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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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