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VP University Affairs advocates for open educational resources at McGill

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Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Isabelle Oke is seeking to raise awareness about Open Educational Resources (OERs) by holding an information session on Feb. 8. OERs are free teaching materials like study exercises, lecture presentations, and textbooks developed by professors and faculty from around the world. They are uploaded to online databases like OpenStax, which students and staff can access for free. No publishing firms are involved in the creation of OERs; rather, experts in a specific field work together to pool their knowledge and pass it on directly.

Although they have been presented as a possible strategy to reduce the financial burden of textbooks for students, there are a number of obstacles preventing OERs from becoming a widely-accepted alternatives at McGill.

We can take advantage of OERs that are out there, and over time contribute to creating OERs, but it is up to administration and individual department levels to make those decisions on whether or not the faculty here at McGill should be charged to create open education resources or use them,” Associate Dean (User Services) Jeffrey Archer said.

Currently, there is no financial compensation for adding to OER databases. According to Archer, the McGill administration has not taken action to encourage faculty members to work on producing OERs.

Oke, is organizing the upcoming information session to familiarize the McGill community with OERs. She finds that it can be difficult to convince professors to substitute old, reliable sources of information for OERs. Not only must they become familiar with a new system, but the OERs’ validity must also be evaluated as the lack of peer review means they would potentially contain biased or faulty information. Oke hopes for McGill to popularize an organized and efficient way to compile OERs.

“OERs are being used all the time without any intentionality, but there haven’t been any developed through official McGill collaborations since the Open Online Courses projects,” Oke said. “There isn’t any sustainable process that creates OERs.”

To expand and promote OER usage at McGill, Archer and his team at the McGill Library plan to pull together a list of all the OER repositories and make them available to interested faculties.

“The OERs offer a way to relieve some of the financial burden of purchasing class materials on students,” Archer said. “It’s hard being a student. Within a single term you may even have $1,200 worth of textbooks, and making even a few of them available as OERs [can be] helpful.”

Science Senator Salma Youssef sees great potential for the implementation of these academic tools to help reduce expenses for students. She commends the BC Open Textbook Project, which has saved students over $5.7 million total in textbook fees.

“The world of OERs is much more than just free textbooks,” Youssef said. “It also includes professors publishing their work in open journals, which can be a tricky thing to get them to do [….] By changing McGill policies on tenure and promotion to include things such as considering how involved a professor is with OERs, how much they publish to open journals, and whether they adopt textbook/open resources for their courses, it would incentivize faculty to incorporate a lot more of it.”

A previous version of this article stated that the BC Open Textbook Project has saved students over $1.8 million in textbook fees. In fact, it has saved students over $5.7 million. The Tribune regrets this error.

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