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Open-source learning: a glance into a new form of education

Since 2019, Concordia’s Open Educational Resources project has provided grants for professors interested in creating their proper learning materials. This new way of learning could benefit future Concordia students for years to come.

Concordia’s Library Services Fund Committee (LSFC) has supported many projects that have benefited students, from allowing 24-hour library access to a laptop rental program. A newly supported grant could not only help and improve the way professors teach, but also reduce the cost of textbooks and resources for students.

Starting in 2019, the Open Educational Resources project (OER) is a program that many universities feel is a step in the right direction. Relatively still in its infancy, the eventual goal for all universities is to nationally network intellectual property from an open-source collection of information that would provide professors with the liberty to alter content for their respective courses. If professors adopt this model, over time, it could drastically slash textbook prices for students.

Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications Geoffrey Little is responsible for the OER project. According to a study from the University of Guelph, just over 60 per cent of students surveyed would spend roughly $250–$750 dollars on textbooks in one semester. Little agrees that prices for textbooks are rising, and a new alternative must be created to combat this problem.

“Number one top of the heap benefit is cost-saving for students,” Little said. “Textbook prices have gone up exponentially in the last several decades and is a big budget for students every year.”

The program was put forth to encourage the creation and adoption of open-source textbooks for students who want to avoid breaking the bank every semester for new books.

The OER program offers three tiers of grants to alter or create textbooks for their respective courses. Starting up to $1,000, the Adopt grants allow professors to adopt a book from the open-source collection, allowing minor changes if need be. The Customize grants, up to $5,000, permit professors to alter textbooks by adding or retrieving content in order to tailor the material for their course. The last option, which goes for up to $10,000, are the Create grants — though it may seem like a hefty price, this grant would allow professors full liberty in creating their own textbook from scratch.

These altered or created textbooks would return to the open-source ecosystem, where other professors would have the liberty of modifying or altering the material. Concordia professors who have used the OER program favoured the Adopt and Customize grants.

Concordia University Assistant Marketing Professor Pierre-Yann Dolbec has utilized the Customize grant. After teaching digital marketing for three years, Dolbec needed to find a book that was tailored more for his course. Unsuccessful, he turned to the OER program.

“I couldn’t really find a textbook that was both proper at a strategic level, but also affordable for students, so I applied for a grant with OER,” Dolbec said. Though the textbook Dolbec modified is now free, the textbooks he used to assign to students averaged around $120–$150. The modifications have allowed Dolbec to teach the course differently.

Usually requiring specific material from other textbooks that he would assign to his students in class, the freedom of having tailored material provided more class interactivity. “We have a Q&A of the chapter we’re reading, and then we have exercises in class to bring that content to life,” Dolbec said. “It allowed me to move to a more interactive way of learning rather than lectures and slides.”

Many students are finding new alternatives to reduce their textbook costs. Biology student Norreen Quansah found ways to do exactly that. Quansah realized that book prices aren’t cheap, prompting her to search for cheaper online editions. “Certain textbooks we don’t use often but it is required that we have to buy them. Textbooks tend to be expensive for no reason, so I try my best to find other options.”

Quansah says that if her professors would ever decide to create textbooks with OER grants, she would be fully on board.

“Oh 100 per cent,” Quansah said. “We’re only going through certain sections of the textbook that we do go over. Having a textbook that a professor would create would be really beneficial.”

The only drawback according to Dolbec is that altering and adding material to textbooks is time-consuming. “I had greatly underestimated the amount of work it would take, it was a substantial weight on my schedule,” Dolbec said. However, Dolbec can’t stress enough how this program can help students and encourages all professors to apply for an OER grant. Dolbec said that the team at the library that assisted him while altering his textbook was a great help. “All of this was phenomenal, from that angle I would totally recommend any professor who might want to delve into textbook writing to reach out to OER.”

Graphic courtesy of James Fay

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New services at the library to help student survive through their online semester

Librarians do their best to give students the resources they need

Just like the students, Concordia’s libraries have had to adapt to life during the pandemic.

“I think the access to collections was a huge change we implemented when we realized the library wouldn’t be open to users anytime soon,” said Lorie Kloda, who works in the offices at the university’s library.

She and her colleague Krista Alexander, reference and subject librarian at the Vanier Library, shared new strategies they set up to support students throughout the semester.

 

Study spaces 

Philosophy student Andrew Wilcox was disappointed when he learned the library would be closed during his first year at Concordia.

“Hopefully, for the next semester we will have access to it,” he said.

Wilcox also mentioned the importance of having study spaces for students in need. Students were unaware that the university was already working on reopening some study spaces for individual study. The information was launched on the Concordia Library website on Sept. 14.

“The study spaces will need to be reserved in advance under very specific guidelines and we will have very limited numbers of spots,” explained Kloda.

“We usually have, at the Webster and Vanier libraries combined, up to 15,000 visitors a day during exam periods, for example. Right now, we are offering 125 seats at the Webster library and 50 seats at Vanier, so it’s a huge reduction,” she said.

The reservation works on a first-come-first-served basis; students will have three hours and thirty minutes, and must wear a mask throughout their study session. Respecting the sanitary instructions, a cleaning crew will sanitize every study space in between the blocks of time proposed.

“The students still won’t have access to the [physical] collection … There are no devices, no computers, and no other services offered on-site,” said Kloda.

 

Online resources

Even if most of the libraries’ areas are closed, employees are organizing themselves to make sure students have the best possible experience during the semester.

“Funding is still being used to improve and enhance library services for students. It’s not because the physical space isn’t open that we are not still working for students,” said Kloda.

After a presentation of the services available, Wilcox had a clearer vision.

“They are trying to do their job to accommodate us the best they can, but it isn’t an ideal situation,” he said.

For a face-to-face, real-time interaction, there is an online service where students can video call the librarian and ask questions Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Since students can’t access the physical collection, there is a contact-less book pick-up service.

“If a student only needs a book chapter or a journal article … a member of the library’s team … will go into the physical collection, make a scan and send it to the student’s email,” explained Alexander. “Those services were in place before COVID and have become even more important now in terms of getting the students the access they need to the content we have in the collection,” she added.

 

Restrictions

The librarians do their best to get all the textbooks online, but not all book publishers allow libraries to offer a multi-user electronic copy of a textbook. Copyright laws make it also impossible for the librarians to scan all of certain items in the collection.

“The minute [a student] starts asking for more chapters, even if [they do] it in different weeks, it’s copyright laws, and they do not permit us to do it even during COVID,” said Kloda.

There have been corrections made. Krista Alexander corrected from Alexandre, Lorie Kloda corrected from Kolda, weekly question session times changed from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. The Concordian apologizes for these mistakes.

Photo by Christine Beaudoin

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ASFA takes a position of solidarity with Concordia’s library employees

The Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) voted to stand in solidarity with Concordia’s library employees, who have clashed with the university over changes to their pension payments since January 2018.

The vote took place during ASFA’s first meeting of the semester, on Sept. 19.

“A lot of arts and science students are very dependent on library services to complete their degree[s],” said ASFA member Thomas David-Bashore, who brought the motion forward. “I think it makes a lot of sense for us to support the employees that make this possible.”

Beginning in March of last year, the Concordia University Library Employees Union (CULEU) expressed concern after new Quebec legislation increased their pension contributions from 20 to 45 per cent. According to union president Kent Cluff, the change contradicts a deal that was made between the union and the university, which insured an annual pay increase to library employees for three years. In a letter published in The Link and The Concordian, Cluff claimed that library staff “have been forced to take a major pay cut.”

Concordia spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr responded in an email, stating that “all employees received annual salary increases” as agreed upon.

Formal negotiations regarding the issue are yet to occur — in an update published to the CULEU website on June 5, Cluff wrote that the positions of the university and the CULEU remain “very far apart.” ASFA has agreed to collaborate with the CULEU in their quest to increase pressure tactics and mobilize negotiations by aiding in the distribution of promotional materials such as pins and posters.

 

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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Webster library renovations enter their final phase

University vice-provost of digital strategy and university librarian Guylaine Beaudry said plan is to open fourth floor on Sept. 12

Concordia’s Webster Library is entering its fourth phase of renovations with the final upgrades to be made in the coming weeks, according to the university’s vice-provost of digital strategy and university librarian, Guylaine Beaudry.

Beaudry, who has been a member of the team managing the renovations since the project began in January 2015, said the plan is to reopen the fourth floor and the other half of the third floor by Sept. 12.

Once the floors are open to the public, there will be only minor adjustments left to complete, Beaudry said. The only area left to be renovated is the visualization room, which is a new addition to the third floor, she said. This studio will have one wall covered with projection screens for student projects.

“That [final] piece will be delivered by the end of December,” Beaudry said. “It will put an end to our project.”

Students can also create simulations for class projects with the help of staff, Beaudry said. Construction workers are currently adding a window to the room so that passersby can see the studio in use, she said.

According to Beaudry, the university invested $36 million for the renovations. “So far, we are on-budget, even a bit below,” she said. “We are actually delivering before the date that was initially planned [which was December 2017]. Everything tells us that we will be able to deliver 98 per cent of it [on Sept. 12] if you put aside the visualization studio.”

The library’s new configuration has 3,300 seats, which is an addition of 1,800 seats. Among the new features on the fourth floor are four presentation practice rooms equipped with recording materials for presentation playbacks. “It’s a one-button system,” Beaudry explained. “You put in your USB key, press a button and you start recording. Your recordings will be saved on your USB key, [and the room] includes video and sound recording.”

“We will also be improving our digital signage,” Beaudry said, referring to screens placed around the library displaying maps to guide students. These maps will also be accessible through the new Concordia app, Beaudry explained.

With the construction coming to an end, Beaudry said the library’s team will now be working to push their spill-proof mug campaign and emphasize the use of designated food areas. More study hall monitors will be hired to enforce these regulations, and banners will be hung throughout the building to remind students. “We are also working to better understand the needs of our students to give them the services that they need,” Beaudry said.

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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