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Free, open-source textbooks still on the way for Alberta’s post-secondaries

By Fabian Mayer, September 11 2014 —

Plans to bring open-source, free and editable textbooks to Alberta’s campuses are moving forward. The guiding committee for the Government of Alberta’s Open Educational Resources Initiative, consisting of administrator and student leaders from around the province recently held its first meeting. They discussed how to implement open textbooks in Alberta’s universities.

The ministry of advanced education announced the initiative in April along with $2 million in funding for open textbooks after lobbying by the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS). The committee is tasked with allocating money to projects that will create open textbooks in Alberta.

University of Calgary Students’ Union president Jarett Henry sits on the committee.

“We decided that our main goal, as obvious as it sounds, is saving students money. That is really positive,” Henry said. “The committee is made up of faculty members, administration and student representatives but we all agreed on the same goal.”

The government won’t directly participate in creating open textbooks. Educators will instead be able to apply for a portion of the $2 million in funding that will be awarded by the guiding committee.

“We are going to ask [post-secondary] institutions and professors to send us proposals for ideas that they think will help the movement go forward, whether it’s editing existing open textbooks to make them better, to creating other resources that go along with textbooks,” Henry said.

Tom Hickerson, the U of C’s vice-provost libraries and cultural resources, also sits on the committee. He says the creation of resources like open textbooks, is necessary but stresses that it’s only a part of the process of adopting open textbooks.

“One of the important points in this is the adoption by faculty members. The presence of open textbooks is not the solution in and of itself. That’s why an awareness campaign is every bit as important as the compilation of the works themselves,” Hickerson said.

Alberta isn’t the first province to adopt open textbooks. The Government of British Columbia published 52 open textbooks for university courses with high enrolment in 2013. Henry believes the reason they’re not already being used at the U of C is because faculty doesn’t know enough about them.

“The textbooks that are already on the BC website can be used in Alberta. There are no barriers or copyright protections on them. That’s one of the great things about open textbooks. It’s just about spreading the word and making sure that professors know those resources are available,” Henry said.

There is no timeline for when open textbooks will become available in Alberta. However, all of the funding will be distributed by March 2015. From there it’s expected to take between six months to two years for the individual projects to finish.

While Tom Hickerson believes the funding can help kick-start the open textbook initiative, he said it will take a further commitment on behalf of the province to really make a difference.

“$2 million should be sufficient to give us some good examples, but it is going to require some consistent support over time to have the level of impact so that most students will be able to benefit from it,” Hickerson said.


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