By Claudia Wong, August 2 2016 —
This September, a University of Calgary Students’ Union campaign will try to create awareness of the high cost of textbooks and advocate for open educational resources (OER) on a provincial level.
Students leaving the U of C bookstore this fall will be asked to have their photograph taken with their textbook receipt and a whiteboard with a comment on the price. The photos will be sent to Alberta leaders, like premier Rachel Notley, through social media.
SU vice-president academic Alicia Lunz will oversee the campaign. Lunz has also reached out to other universities in Alberta to start similar initiatives.
“We don’t know how this campaign will be received [by the government], but a presentation at the University of British Columbia’s Festival of Learning on #textbookbrokeUBC [is what] inspired this,” Lunz said.
The B.C. government already provides OER funding, so the UBC campaign was to advocate for continuing the funding. Alberta does not currently have OER funding in place.
OER are free, openly-licensed learning materials that can be downloaded online.
“B.C. and Manitoba are ahead of us in terms of OER,” Lunz said.
According to Lunz, Alberta’s lack of OER funding could be due to ambivalence towards the movement. While there are cost-saving benefits for students, OER face challenges beyond issues with quality.
“Publishing companies are moving away from concrete textbooks,” Lunz said. “The trend is online, interactive textbooks,”
But not everyone approves of the SU’s social media campaign. U of C bookstore director Brent Beatty said it is a misguided approach.
“This attempted social awareness campaign has been done at other campuses in previous years with little to no success,” he said. “The bookstore is 100 per cent committed to driving down the costs of course materials and currently has many programs in place to reduce the cost to the students, including OER.”
Government funding was awarded to the U of C’s OER working group, who is now hiring a fellow, as well as a research assistant. They will advocate for OER and encourage U of C professors to peer-review OER material.
“Tons of OER are out there online for first years, but the issue is to ‘Canadianize’ books out there and get them peer-reviewed by professors,” Lunz said.
Lunz hopes the campaign will make Albertan leaders more aware of the cost of textbooks and eventually save students money.
“The overarching goal is to open up a conversation with the provincial government on OER and the cost of textbooks,” she said.