Open Resources: Improving Access for Everyone

At BCcampus, we support the adaptation and evolution of teaching and learning practices to improve the learning experiences of students across British Columbia. One of our major initiatives is around open education, where we support B.C. faculty in adopting, adapting, and creating open educational resources (OER) and adopting open pedagogical practices in the classroom. Our work aligns with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in many ways, but in particular, we would like to highlight how open textbooks can increase access to education and improve the learning experiences for students all around the world.

Post by Josie Gray, Coordinator, Collection Quality, Open Education

Open Textbooks: What Are They?

Open textbooks, a type of OER, are textbooks that are primarily digital and have been released under an open licence, which allows the book to be shared, edited, and remixed for free without having to ask the copyright holder for permission. One of the biggest benefits of open textbooks is that they are free for students, which helps reduce the financial burden of post-secondary education.

Open Textbooks and Multiple Means of Representation

Open textbooks directly enable one of the three principles of UDL: provide multiple means of representation. This principle holds that “learners differ in the way that they perceive and comprehend information… [and] may require different ways of approaching content” (CAST, 2018). Open textbooks are digital, which makes them flexible and able to accommodate multiple modalities. They are also often available in multiple formats.

Pressbooks, a self-publishing tool designed for publishing open textbooks, supports these functionalities. Books published in Pressbooks can be exported into multiple formats, including PDFs designed for both print and digital use, eBook files for reading on mobile or tablet devices, and a webbook that can be accessed in a browser.

By providing these different formats, students can choose the format that works best for them. For example, a student who spends long hours on public transit commuting to and from school would likely appreciate an eBook file that they could download to their phone for offline reading. Other students hate reading on a screen and prefer print copies. And others may want to take advantage of the easy search and highlighting capabilities of PDFs.

Pressbooks also supports the inclusion of different media files, including images, videos, audio, and interactive activities. This allows instructors to provide multiple modalities for engaging with the material, all within one textbook.

Essentials of Linguistics

A great example is this Essentials of Linguistics textbook, published in Pressbooks by McMaster University. Each chapter in this text includes a video to explain the topic. Each video is closed captioned for students with hearing impairments or for those who prefer to listen and read at the same time. There is also a transcript for anyone who prefers to just read the content. This book can also be downloaded in multiple formats for offline reading on different devices and printing.

BC Reads: Adult Literacy Fundamentals Series

Another example is the BC Reads series, written by a Vancouver Community College instructor, which is designed to help adults improve their literacy skills. Each book in this series includes a reader with multiple stories and accompanying images and a course pack with activities and an audio recording of each story. This allows students to practice reading on their own and listen to the story after if they want to.

Trades Common Core Series

A third example is the Trades Common Core series, produced by Camosun College. Each of the books in this series includes audio files of the textbook and many include videos explaining key concepts.

Access for All

Open licences ensure that OER are free for students to use all over the world, and the associated cost savings help address the financial barriers to education that many experience. However, we must also make sure that the content within these resources is accessible.

As digital resources, open textbooks have the potential to be a lot more accessible for students with different types of print disabilities. When designed and formatted according to accessibility guidelines, digital content can be easily manipulated to fit a person’s needs and preferences.

For example, the ability to change the font, increase the font size, and adjust brightness may help someone with a vision impairment or someone who is dyslexic. In addition, it ensures that people who use different kinds of assistive technologies, including text-to-speech tools and screen readers, will be able to access and engage with the content.

BCcampus has created a number of resources to support the creation and design of accessible and inclusive educational resources. We also maintain a list of open textbooks in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection that are accessible.

Accessibility Toolkit

The Accessibility Toolkit provides resources for any content creator, instructional designer, educational technologist, librarian, administrator, and teaching assistant to create a truly open textbook—one that is free and accessible for all students. This resource was created in partnership with CAPER-BC (Centre for Accessible Post-Secondary Education Resources in B.C.).

Inclusive Design Webinar Series

The Inclusive Design Webinar Series was a four-part webinar series that BCcampus hosted in February 2019. The webinars provided an introduction to inclusive design and addressed how to create accessible presentations and open textbooks and looked at what inaccessibility may look like for students. The recordings are captioned and available for viewing.

Accessible Open Textbooks

The B.C. Open Textbook Collection contains over 260 open textbooks in a huge range of subject areas. Currently, over 100 of the textbooks in the collection are accessible. You can view a list of all of the accessible books here: Accessible Textbooks in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection.


CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

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