Open textbooks save U of S students $1.18 million

As of this year’s fall term, free, online textbooks have saved thousands of University of Saskatchewan students about $1.18 million since 2014 and have given U of S instructors the opportunity to develop reading material that complement their class perfectly.

“Saving our students more than $1 million demonstrates we are one of the leaders in open educational practices in Canada,” said Patti McDougall, vice-provost of Teaching, Learning and Student Experience at the U of S. “I am so happy we’ve had such broad interest. This academic year, at least eight colleges and schools are using open educational resources. 

Traditionally published textbooks are produced under closed copyright, meaning they cannot be shared, re-used or re-purposed. They are usually costly, with new editions published frequently, making older texts quickly out of date.

“Using open educational resources, the instructor decides what material their students should learn as opposed to feeling tied to content a publisher has decided is important,” said McDougall. “These resources also provide an opportunity for open pedagogy, which allows students to contribute to the creation of learning material, which I view as an exciting development.”

McDougall says the Government of Saskatchewan has noticed the university’s progress, and in July of this year, the Ministry of Advanced Education gave the U of S, along with Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the University of Regina, $83,333 to continue promoting and developing open resources. This is the fourth year the university has received this funding from the government.

The funds have been used to create and adapt open textbooks and supporting resources, raise awareness about open educational practices, and to offer small stipends to instructors who write reviews of existing open textbooks. McDougall says these reviews will help increase awareness of what resources exist as well as the quality of these resources.

Sheldon Moellenbeck, vice-president of academic affairs at the U of S Students’ Union, is a strong advocate of open resources and is encouraging undergraduate students to speak to their professors about open and affordable reading material.

“I think sometimes students don’t know they have the ability to go to their professor to talk about their required reading material,” said Moellenbeck. “It would be very reasonable to approach a professor in a respectful manner and tell them how paying for textbooks affects your life and ask for alternative options.

“If they are not able to adopt an open textbook, they might let you use an existing open resource or they could put the text in the library. It’s not about shaming the professor, but encouraging dialogue between students and instructors.”

Moellenbeck hopes that eventually all first-year courses at the U of S will use open or more affordable reading material.  

“There's nothing like getting into a class and knowing your professor is using an affordable alternative to a very expensive textbook,” said Sheldon. “There is a sense of relief.”

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