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Students’ Union hosts awareness campaign for open educational resources

By Scott Strasser, September 13 2016 —

The University of Calgary Students’ Union’s social media awareness campaign for Open Educational Resources (OER) will take place from September 13–15.

OER are free, openly-licensed learning materials that can be downloaded online.

Camped out in front of the U of C bookstore, the SU will ask students how much they spent on their course textbooks this semester and what else they could have spent that money on. Members of the SU ask to take photos of the students holding a whiteboard with that information, which they sent via Twitter to provincial leaders like premier Rachel Notley with the hashtag #textbookbrokeAB.

Campaign organizer and SU vice-president academic Alicia Lunz said the initiative aims to create awareness of the high cost of textbooks, while advocating for OER on a provincial level.

“If British Columbia and Manitoba can have provincially funded groups that run OER and have a central area for administration for that, why can’t we?” Lunz said.

The SU’s initiative stems from the similar #textbookbrokeBC movement that arose last year at the University of British Columbia.

The first day of the SU’s campaign saw 108 students participate. Lunz said the highest total seen on the first day of the campaign was a first-year engineering student who spent around $1,100 on their textbooks.

“[OER] is another way of saving money for students. The tuition freeze is not enough, so the government needs to do a bit more,” Lunz said.

The SU’s campaign has previously been called a “misguided approach” by the U of C bookstore.

Bookstore manager Brent Beatty — who sits on the U of C’s OER working group —  approves  of increasing awareness for OER, but felt the SU’s efforts would have been more effective if they worked with faculty. He said awareness among U of C faculty for OER is still low.

“In a recent faculty survey 39 per cent [of faculty] had never heard of OER and 36 per cent knew a little about OER but had never used one,” Beatty said. “There is a lot of high quality OER available, so we need to increase the awareness of OER with our faculty and work with them on finding and utilizing the products that are already available.”

Beatty said he felt the SU’s campaign is aimed at the wrong audience.

“It is not an issue of OER being available, it is an issue of awareness,” he said.

Second-year chemical engineering student Shelby Blackmore was one of the 108 students who had their photo taken on the campaign’s first day. He said he thinks the SU’s campaign will be helpful for incoming students.

“I think it’ll help a lot, especially for first-years, because the textbooks they use are very generalizable to first-year courses,” Blackmore said. “They’re not as specific as upper-years, so that’ll definitely be helpful.”

Blackmore said he spent roughly $450 on textbooks for the fall semester.

“I don’t know if there are [open] textbooks for second-years, but that would be awesome to get to that point,” he said.

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