communities serving as ongoing caretakers of the available OER for their discipline, due to the small commitment required of their members they are not well suited for short-term OER creation or adaptation projects. In such cases, a collaborative sprint offers an excellent alternative. The sprint model involves bringing together a limited number of experts for a short period of time (typically two to four days) to perform the bulk of the work of developing a specific resource.

At BCcampus, we have deployed the sprint model to create both open textbooks and ancillary resources. In an example of the former, BCcampus brought together five geography faculty from four institutions for four days to plan and draft a nearly 200-page open textbook for B.C. regional geography. These faculty members were supported by a librarian, a graphic artist, facilitators, and BCcampus staff, permitting the faculty to focus on their subject-matter expertise. While the first day focused on learning how to use the open textbook authoring platform and collectively outlining the textbook, the following three days “involved a frenzy of writing and editing” (Jhangiani, Green, & Belshaw, 2017). Importantly, this effort produced an open textbook that served a local need and which has since been adopted at several B.C. institutions.

A similar approach was taken when several B.C. psychology faculty identified that the absence of a question bank was inhibiting the adoption of a newly-adapted Canadian edition of an open textbook for Introductory Psychology. In this case, seventeen faculty members from six institutions came together for two days to write and peer-review nearly one thousand multiple-choice questions. As with the geography open textbook sprint, involvement in the creation of this ancillary resource culminated in five out of the six institutions adopting the open textbook within a year.

The beauty of the collaborative sprint model is not just that it reduces the individual workload (which it does) or that it results in the production of a higher quality resource (which it does), but also that it instantly provides inter-institutional credibility that ameliorates any fears individual faculty may have concerning the articulation of courses that displace incumbent, commercial textbooks with OER.

Zed Creds

In the summer of 2017, BCcampus announced the availability of funding to support the development and launch of Canada’s first “Zed Creds,” entire credential programs with zero required textbook costs based on the adoption of OER. Three institutions were selected from among the applicants, two of which (Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Thompson Rivers University–Open Learning) committed to developing flexible one-year certificate programs while the third (Justice Institute of British Columbia) committed to a two-year Law Enforcement Studies Diploma. Not coincidentally, each of these institutions benefited from grassroots support in the form of a mature community of open education practitioners along with “grasstops” support in the form of institutional support (e.g., OER grant programs and supportive institutional policies).

From the outset, all three institutions committed to working collaboratively over the two-year grant period. Collaboration included identifying courses that are common to their known and potential Zed Cred pathways (e.g., first-year English, sociology, history, and psychology), sharing the development costs and process for OER that need to be created or adapted (whether open textbooks or ancillary resources), improving the quality of the created OER through inter-institutional peer review, and significantly increasing the impact of the invested funds.

The three examples highlighted here are not an exhaustive list of our deliberate efforts at fostering collaboration. For example, BCcampus is a founding partner of the Canada OER network and collaborates actively with infrastructure projects (e.g., Pressbooks, a widely used open textbook authoring platform) and other OER projects (e.g., Open Textbook Network, eCampus Ontario).

While it is true that successful collaborations can be hampered due to logistical challenges (e.g., coordination) or psychological barriers (e.g., territoriality), we at BCcampus believe that a collaborative approach is an essential ingredient for an open education movement that is innovative and sustainable. As the proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


Jhangiani, R. S. & Jhangiani, S. (2017a). Investigating the perceptions, use, and impact of open textbooks: A survey of post-secondary students in British Columbia. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(4), 172-192. doi:

Jhangiani, R. & Jhangiani, S. (2017b). Factors that influence the selection of open (and commercial) educational resources. Presentation at the 2017 Open Textbook Summit, Vancouver, B.C.

Jhangiani, R. S., Green, A., & Belshaw, J. D. (2016). Three approaches to open textbook development. In P. Blessinger & T. J. Bliss (Eds.), Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education. Open Book Publishers.

Jhangiani, R. S., Pitt, R., Hendricks, C., Key, J., & Lalonde, C. (2016). Exploring faculty use of open educational resources at British Columbia post-secondary institutions. BCcampus Research Report. Victoria, B.C.: BCcampus.

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