Category Archives: OER

Follow that open educational resource!

This morning I was taking a look at some of the Piwiks website analytics for the Geography open textbook we created 2 years ago as a textbook sprint project. For me, the really interesting data is always the referring website data as that can give you a glimpse of how the content is being used and by who.

The BC Open Textbook Project tracks adoptions of open textbooks with an eye to reporting back student savings. But there is much more value in open resources than just a displacing adoption where a commercial textbook is replaced by an open one. When you create open resources, you may have one specific group in mind, but you often find there are unexpected audiences using your resources.

This is a big value proposition of open resources. Once you make an open resource, it is available for others to use and refer back to. Each open textbook in the BC open textbook collection contributes to improving the knowledge available on the open web.

This is one of the major reasons I love open resources created by smart people in higher education. Every time an edu contributes resources to the open web, we make the web a better, more informed space for all.

I like to think of it as making the web more educational, less Perez Hilton.

Onto the Geography open textbook.

First, there is a lot of evidence that the book is being used by the intended audience of BC post-secondary institutions as there are referring links back to sections of the book from post-secondary domains at KPU, UVic, Langara, VCC, UBC and VIU. Most of the referring links I follow back take me to a landing page for an LMS at that institution, telling me that the content is being referred to from inside a course. This may not be a full adoption of the resource by the faculty, but it does indicate that the resources are being used by the intended audience.

But use of the resources extends beyond BC higher ed. A large source of referral traffic is from the Oslo International School, which appears to be an International Baccalaureate primary school. Again, when I follow the referring link I am met with an LMS login screen. It’s crazy to think that a regionally specific resource aimed at a first year Geography student in British Columbia is finding use at a primary IB school in Oslo, Norway. You never know where you’ll end up when you go open.

It is not the only K-12 school referring to these resources. Teachers from School District 43 in BC have recommend (Word) the section on Residential Schools to their students as a resource for students doing a research project.  Teachers in School District 63 are using the section of the textbook dedicated to the BC Gold Rush as a learning resource in their classes.

Those two resources have also found use outside of education. The Royal BC Museum Learning Portal has included a link back to the textbook section on the Gold Rush as a resource on their learning website dedicated to the BC Gold Rush, and Vice included a referential link back to the section on Residential Schools in an article it published on the Canadian Truth Commission on Residential School.

The textbook is also showing up on some kid friendly search engines. A referral from a KidRex search on the Hope Slide led me back to the search results page for the search and shows that the Hope Slide case study in the textbook comes up as the second result (behind the Wikipedia entry).

None of these uses save students a penny, but show the value of an open resource beyond the financial. No doubt that the student savings are important as the financial barriers are real. But to me, seeing this kind of usage of OER shows the benefits extend beyond students. These resources make the web better for all. It is higher ed freely contributing knowledge to the world. It is higher ed making the world much less Perez Hilton.

Addendum: Gill Green, one of the original book authors and current Open textbook Faculty Fellow sent me this tweet about a resource we created for the book.

Survey of BC faculty on OER & open textbooks

While I was one of three Faculty Fellows with the BCcampus Open Textbook program, we conducted a survey of faculty in BC and beyond, focusing on their use of and attitudes towards Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks. We got over 70 complete responses from faculty at various institutions, most of them from teaching institutions rather than research institutions.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 4.47.23 PMWe published a white paper about the survey, which was released in January of 2016. You can read a brief summary of the report here.

Here is a link to the PDF of the full report.



We also presented the results of this survey at two conferences before the white paper was finished:

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit, May 2015, Vancouver, BC. Here are the slides from that presentation.


The 2015 Open Education Conference, November 2015, Vancouver, BC. Here are the slides from that presentation.

Open Education Week 2016 panel at UBC

I like to keep track of various things I’ve participated in, such as giving talks, facilitating workshops, etc., and this post is part of doing that.

On March 10, 2016, I was part of an amazing panel of people talking about “Engaging Students in Open Education,” as part of Open Education Week at UBC.

Here is the description and panelists:

Open education is a hot topic on post secondary campuses these days. This year UBC saw the #textbookbroke campaign led by the Alma Mater society – advocating for the use of open textbooks and open practices in the classroom to reduce costs for students; the adoption of open textbooks and resources in large multi section physics and math courses; and the continuing development of open teaching practices with Wikipedia projects and student produced, openly published content.

How do we engage students with open educational practices that go beyond making their work public to making it re-usable or available for others to build on? Why is open education important to students and to what extent can it enrich the teaching and learning environment?

Lighting Talks: Each speaker will present for 8 minutes and respond to questions for 5 minutes. This will be followed by a broad panel discussion about open practice.


Christina Hendricks: Senior Instructor Philosophy
Jenna Omassi: VP Academic & University Affairs
Arthur Gill Green Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Geography, BC Campus Faculty Fellow
Rajiv Jhangiani, Psychology Instructor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Leah Keshet, Mathematics Professor
Eric Cytrynbaum, Associate Professor Department of Mathematics
Stefan Reinsberg, Physics instructor


This even was live-streamed and recorded, and I’ve been waiting for the recording to show up on YouTube. But I decided to just post the link to where it is now, in case I forget:

Link to the recording on the Ike Barber Learning Commons website.


I love doing these sorts of things because I get to learn about what interesting things others are doing on our campus and beyond!

A series of workshops on open education

One of the challenges in our "Open for Learning" challenge bank

One of the challenges in our “Open for Learning” challenge bank

I have been one of a team of facilitators for a series of workshops on open education that we’ve run at UBC from December 2015 to May 2016 (we haven’t done the last one yet!). The idea behind having this series is that we might be able to go into more depth into various topics than we could cover in a single workshop on the broad topic of open education. It has worked well for that, though of course the people that come to the later ones are not always the same as those who came to the earlier ones, so we still always have to do some intro work at the beginning. Still, I think this model works pretty well.

One thing I really like about what we’re doing is that we have used the model of the “assignment bank” from #ds106 and the challenge bank from #udgagora to create challenges that participants can do during the workshop. We were able to do this because Alan Levine kindly put some code up on Github to set one of these banks up as a WordPress theme. Now, I didn’t use that code to set up our challenge site (I only wish I could do that), but Lucas Wright of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC did.

Here’s the challenge bank we’ve been using for our workshops–super cool!

We will keep this challenge bank and have people add their answers as we do this series again in the future (and we have one more workshop to go!).

Here is a PDF with the descriptions of our workshop series for 2015-2016: Open for Learning Workshop Final Descriptions

And I wanted to embed our slides, too. Here are the slides for the first three workshops (I’ll add the fourth when it’s done, if I remember).


Workshop 1: Open for Learning: Exploring the Possibilities for your Classroom

This was an introductory, overview workshop covering a number of things in open ed.


Workshop 2: Using and Remixing Open Resources in Your Courses


Workshop 3: Teaching in the Open

The Impact of OER on Teaching and Learning Practice

OER Research Hub is in the Cards

The OER Research Hub has published a new study in OpenPraxis looking at the impact of OER on teaching & learning practice.

The Hub has been working with numerous OER and open education projects around the world, gathering data clustered around their 11 hypothesis, and this report pulls data from 15 open projects, including the BC Open Textbook Project, where I’ve been working closely with Beck Pitt and the BC Open Textbook Faculty Fellows for the better part of the past year gathering regional data from BC faculty.

Aside: I think it’s quite excellent that we have a project like the OER Research Hub around capturing data on all these projects and enabling the kind of meta-analysis (like this report) to happen. Big thumbs up to the Hub.

While there is much to dig into here around the 11 hypothesis, a couple things stood out for me.

First, contrary to other findings on remix and adaptability that have shown relatively little customization of OER’s and open textbooks, the Hub’s research reports a relatively high degree of adaptation of OER’s (77.7% of educators, formal, and informal learners reported adapting content). However, this wide difference could be attributed to the fact that adaptation wasn’t explicitly defined in the research and was left open for the respondents to determine what qualified as adapting content.

Interestingly, it is not the open licenses that enables more experimentation with the content (only 14.8% of educators reporting that they use open licenses to share content), but rather the fact that the resources are online that enables adaptation. Being online is a much more important factor in reuse and adaptation that being openly licensed.

With all the recent post OpenEd talk of the value of open textbooks for changing educators practices, one of the more tentative findings that stood out for me showed that educators who are exposed to OER’s tend to seek out more OER’s and are more likely to share their own resources.

The findings here are primarily clustered around 2 projects: OpenStax and Siyavula. In the case of Siyavula, I know they have done extensive work in teacher training around the use and creation of OER’s, using book sprints as a workshop model. So, teachers using OER’s as part of the Siyavula project are not only using OER’s, but are deeply immersed in creating and adapting OER’s with support, which would tend to increase their overall understanding of OER’s. These types of collaborative sprints may also account for the fact that Siyavula teachers reported more collaboration with their colleagues as a result of using OER’s (50%) with over 70% of Siyavula teachers also saying that they often compare their teaching with that of their colleagues.

Also relevant to the open textbook debate and the value that open textbooks & OER’s in general have in changing faculty practices, there is evidence that faculty who use OER’s reflect strongly on their practice with 64.3% of those surveyed saying that they use a “broader range of teaching and learning methods”, and they are likely to compare their own teaching with others. There is also an interesting tidbit that over a third of educators who use OER have blogged in the past year, showing a connection between using OER’s and other forms of open participation.

Photo: OER Research Hub is in the cards Alan Levine CC-BY

Weller, M., Arcos, B. de los, Farrow, R., Pitt, B., & McAndrew, P. (2015). The Impact of OER on Teaching and Learning Practice. Open Praxis, 7(4), 351–361.

Engaging students with OER

Near the end of May I worked with Jon Festinger and Will Engle to do a 1.5 hour workshop on how using and creating Open Educational Resources (OER) can have pedagogical value in courses (beyond saving students money, which is also important). You can see the basic abstract for the session in the wiki page embedded below.

Click here to see our slides for the workshop, on Google Slides (or see below).

We also created a wiki page for the event, which has numerous link to resources. We also tried to get small groups to post answers to discussion questions on the wiki, but as the event was held in the late afternoon, a bunch of people left when it was time to do the small group activity (I guess many instructors, like many students, think the “real action” is in the presentation rather than the group discussion!).

The wiki page for the workshop is embedded below.


About this session

"Increasing Student Engagement through Open Educational Resources" is a workshop held during the CTLT Institute in May 2015.


Open educational resources are educational materials (text, video, audio, and more) that are licensed to allow others to reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, and retain them free of cost. There are numerous pedagogical benefits to both using OER and creating OER in courses; this workshop will focus on a few of them, including the following.

Asking students to create OER in courses means, in part, asking them to create things that are available to and of use by other students in the course (both past, present and future) and by people beyond the course. Assignments that are read only by an instructor and/or teaching assistant can seem to be what David Wiley calls in a blog post “disposable”: “assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away” (Resource here). If, instead, student work is adding value to the world, contributing to a larger body of knowledge that can be used by others, it is much more likely that they will be engaged in working on it and try to make it as good as possible. Examples of such assignments could be student blog posts, student-created web pages or wiki pages, videos, and more that others can see/hear/interact with and learn from. Another example that will be discussed in the session is having students edit an open textbook and share their edits openly.

Using OER in courses means asking students to read/watch/listen to/interact with educational materials for the course that are publicly available and licensed for reuse and (often) revision. Finding and assigning OER can allow for presentation of material in different ways: e.g., a textual resource can be augmented through finding and using a diagram, an image, a video, another text that explains things differently, etc. This can help both engage students and improve their understanding of course material. Further, if the OER are licensed to allow revision, students can edit them or mix them with other resources to create something new, both helping their own leaning and contributing OER for others to learn from.

In this session we will all discuss together the various kinds of open educational resources, including open textbooks, how to find OER for your courses, and several of the pedagogical benefits of creating and using OER.


Will Engle is a strategist for open education resources at UBC's Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology. He engaged with projects that are leveraging emerging technologies, approaches, and pedagogies to support open learning. With a background in library science, Will is interested in understanding and supporting the removal of barriers that limit access to education, information, and knowledge.

Jon Festinger, Q.C. (LL.B., B.C.L. 1980 McGill University) is a Vancouver, British Columbia based counsel and educator. He is an SFU Professor of Professional Practice and a faculty member of the Centre for Digital Media. Jon has taught media, entertainment and communications law topics at the UBC Faculty of Law for over two decades, as well as teaching at various times at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, the Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law and the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. He is the author of the first edition of “Video Game Law” published by LexisNexis in 2005, co-author of the 2nd Edition published in 2012. The open and on-line components of his courses can be found here & here. Jon was named a member of Creative Commons’ “Team Open” in 2014.

Christina Hendricks is a Sr. Instructor in Philosophy at UBC, and she also regularly teaches in the Arts One program. She has been a proponent of open education for several years, having participated in and few open online courses and been part of the design and facilitation team for others, including one with Peer 2 Peer University called Why Open?, and a course on Teaching with WordPress. She uses as many open educational resources in her teaching as she can, and posts many of her teaching materials as open educational resources herself.

Agenda and session outcomes


  1. Introductions--to us, to you
  2. Defining openness and open educational resources (OER) in groups
  3. Discussion of openness and OER
  4. Presentation on pedagogical benefits of OER and open courses
  5. Groups: take a "traditional" assignment and discuss how you might use what we've talked about today to transform it (and why)
  6. Conclusion

Session outcomes

By the end of the session, you should be able to:

  • Give a definition of “open” and/or open educational resources
  • Explain at least two pedagogical benefits to using and/or creating OER in teaching & learning
  • Explain one or more courses/projects at UBC using/creating OER
  • Say how you might adapt an activity or assignment to make it more "open," and why this would be pedagogically a good thing to do

Group activities

Click on your group number to go to the page where you can type in your answers to the questions in the group activities during the session.

To see all the groups' notes from the activities, click here:

You can also see how the group wiki pages look when embedded into a WordPress site, here:

Resources, links from the session or relevant to the session

Slides from the session

The slides used during the session can be found here (on Google Slides).

Examples of open courses or OER

A list of some examples can be found on the website, here:

Please add other examples that you know of, below!



Open Education

Creative Commons licenses

True Stories of Open Sharing

Watch some amazingly true stories of open sharing--the great stuff that can happen when we share our work openly:


Positive moves from University of Guelph on OpenEd

Some positive news today from the University of Guelph on the Open Ed situation.

The UofG was not opposed to sharing the mark more broadly within the post-secondary sector as evidenced by our efforts to provide a license to BC Campus. However, it is evident that the various meanings of the term ‘OpenEd’ will be challenged to co-exist and therefore, the University of Guelph is taking steps to release the official mark in its entirety, although this will make the mark available for others to attempt to make it their official mark or to apply to register it as a traditional trade-mark.


BC Librarians Publish Guide to Open Ed Resources

The BCOER Librarian group recently published a guide to open education resources, which includes:

  • Faculty toolkits for open education, access and open textbooks.
  • A vetted list of open education repositories (spaces with open education content) and basic evaluation criteria for faculty assessing open education resources.
  • Resources, including rubrics and promotional material on open education topics

Through collaboration with BCCampus, the BCOER Librarian group supports librarians and faculty in awareness, access and use of open education content. This past year they have been working together on the development of guides, training opportunities and advocacy around open education and open access.


Effectiveness of Open Educational Resources (with update)


Much of this post has been cross-posted at the website, but I wanted to repeat it here because I think that the work that John Hilton III and others are doing at the Open Education Group is important work for the entire OpenEd community. It helps build the case that open resources are viable resources for educators who are concerned about the efficacy of their teaching resources which, as the recent Babson survey tells us, is the most important quality faculty look for when choosing their resources: proven efficacy (a problematic point which I’ve talked about before).

John Hilton III is one of the leading researchers in the area of efficacy of open educational resources (which includes open textbooks). Recently, John has been gathering empirical research on the efficacy of open educational resources compared to traditional publishers resources and publishing the studies at the Open Education Group website. The Right to Research Coalition sponsored a webinar with John where he presented some of the findings comparing the use of open resources with closed resources.

Here are the slides from the presentation, and the archive of his webcast is below.

The “big picture” takeaway from John’s presentation came in a slide he shared early on (see above). The aggregate result of eight different studies he examined shows that 85% of students who use free open resources in a class do as well or slightly better than students using traditional publishers textbooks. (updated May 14, 2015: John left the following comment about this post over at the site that reads “Thanks for this post – one quick clarification. The “50-35-15? breakdown in the image is actually about student and teacher’s perceptions of OER. That is about 50% say the OER they have used is as good as traditional texts, 35% say it’s better, 15% say it’s worse. 10 different academic studies have focused on whether students who use OER do better or worse than their peers using traditional resources have largely found no significant differences. See for more details.” So, the empirical evidence from 10 research studies actually shows an even more compelling argument).

Students performing as well or even slightly better while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in textbook costs is an important finding. However, a John notes, this is just eight studies and there needs to be more research done to be able to see if this result can be replicated in other cases. But still, it does beg the question that if students are doing as well or even slightly better in classes that use free open resources, then how come we still are asking them to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks when the outcomes are the same?

Here is the presentation.


New Open Textbook From Tony Bates on Teaching in the Digital Age

Tony Bates has published a new 512-page open textbook entitled Teaching in a Digital Age. The book examines the underlying principles that guide effective teaching in an age when everyone,and in particular the students we are teaching, are using technology. The book enables teachers and instructors to help students develop the knowledge and skills they will need in a digital age and includes a chapter on trends in open education.

Dr. Bates is a pioneer in online leaning and his lengthy resume includes being a founding member of the Open University in the UK where he was a Professor of Educational Media Research as well as having been the Director of Distance Education and Technology at UBC. Teaching in a Digital Age is published under a Creative Commons license and is available for free download.