Photos by Kyle West
With tuition and living costs on the rise, obtaining a post-secondary education can be extremely costly. One of the higher costs of education are textbook fees; a first year life sciences student can expect to pay $825.15 in new textbooks.
To reduce the overall cost and increase the accessibility of post-secondary education, open educational resources were created.
OERs are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. They can be freely used, shared or adapted by anyone.
There are many benefits of open education. For students, the use of OERs can alleviate the stresses associated with exorbitant textbook costs.
In addition to cost-saving benefits, there are correlations between the use of OERs and higher grades, and the use of OERS and lower course withdrawal rates. Even more, accessible OERs can remove barriers for students with print disabilities.
The use of OERs also avoids the problems characteristic of traditional textbooks. Problems such as bundled content, use of access codes that control and limit access to material and the assignment of “updated” textbook editions made for the sole purpose of profit generation are resolved by the use of OERs.
With all the benefits, it begs the question why hasn’t McMaster University done more to push for OERs?
Recently, McMaster professor Catherine Anderson created the first open-access linguistics textbook with support from the university and a $15,000 grant from eCampusOntario’s open textbook initiative. While this is a great accomplishment, Anderson’s textbook is not enough to create open education on campus.
The McMaster Students Union has advocated for OERs in the past. Last year, they ran the #TextbookBroke campaign with the support of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. This campaign aimed to encourage instructors to adopt OERs in efforts to address textbook affordability.
The 2018 McMaster University budget submission form also recommends that the university invest $50,000 to support professors in adopting or creating OERs that are specific to McMaster courses.
The document contains many suggestions for the university, moved forward by the MSU. However, in light of the recent changes to post-secondary education funding made by the Ford government, it is unclear if any of the MSU’s recommendations, let alone a $50,000 fund for OERs, will materialize.
But beyond advocacy efforts by the MSU, the university has yet to provide legitimate support for open education. According to Olga Perkovic, co-chair of the McMaster OER committee, the committee’s workings are not supported financially or with policy.
This is in contrast with Queen’s University, who are at the forefront of open education in Ontario. The OER committee at Queen’s is a top-down movement, that is, their provost specifically made open education a priority, which involved providing financial and infrastructural support.
According to the MSU budget submission, other Canadian universities including the University of Alberta, Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary have thousands of dollars in funding allocated for OERs.
McMaster ought to follow suit and prioritize open education for its students. To do so would mean to commit dedicated funds alongside time and efforts to ensure faculty members have the capacity to implement OERs in the classroom.
In the meantime, instructors can help support the open movement by using open materials in their courses whenever it is possible. There are many available collections of OERs for instructors to use. For example, the non-profit organization eCampusOntario hosts a provincially-funded open textbook library that carries hundreds of textbooks and other educational resources from a variety of disciplines.
Students can also support the open movement through discussing implementation of OERs with their instructors, uploading and encouraging their peers to upload their research onto McMaster’s institutional repository MacSphere and contacting the committee to recommend a president to ensure open education is a priority of the incoming president.
To stay up to date on the happenings of McMaster’s OER committee, the group’s meeting minutes are publicly available through McMaster LibGuides.