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Building Capacity for Open in Manitoba with the Rebus Foundation Textbook Success Program

Are open textbooks worth it?

The financial benefits of open educational resources are easy to quantify: 22,447 students in Manitoba have saved nearly $4 million using 76 adopted or adapted open textbooks. But there are other benefits, such as improved accessibility, the ability to customize learning materials, the community building that comes through collaboration on the new resource, and the increased capacity to innovate: experimenting with different tools and techniques to create knowledge in the classroom that will inspire, inform, and engage.

For these reasons and more, Campus Manitoba created a pilot program to develop a Manitoba cohort with the Rebus Foundation to help a group of local educators conceive, develop, and launch their own open textbooks.

Canadian educators are asking for assistance to improve digital literacy, and the Rebus program is one of the ways in which we can help,” said Carley McDougall, acting executive director at Campus Manitoba. “Our connection with the Rebus Foundation began in 2020, when Kim Grenier Mintenko, the former executive director at Campus Manitoba, heard about the foundation. She felt it would be a great fit for the Pulling Together adaptation we were working on. We joined the cohort facilitated by Apurva Ashok (who has since become the executive director of the Rebus Foundation). This program helped expand my knowledge about open publishing, so when the opportunity came up for the Manitoba Open Education Initiative, it seemed like the right time to support this for our local educators.”

The Textbook Success Program

The Rebus Foundation is a Canadian registered charity that focuses on advocating for new publishing models built on open principles. “We have a goal of making knowledge more equitable and freely available,” explained Kaitlin Schilling, associate program manager for the Rebus Community. “We are building a group of leaders and a community of people in open ed with a shared dream of transforming education because we know that education, whether that’s K to 12 or post-secondary, has historically been inequitable. We want to ensure that students, staff, and faculty have as equitable an experience as possible. We are accomplishing this through multiple channels, including professional development programs such as the Textbook Success Program, free guides about open publishing, and webinar series across a variety of topics.”

The Textbook Success Program is a cohort-based program for faculty members, program leads, and other open textbook creators. The year-long course focuses on building an active community where contributors support each other in the development of OER. The year-long program is conducted through three phases: the first includes eight weekly themed sessions to scope the work, the second is a hands-on experience to write and edit the OER, and the final phase is weekly and monthly sessions to wrap everything up, leading to production and release of the OER. Regular support calls are conducted throughout the year.

“To help educators in Manitoba develop OER for their areas of expertise,” said Carley, “we developed a plan to cover the cost of enrollment in the Textbook Success program.”

Just in time for Open Education Week, we’ve reached out to some of the participants to learn about their involvement in the development of open educational resources in Manitoba.

Time to Shine

At Red River College Polytechnic (RRC Polytech), a well-experienced team is creating a resource for educators about how to incorporate AI into teaching and learning. Troy Heaps and Rebecca Hiebert are leading the project, with Troy, Ebony Novakowski, and Paula Havixbeck representing RRC Polytech in the Rebus program to create a new textbook: Generative Artificial Intelligence: Practical Uses in Education.

Ebony shared her experience in the Rebus cohort. “I’m a copyright officer at Red River College. I don’t typically do the hard work of creation; our instructors usually take on those projects. The one-year timeline for the Rebus program is realistic. A previous adaptation I advised on was completed in about a year, but I think timelines in OER development are very customizable, depending on the type of resource you’re creating.”

“I didn’t have many preconceived expectations going into the program,” said Ebony. “I wasn’t sure how self-directed it would be, but we’ve had exceptional facilitator oversight and a lot of collaboration with the main group. It has been an active program, with much of the work done in sessions. It’s been a pleasant surprise, as I was concerned that it would be something like, ‘Here’s a bunch of resources. Go do your thing.’ Instead, it is well-directed, and I’ve been enjoying the overall facilitation and oversight, with check-ins along the way to guide us through. It’s been very helpful to move things along by breaking the overarching project of creating an OER into executable steps that you can accomplish in a timely manner.”

Removing Barriers to Learning

At the Assiniboine Community College (ACC), Scout Rexe is leading the development of a yet-to-be-titled communications textbook. “I work as the instructional designer at Assiniboine Community College,” shared Scout. “My primary role is supporting faculty. When I started talking to communications faculty members, I realized there was an opportunity to create a common resource they could use that we could actively update. We are working on a communications open educational resource. I say open educational resource because while we’ll be adapting a textbook, we want to make a resource that engages students through interactivity while supporting instructors in the face of all of the emerging generative AI pieces. It will also be for communications instructors at the community college level, who are really the most immediately impacted because the learning outcomes in their courses and their assessments are ones that AI can now often very easily achieve.”

A significant benefit of open textbooks is they can be put in the students’ hands for little to no cost, which means they can start learning as soon as they have the materials. “We have students from Indigenous communities, some of whom receive funding to attend college,” said Scout. “Oftentimes, for these students, funding comes after the first day or first week of class, so using traditional textbooks can create a huge equity problem, where we could be in week four of a term before the student has access to the textbook. Whereas if instructors adopt something open, it’s not only current, relevant, and easy to access, it gives everyone a fair shot from the beginning.”

Beyond Words

At the University of Manitoba, Julie Doner is leading the development of an open textbook, The Linguistic Analysis of Word and Sentence Structures, for a linguistics course around morphology.

When creating a course, some instructors will use multiple sources to build their curriculum but are potentially limited by the existing copyright rules. “When I taught a linguistics course last year,” shared Julie, “I used readings from different morphology textbooks because you are allowed to use up to one chapter. There was one textbook available as an ebook, but it wasn’t great: it wasn’t cohesive, and it was quite dense, making it difficult to read. I skimmed the chapter to ensure it covered the right topics, but I didn’t catch a Dutch language example with potentially racist connotations within the English translation. It was these reasons that inspired me to create our own resource.”

Creating an OER allows educators to ensure the materials are relevant to the learners using them. “There are nearly 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, and our linguistics majors need to have an awareness of this diversity, so we are intentionally including Indigenous language examples from Manitoba, British Columbia, and other communities of Canada. We are also paying attention to our international students to include the languages from where they’re from so they can be aware that there are endangered minority languages around the world.”

Critical Review

One of the big problems of creating OER is that it’s hard to stop after just one. Such is the case for the creator of Manitoba’s first full-text OER adaptation, Devin Latimer from the University of Winnipeg, whose team is adapting a chemistry textbook for students in Manitoba.

“Professor Josh Hollett, Professor Desiree Vanderwel, and I are adapting the OpenStax Chemistry 2e textbook to our first-year curriculum to publish our own open-source textbook,” said Devin. “Professor Hollett has been involved in instructing introductory chemistry for over ten years and has spearheaded the department’s recent first-year curriculum review committee. Professor Vanderwel has taught first-year chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry courses for over thirty years and was instrumental in our recent curriculum review committee. As an open-source resource, this online textbook will be freely available to anyone on the planet to use and adapt for their own educational purposes.”

Drawing from his previous experience developing OER, Devin explains how creating an open textbook can help educators improve their approach to teaching. “Putting together textbooks that you can adapt gives you such a breadth of options. There’s so much out there that’s freely available, and being able to pick and choose the components really improved my course. When you’re putting together a resource like this, it forces you to look at your course and content. Seeing what was out there made me realize how much stronger this course could be by investing our time.”

Campus Manitoba – Building Pathways for Success

“The Rebus collaboration is helping us build capacity in Manitoba,” explained Carley. “The more we can empower educators to understand and leverage the benefits of open education, the more they can share it with their cohorts and colleagues. Also, through other projects we’re developing, such as the open textbook  repository that Kristy Lacroix is working on, we can focus on developing high-quality open educational resources that can be used around the world.

OER is free to use, but isn’t free to create, so at Campus Manitoba, we have developed grants and other resources to help local educators build the learning tools they want to have in their curriculum.

If you are interested in developing OER, or you’d like to learn more about how open educational resources and open pedagogy can help you create an inclusive, innovative, and insightful curriculum, let us know so we can continue to develop grants, programs and solutions to improve access to post-secondary education for everyone in Manitoba.

By prioritizing support for the individuals involved in online learning, we aim to create a positive and empowering environment that fosters continuous improvement and enhances the overall quality of online education in Manitoba.

Published On: March 1, 2024|Categories: Blogs|

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