Newsletter

Breaking barriers in digital access

eCampusOntario is continuing its mandate to support leading research in the field of online and technology enabled learning.  Currently, eCampusOntario is requesting proposals for funding for research projects in the area of digital inclusion.

eCampusOntario has a mandate to support leading Ontario research in the field of online and technology enabled learning.  In 2016-17 eCampusOntario provided a funding total of $2.6 million across 45 project teams engaged in research and innovation projects.

eCampusOntario’s latest call for funding will be providing support for researchers across post-secondary institutions in Ontario that wish to explore digital inclusion and related areas, for example, how systemic inequities create access in some communities while creating barriers in others, in the use and application of digital skills.

Digital inclusion in this case, describes the goal of ensuring that people – especially those in marginalized groups and communities – can access and benefit from digital technologies.  Research in the field of digital inclusion might include how institutions can go about increasing access to these technologies through the lowering of preventative barriers, working to empower people who might otherwise be traditionally marginalized and/or excluded from the design or use of digital tools.

eCampusOntario with the support of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development recognizes the inequities that inhibit particular marginalized communities from accessing and thusly benefiting from these digital tools and ardently strives to remove barriers that inhibit access to education within our communities.

Full details on the RFP alongside information on how to submit your proposal can be found at http://bit.ly/2rgyHXf.


Opening the door for open pedagogy in the post-secondary classroom

With the generous support of the Ontario Government and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, eCampusOntario is building on the success of its first funding program to incent the continued adaption, adoption and creation of Open Textbooks for Ontario.

A call for proposals has been released which seeks to support projects that address the promotion of open textbooks as a sustainable, innovative way to support teaching and learning whilst building communities of Ontario educators that are actively adopting and adapting open textbooks for their teaching.

It is a core mission of eCampusOntario with ardent support from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Development to promote the dissemination of open pedagogy and the adoption of open educational resources at Ontario post-secondary institutions.  With this goal in mind, eCampusOntario wishes to increase the number of students who have access to free, accessible learning resources that can be obtained at little, to no cost.

With these goals in sight, eCampusOntario is distributing the Open Educational Resources request for proposals to support the development of projects which acknowledge and address OER as a sustainable innovative way to support teaching and learning in post-secondary classrooms across Ontario.

Full details on the RFP alongside information on how to submit your proposal can be found at http://bit.ly/2rvLAgB.


eCampusOntario heads north

The Northern Project is a capacity-building initiative among 10 northern Ontario post-secondary institutions.  Its intent is to design a collaborative approach to knowledge building, skill development and resource sharing to support the technology-enabled learning initiatives of the institutions.   

The project began with a discovery phase that will identify critical design factors for resource development and a subsequent professional development program. The resources designed and developed for the project will be openly licensed and shared among all Ontario post-secondary institutions.


Open Education: Changing the Definition of “Opening your Textbook”

Overview

The need:

To increase the proliferation of affordable and engaging texts for Canadian post-secondary students.

The solution:

The Open Access textbook system.

The benefit:

The significant reduction of student textbook costs and increased opportunity for faculty to revise and remix materials by adapting and modifying open texts to a localized context.

Background

The cost of university and college textbooks have long been a thorn in the side of Canadian students financing a post-secondary education.  A full-time university undergraduate student can expect to pay an average of $16,000 per year, encompassing tuition, living expenses, and of course, textbooks. 

Post-secondary institutions, faculty and textbook publishers across Canada are continuously making strides to lower the textbook costs Canadian students face at the beginning of each new semester.  From increasing the availability of used texts at campus bookstores, to increasing the availability of digitally formatted texts, actions are being taken to decrease a student’s bottom line at the bookstore checkout. 

Colleges and universities in British Columbia with the support of BCcampus, and one particular university in Ontario are taking textbook affordability one step further by redefining the concept of “opening a textbook” in their classrooms.  An open textbook is made freely available using an open access license, such as a Creative Commons license, meaning it is made available freely online to be utilized by students and faculty at no cost.  The open textbook model not only provides a significant reduction in the cost of resources needed for post-secondary education; it also gives faculty the opportunity to creatively adapt the texts they are selecting to meet the needs of their local contexts and audiences, and to effectively target learning to the desired outcomes of the course.

In Practice

While the notion of open textbooks has proliferated throughout British Columbia’s post-secondary education system for a few years, one professor is leading the charge on open textbook adoption here in Ontario.  Professor Nick Baker, director of the Office of Open Learning at the University of Windsor and a member of the steering committee of the Ontario Universities’ Council on eLearning (OUCeL) has been a long-standing advocate for increasing the accessibility of the education system, often through the integration of new learning technologies and eLearning that opens up different educational possibilities.

As Professor Baker puts it, as an advocate for expanding the classroom beyond traditional borders it is important to “walk the walk” in the adoption of an open textbook that increased accessibility and opened barriers within his online “Science, Technology and Society” classroom.

Previous iterations of the course had used a textbook priced at $150, but when Professor Baker took over the course, he sought out an open access alternative and found Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation.  With up to 180 students enrolling in the class, adopting an open text saved the cohort $27,000.

“The text I opted for has a strong sustainability lens, whereas the course itself has a broader context,” says Professor Baker.

“One of the neat things I’m able to do with open access resources though is to include chapters from other open access books to provide a more holistic set of resources that align more closely with the course focus. In effect, adopting open pedagogies allows me as a faculty member to really express my academic freedom and tailor the learning resources to the needs of my students, which is a win-win for all,” says Professor Baker. 

Adopting open educational resources as the basis for a course allows faculty like Professor Baker to seamlessly incorporate additional resources, or their own resources into the learning package. This can enhance the local focus and scope of the learning resources, or supplement them with information more relevant to the course learning outcomes. 

Ultimately, open textbooks are helping to transform the post-secondary education system into one that is more accessible and relevant to today’s students.  The concept of “open” not only signals a significant shift in the associated costs of achieving a post-secondary credential, but also a shift in the flexibility and customization of course content that faculty and instructors are able to afford their students.

Professor Baker’s revamped course is being run for the first time in the summer of 2017, and he plans to evaluate the student experience with this adoption, and further customize the text to increase its localized relevance to his students. 

“At the end of the day, we need to be focusing on creating the best possible learning environment and outcomes for our students. Adopting open access texts and other open educational resources is one way to ensure we keep students squarely in the center of our focus,” Baker said.

Professor Baker also plans to share his experience and that of his students with adopting and open text with his colleagues, who he hopes will see the benefits of using open educational resources wherever possible.