Opinion: Open educational resources would make post-secondary costs more affordable

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“Open” is the keyword for Alberta this summer. This fall, students at colleges and universities in Alberta will be eager to see how the provincial government delivers on another promise of open educational resources, or OER.

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Last spring, as part of the Alberta Post-Secondary Strategy 2030, the Government of Alberta committed to making educational resources more accessible by supporting free and open-source textbooks and other educational materials. While the Alberta 2030 document sets this goal, it lacks details on how it will achieve it.

These details are particularly timely given the rise in tuition fees at post-secondary institutions across the province. As students bear more costs for their studies, support for OER is a proven savings. In British Columbia, where the provincial government has supported OER since 2012, students in British Columbia have saved more than $ 24 million in textbook costs.

In 2014, the Government of Alberta funded the Provincial OER Initiative, a pilot project designed to promote OER in the province. This program eventually ended, but the Alberta OER archives are still available. It is projected that adopting open textbooks would save students $ 5.5 million over five years.

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The government could make significant strides in open education in Alberta over the next 18 months. Here are three actions the government could take.

  • Restore Alberta’s OER Initiative by Providing a Small Annual Grant: The money could be used to fund OER projects across the province. The majority of funds should be distributed in the form of small grants, to finance educators who wish to develop OER material for their classes. The remaining funds could be used to track student savings and avoid duplication by encouraging coordination and cooperation across the province.
  • Recruit educators to volunteer for Alberta’s OER initiative: The previous initiative included many volunteers from the post-secondary sector, and many qualified people across the province would be willing to administer the grant and plan OER related events.
  • Develop partnerships with other provinces: There are many OER initiatives underway in provinces such as British Columbia, Ontario and Atlantic Canada. By forging partnerships, Alberta could benefit from the knowledge, expertise and OER already created that other groups have.

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These three steps would go a long way in advancing OER in Alberta. Given the high return on investment provided by OER, this relatively small investment would pay off in savings to students at a time when Alberta families need all the savings they can get.

A long-term transformational goal for the coming decade would be to fund a provincial interagency OER coordinating and funding body. Such a program would allow institutions to share existing OERs across the province, reduce education costs for Alberta’s more than 250,000 post-secondary students, and help close the competitive gap with other provinces. like Ontario and British Columbia which already have their own provincial OER programs.

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It is also crucial to encourage instructors to develop OER relevant to the Alberta context. A significant step would be to add the creation / adoption of OER into promotion and tenure agreements for post-secondary teachers.

The authors believe that a small continued investment from the government would have a positive impact on education in Alberta. Given that Alberta has already had (and funded) a provincial OER initiative, the resurrection of such a program will be a feasible and timely endeavor.

We would be happy to work with all stakeholders – including government and post-secondary institutions – on these proposals. The authors will continue to develop a more detailed project plan for expanding open education in Alberta, and they are happy to share their work with any interested parties.

Chaten D. Jessel, Faculty of Science Representative, University of Calgary Student Union. [email protected]

Erik Christiansen, Assistant Professor / Librarian, Mount Royal University [email protected]

Michael McNally, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta [email protected]

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