A student’s evolving perspective on open educational resources

OpenCon
Brady Wallace, with SFSS President Chardaye Bueckert, at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

By Brady Wallace

Brady Wallace is the Arts and Social Sciences representative on the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Board of Directors. He is also the project lead of the SFU BC Open Textbook Working Group, a group committed to exploring ways to increase use of open content at SFU. It’s no surprise that he advocates the use of open educational resources (OERs), which offer instructors and students the chance to assemble digital course content at no cost. But it is interesting to hear how OpenCon 2014, a four-day conference on “open access, open education and open data” for students and early-career researchers, broadened his thinking about the value of the “open” philosophy in general. His reflections are especially relevant in the context of SFU’s search for more flexible and responsive ways to ensure accessible and relevant learning experiences for students. Brady can be contacted at artsrep@sfss.ca.

I’d like to share three key pieces of learning we took away [from OpenCon 2014] that would be relevant to the SFSS’s mandate of advocating and representing the interests of SFU undergraduates:

1. The opening keynote by the OpenCon organizing committee introduced the idea of open as a human rights movement advocating for equality. Open in this sense refers to greater accessibility to all publicly funded research. This immediately sparked my interest, as I had never thought of access to information as a human right. Being a post-secondary student in a developed country, I don’t often come across many of the barriers experienced every day by individuals around the world. Considering open in this context inspired me to start thinking of how our current BC Open Textbook Program could be expanded to focus not only on open educational resources, but also on the field of open access.

2. Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), discussed the advantages of OERs and the importance of institutions recognizing the advantages of pursuing open access. Allen shared an impactful statement: “At the end of the day, students cannot learn from materials they do not have access to.” In terms of our current campaign at SFU, we must not let up on efforts to save students money and enhance their educational experience.

3. Finally, Daniel Demarte from Tidewater Community College spoke about the “Z degree,” which he described as North America’s first zero-textbook-cost associate degree program using only OERs. According to Demarte, participants in this program are expected to save $1200 per year in textbook costs, have a reduced drop-out rate, and enjoy 100% access to all materials throughout their entire degree. His conclusion is that the use of OERs contributes to more students making it past the finish line. Through greater use of OER materials available through the BC Campus collection, I believe students at SFU could not only tap into greater savings, but also engage with more flexible content that professors could customize for their courses, in turn producing more engaged course materials, professors and students.

Prior to attending OpenCon 2014, my interest in the current advocacy initiative at SFU was narrow in scope. As a program holding the potential of untapped cost savings for undergraduate students at SFU, I valued the BC Open Textbook program and our advocacy efforts that point solely in that light. From collecting signatures from undergraduate students interested in greater uptake of BC Campus materials to posing questions at the SFU Senate regarding the University’s stance on the program, my outlook centered on greater cost savings. However, OpenCon 2014 served as an invaluable opportunity to enhance my knowledge in all areas of open. It was an inspiring weekend, revealing to me the true potential students have for influencing their surroundings. As Heather Joseph stated so eloquently, “We’re not the leaders of the future generation, we’re the leaders of the now.” Therefore it is time to assemble the masses from coast to coast, meet with our elected representatives, and ensure that open is a priority for everyone.