Lessons from student-led open education advocacy

By Daniel Munro and Jenna Omassi posted on January 5th, 2016

We recently attended 2015’s Open Education Conference, where we co-presented with UBC faculty member Christina Hendricks and Simon Fraser Student Society’s Brady Yano about student and faculty collaborations on open educational resource (OER) advocacy. Conference attendees have raised interesting debates about whether OER advocates should focus on encouraging faculty to save students money by adopting open textbooks in place of traditional ones, or if they should focus on the benefits of transforming courses to include more “open pedagogy” (see posts by Robin DeRosa, Amanda Coolidge, and Rajiv Jhangiani). Some see the focus on cost savings and open textbooks as a copout, arguing that the richest benefits of OER come from the pedagogical side; others see open textbooks as a crucial way to first introduce new audiences to OER, since open pedagogical practices require learning, time, and effort to implement.

This post shares some lessons we’ve learned from our perspective as student advocates while working with faculty, staff, and librarians at UBC, as well as with BCcampus and students from other institutions. Open pedagogy is one of the main drivers of our advocacy; however, we think cost savings and open textbooks are indispensable components of any good OER advocate’s messaging.

Student support is important, and you should start with cost savings to get it. We often hear from people we’ve worked with how important and encouraging it is to have students engaging in this advocacy, especially because it makes faculty more likely to stop and listen. Our role as student leaders involves advocating on behalf of students for affordability and accessibility of education, so when we first heard about OER cost savings to students, it was the “hook” that sparked our interest. It was only as we became more knowledgeable and comfortable with OER that the idea of promoting open pedagogy became so important to us. In our own student-facing campaign to raise awareness about OER, we used fun, low-barrier ways to introduce students to open textbooks by commiserating with them over high costs of their course resources. This proved an effective way to stimulate interest. Next term, we hope to empower students not just to share stories of their textbook cost woes, but to leverage their interest by encouraging them to speak with their professors about the benefits of OER.

Faculty need low-barrier introductions, too. Everyone engaged in OER advocacy knows that even just adopting a new textbook into a course takes time and effort. Furthermore, many faculty at UBC who we’ve spoken to aren’t even aware of the term “open education,” and many are also wary of initiatives that seem aimed at forcing them to share their teaching materials more openly. Faculty need to be “hooked” in as much as students, and open textbooks—which look similar to books they’re familiar with and take minimal effort to incorporate into a course—are a great way to do this. Insistence that faculty go full throttle by adopting open teaching practices right away will likely fall on deaf ears. These considerations also highlight the importance of institutions making adoption as easy as possible. Some great work has been done by the UBC Library to provide resources, and a revamp of UBC’s open.ubc.ca website is currently in development to make it more inviting to newcomers.

Not everyone will care as much as you do, and that’s okay. A running joke between the two of us is that we get way too excited about innovative teaching and learning when compared to the average student. When it comes to OER, we know the reality is that many students and faculty just won’t have time to take up our fervor for open pedagogy, especially given their many responsibilities and commitments. Fortunately, this doesn’t spell the end of the movement: there are so many individuals on campus who do share this passion, and our numbers are only growing. What it does mean is that we need to be content with some people adopting our cause only to the extent to which they’re comfortable, which may be less than what we hope. Again, this means offering easy ways in, and providing opportunities for those who then wish to explore further.


Daniel Munro is Associate Vice President Academic and University Affairs at UBC’s Alma Mater Society (AMS).


Jenna Omassi is Vice President Academic and University Affairs at the AMS.

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