The importance of open education—a fellow’s thoughts

BCIT Digital Arts instructor Ken Jeffery has just been named an Open Education Advocacy and Research Fellow for 2017. Administered by BCcampus, this honorary position is offered to three BC post-secondary faculty members to contribute to the advancement of open education through writing, conference presentations and research. Here, Ken shares his thoughts about the importance of open education.

Ken Jefferey

Over many years as a post-secondary educator, I’ve seen students go through all kinds of outlandish (and inconvenient) strategies in order to save money on textbooks: They borrow books from one another or share a copy between classmates. They photocopy required passages or download illegally shared copies online. In some cases, will even use their smartphones to take photos of numerous pages of a textbook, to share via social media with their friends. If the assigned textbook isn’t directly used in the lesson plan, students often forgo the purchase altogether, missing out on important readings. As a result, their learning suffers. However, there are new opportunities; we do not have to carry on this way.

Since 2012, BC students have saved over three million dollars through the use of open textbooks. Shared with an unrestrictive Creative Commons copyright, these books are free to download, free to share, and even free for the teacher to modify. Three million is a fantastic achievement, yet when weighed against the equivalent of 180,000 full time students in higher education across the province, there is a lot more that can be done. We need to make education more affordable and accessible to all. Open textbooks are a fantastic start.

At BCIT our staff, faculty and students all stand to benefit from the growing accessibility of open education, both in saving money on textbooks, and in the increased flexibility that instructors gain in delivering learning through open strategies. To support this goal, a team of dedicated staff, administration and faculty members joined together to form the Open Education Working Group. This team’s job is to promote open education at the institute. The committee also helps administer financial support in the form of grants to faculty and staff at the institute who want to create further open resources, such as test banks, study guides, or other supporting learning materials.

Outside of our institute, we are lucky to have the support of BCcampus in developing and adapting open textbooks and practices. As a government-funded organization that provides support in teaching, learning and educational technology in BC, they are well respected for their support of open initiatives in post-secondary education. Their open textbook repository currently boasts an impressive 173 textbooks. However, since open education is a global initiative, these are not the only open textbooks available to BC teachers. Open textbooks can be shared legally worldwide, usually with a simple Creative Commons license. So, if an instructor finds an open textbook from anywhere else, as long as it has an appropriate openly-licensed copyright it can be used or adapted without charge. Often the only restriction is that the original author retains the copyright, and gets credit for their work. The payoff is one-to-many; when one instructor opts for open, all of their students benefit!

As an Open Ed Faculty Fellow, I’ll be speaking more throughout the year about open education, both at BCIT, and at conferences in Canada and the United States. I will be conducting research into the many facets of openness that reach across a complex landscape of learning. And I will be eager to hear from others in higher education on their impressions and experiences with both open textbooks and open practices. For a real eye-opening look at the current state of open textbooks, come to the 2017 Open Textbook Summit, May 24-25. I’ll be presenting there; come and join me!

To read more about open learning, browse this list of resources. (That’s where we found this helpful video.)

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