Deans of Arts and Science: A Unified Front to Support OER

The B.C. Deans of Arts and Science Programs Committee met in fall 2021, and on their agenda was a statement of support for the use, creation, and adaptation of open educational resources (OER). This marked the first administrative statement of support for OER in B.C. We had the opportunity to chat with local deans and faculty champions to learn why they’re promoting the use of OER in their institutions. 

Post by the BCcampus editorial team

“In supporting faculty choice in educational resources, the B.C. Deans of Arts and Science also support and encourage the use, creation, and adaptation of Open Educational Resources (OERs) that contribute to the quality of the student experience in post-secondary arts and science courses. As a group, the B.C. Deans of Arts and Science recognize that Open Educational Resources minimize the cost of learning for students, promoting equity in education and creating an opportunity to improve academic preparedness. Open Educational Resources also allow faculty to customize their teaching resources, present local examples, showcase their expertise, and collaborate with their peers.”

– statement from the B.C. Deans of Arts and Science Programs (BCDASP) committee

“It’s all about access,” said Dr. Brian Chapell, dean of Science and Technology at Douglas College and chair of the BCDASP. “The cost of print material for students is at an all-time high, so if we can make the learning materials available to students at zero, or very low, cost to them, that helps more students get the resources they need to be successful in their courses. We don’t want to see students decide against buying a resource that they need for a class because they can’t afford it. The cost of the resource to go with an already expensive education shouldn’t be something that’s burdening the students. That’s the basis of my support for OER. From the perspective of the BCDASP, we as a committee had a discussion about OER and felt it was important for us to put our support behind OER as a principle, so our faculty members would know they will have our support when they pursue an OER option for their classes or programs.”

Darrell Bethune, dean of Business and University Arts and Science at the College of the Rockies and past chair of the BCDASP, explained, “I brought the proposed statement to the committee in our meeting in the spring. Our college has adopted an OER statement, so I was proposing a statement from a provincial group that speaks for the arts and science programs of the sector. I’m really pleased that we were able to put together a consensus statement at our October meeting, and I’m hoping for it to be a catalyst for institutions to include more OER in their consideration of textbooks. We aren’t mandating OER resources: we’re supporting faculty in reviewing them in their textbook selection process. And we are absolutely supporting the adoption of open textbooks where our faculty recommend them.” 

“Student loan debt is not a result of tuition fees alone. It includes books, supplies, tuition, fees, transportation costs, room & board (on-campus), and other living expenses,” said Amanda Coolidge, director of Open Education at BCcampus. “When we talk about access and affordability in education, we are talking directly to the effect it has on student success, whether you define success as student completion, improved learning outcomes, or retention.”

“It’s truly thrilling to see how much the learning community of B.C. supports the spirit of OER,” said Mary Burgess, executive director at BCcampus. “This statement from the BCDASP is a substantial indication that institutions and faculty are highly interested in creating access for their learners. We are proud to support — and eagerly encourage — future-focused groups as they find new ways to increase awareness and access to OER and open education projects.”

It’s Not Just About Cost

“To paraphrase a common sentiment in the OER world: if this were only about free textbooks, I wouldn’t be part of this movement,” said Jennifer Kirkey, Physics chair at Douglas College. “The first time I used an open textbook, I had a class where all of my students had the same version of the textbook. It was an ‘OMG-experience,’ and such a contrast to previous years, where students couldn’t get the textbook, or they got it late. After receiving the link to the open textbook, one of my students said, ‘I guess we start learning on the first day?’ It was so mind-blowing to hit the ground running in the first week. Since everyone was working from the same material, we were able to do heavy review in the first week, and by the end of week two, we were already diving deep into the material.”

“If all students have access to a product,” said Brian, “even if it’s not as good as the one you want — and I’m not suggesting that our OER is not as good – it’s better to have the product in the hands of more students for student success.” 

2017 study co-authored by Rajiv Jhangiani and Surita Jhangiani revealed that 54 per cent of students reported not buying all the required textbooks. Twenty-seven per cent said they took fewer courses based on textbook costs, while 17 per cent reported dropping a course because of costly textbooks.

While affordability is a highly cited reason for the adoption of OER by proponents of open textbooks, it’s not the primary reason for institutions in B.C. to consider it in their programs. Access to the materials is essential, and the affordable aspect of open textbooks means that more students can have the required materials on the first day of class. Instead of relying on Google and Wikipedia or sharing a textbook with other students, with an OER option, the learning can start immediately. 

An Open Textbook OER FAQ

The academic division at the College of the Rockies compiled a list of frequently asked questions regarding the adoption and adaptation of OER, addressing questions around bookstore revenues, accessibility criteria, and how to adopt or adapt an OER. 

“One of the main concerns involved articulation,” Darrell explained. The college consulted with Mike Winsemann, director of Transfer and Technology at the British Columbia Council on Admissions & Transfer (BCCAT), and developed the following statement: “Course equivalency relies on learning outcomes, not textbook selection. BCCAT has no record of a transfer credit request being denied due to an OER textbook. Two courses with substantially the same scope, depth, and learning outcomes will achieve equivalent goals even if they use different textbooks.”

Adaptable Resources for Current Events

A valuable benefit of OER is the ability to adapt them to fit the program you want to teach. You can pick and choose the components you want to include, rearrange them to fit your course, and augment them with other materials to provide the comprehensive experience you want to create. “Another thing that’s truly beautiful about using OER is the capacity to include localized, contextualized content,” said Brian. “With the extreme weather situation we experienced last week, one of our geology instructors, Dr. Derek Turner, was able to take the information being shared in social media and include it in his class. The flooding and changes that were happening throughout the valley, shared via Twitter, provided substantial material that was immediate and relevant to his students. He put up an example for the Old Sumas Lake in Abbotsford and said, ‘We studied this two weeks ago. Never did I imagine we’d have such a real-life example. I’ll be able to use this content for the next twenty years as an example in my class.’”

“I love making OER with my students,” said Arley Cruthers, an applied communications instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. “One year, students did original research to create a report about how Kwantlen can better meet the needs of international students. That report reached beyond the classroom, which allowed me to share the feedback from other institutions and online channels with the students, creating recognition for them that they wouldn’t typically have in the classroom, especially the international students who felt like no one was listening to them. They got to experience the dean from a major university tweeting about the report they created, which was pretty amazing.

“Another project I’ve done with my students was to develop a book of instructions,” said Arley. “The students created a book to share instructions about living, learning, and thriving during a pandemic. It gave them a chance to think about what their unique voice can contribute, then publish something to share with their family and friends. Many of them shared comfort-food recipes that their mom or dad taught them.

“During the early stages of the lockdown, one student created a blog about cooking with her parents, long distance. She would create a dish and then share a story about what her parents were going through in the Philippines, as well as what she was going through. It was a neat way for her to talk about her experiences through the very physical modality of food.” 

The BCDASP Committee 

The BCDASP Committee exists to promote a coordinated and effective post-secondary system of arts and sciences programs: it aims to consult on and advocate for provincial issues that affect arts and science post-secondary programs and education; to facilitate collaboration and co-operation among deans of arts and science programs, particularly to enhance opportunities and mobility for students; and to facilitate the development and sharing of administrative best practices among deans of arts and science programs in B.C.’s post-secondary institutions.

Notable Quotes

“The watershed moment for me happened during a presentation with Rajiv Jhangiani about six or seven years ago. One of the examples he shared was a textbook that I had used when I was teaching in Ontario. At that time, it was a $140 textbook. The current price, in Rajiv’s example, of that same book, had inflated to $400. There is no way I could justify standing at the front of a classroom and saying, ‘You can’t be successful in this class without spending $400 on this book.’ There was no way I could ever take that position with students in my classroom.”

– Dr. Brian Chapell, dean, Science and Technology, Douglas College, and chair of the BCDASP Committee

“The ability to create material that reflects the needs of your students, allowing students to see themselves reflected in the materials, is a powerful tool — using the names of the students in your classroom with examples related to their lives. If you teach a subject that changes often, it’s very easy to swap pieces in and out to keep the content updated. For example, at Kwantlen, I take a story-based approach to my OER, so I can use stories that are very relevant to my students. They might be stories used with permission or an amalgam of student experiences that help the learners relate to the material. It’s very cool to see students get the freedom to write about what’s important to them, whether that’s a blog, videos, or doing things in different languages. The moment when you see students take ownership of their work — excited to create something — is very cool.”  

Arley Cruthers, applied communications instructor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

“The really liberating aspect of OER is the ability to modify to fit your vision. I can re-order the chapters in the way I want to teach them and add my own material to the content. It is such a freeing experience to enjoy the ability to make the content match what you’re teaching, instead of the tail wagging the dog.”  

– Jennifer Kirkey, physics and astronomy instructor, Douglas College

“We want to lower the barriers, perceived or real, in the adoption of OER. We want faculty to choose the appropriate textbook for their course or program, and we support articulation based on learning outcomes rather than textbooks. At the College of the Rockies, we strongly endorse the participation of faculty in OER projects.”

 – Darrell Bethune, dean, Business and University Arts and Science, College of the Rockies

Learn More:

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by NEOSiAM 2021 from Pexels