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Students save a million on ‘open textbooks’

Advanced education minister touts benefits of digital alternative
November 10, 2015 1:42 P.M.
Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson points to a stack of textbooks while extolling the virtues of the digital alternative Tuesday in the classroom of instructor Ron McGivern, left. Health Minister Terry Lake tweets a photo in foreground.

A TRU sociology classroom was used Tuesday by Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson to demonstrate a growing potential of digital textbooks in making education more affordable.

With a stack of textbooks on the table before him, Wilkinson explained that TRU has been a leader in the field of so-called open textbooks, helped along by provincial funding. 

“Terry and I still have big, fat books on the shelves from when we were students in the ’70s and ’80s,” Wilkinson said as Health Minister Terry Lake tweeted a photo of his cabinet colleague.

Ron McGivern, senior lecturer and chair of the department of sociology and anthropology at TRU, used the B.C. Open Textbook Project to prepare a first-year course text, saving 64 of his students more than $10,000. A hard-copy version of the textbook would have cost each student $160.

Post-secondary students and instructors can now access more than 120 textbooks online, including more than 50 new textbooks focused on skills training and technical subjects, as part of a commitment to make education resources more affordable and accessible.

“Government is putting students first through the Open Textbook Project,” Wilkinson said. “Open textbooks continue to be added as we build partnerships and increase participation across jurisdictions. The Open Textbook Project is saving money for students and providing instructors with flexible, adaptable learning materials.”

More than 100 faculty members at over 15 public post-secondary institutions are participating in the project.

Government has provided a total of $2 million to BC campus since 2012 for the Open Textbook Project. The project produces textbooks under open copyright license, so digital versions are free and can be modified and adapted by instructors to fit their instructional needs. The latest textbooks focus on key subject areas that support B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint, such as trades, adult basic education, tourism, hospitality and health care.

The new additions build on the current collection of titles in the most highly-enrolled first and second-year post-secondary subjects.

“Students using open textbooks in just three of their classes will pay for the tuition for a fourth course, which translates into better retention and completion rates,” said McGivern. “I have 64 students in my Introduction to Sociology class and B.C. open textbooks are saving them thousands of dollars. They allow students to focus on their studies instead of worrying about how to pay for the text.”

B.C. was the first jurisdiction in Canada to launch a government-sponsored Open Textbook Project. It is estimated that more than 8,000 students in B.C. have saved more than $1 million with the open textbooks.

“I have saved some money using open textbooks, and they are easy to print or access digitally,” said student Craig Trarup. “Students across B.C. are encouraging professors to get on board with open textbooks as they can be easily adapted to reflect current information.”

B.C. is working with other jurisdictions across Canada to make it easier to share resources and develop open textbooks that benefit students and instructors. BCcampus signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Campus Manitoba in 2015, and B.C. also signed an MOU with Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2014 committing the provinces to work together on open education resources.

“We are really excited to include a range of open textbooks in skills training and technical trades,” said Amanda Coolidge, manager of Open Education at BCcampus. “We are already seeing open textbook use in adult basic education, English and math, clinical health, tourism and hospitality and culinary arts. Student savings continue to grow with the expansion of the online collection. Open textbooks benefit the institution as a whole from administration to faculty to students.”





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