Devin Latimer likes to stay busy.
The multi-talented Chemistry Instructor at the University of Winnipeg has been a researcher and educator for more than 20 years. He’s a Juno award-winning musician. And despite the challenges of the pandemic, he’s now got a new title: published author.
Last month, Latimer completed Manitoba’s first-ever, full-text Open Educational Resource (OER) adaptation, a collaborative project on Chemistry 2e (OpenStax). His work resulted in the creation of a new Open Educational Resource, Chemistry and the Environment.
Finding His Way
Latimer’s work is timely. OER engagement of any kind offers a pedagogical hand to online teaching and learning. OERs are iterative: created and maintained by subject-area experts. OERs are available at any time through virtual means. And, OERs are shareable via a Learning Management System (LMS). This ensures that students in Latimer’s class access impactful information from home, regardless of how long Manitoba is entrenched in online learning.
But, Latimer’s adaptation didn’t happen overnight. To riff on another well-known band, Latimer’s open education journey is a ‘long and winding road.’
“I remember seeing some open-source textbooks online many years ago (perhaps 7-10 years ago?),” Latimer muses. However, he admits that he fell under a common misconception about OERs, in that he didn’t expect to find one that suited his pedagogical needs: “I never thought too much about them. They were not of sufficient quality to consider for any of my courses.”
But that changed when Latimer attended a Campus Manitoba workshop, as part of the Manitoba Open Textbook Initiative. It was there that he learned about OpenStax resources: robust textbooks geared toward foundational first-year university and college courses, free to use and existing under Creative Commons licenses. Along with colleague Dr. Josh Hollett, Latimer conducted a formal review of the OER, and found that it might be a good fit in his university courses, with an immediate impact on both sides of teaching and learning.
“Any academic will tell you that putting together a publication forces one to think critically and do proper background research with respect to their work,” says Latimer. “[Moreover], commercial textbooks have become very expensive and, in many cases, do not provide the value they should to the majority of our students.”
So Latimer went to work on an OER that would offer students more of the valuable information they need. He wanted to ensure an engaging educational experience, at a much more affordable price. Chemistry and the Environment is now part of Latimer’s second-year Environmental Issues course. The resource, along with accompanying lecture slides and student workbook, offers chemistry-based discussions on important environmental issues, such as air pollution, the ozone layer, climate change, and water quality. These are valuable conversation topics that provide students with the skills and broader perspective necessary to achieve career success. And it happens in a time of turbulent climate engagement around the world.
By making the resources available under an open license, Latimer is contributing to teaching and learning on a global scale. He has also saved his students a cumulative total of more than $8500 through the provision of his free resources. And students – trying to balance increased tuition and fees with reduced opportunities for meaningful employment due to the pandemic – are sure to appreciate this consideration.
“I simply believe in the idea of openly sharing content, says Latimer. I think [OER] repositories are important to make sure content is reviewed for quality control. The fact that we can then offer resources for free to our students, [and also have] a way to support education around the world, is a major bonus and makes the work even more important for me.”
Learning Through Collaboration
Latimer found the work to be challenging and time-consuming. Nevertheless, it points to just how collaborative an OER adaptation can be. Latimer received guidance and support from Dylan Woodcock and Carley McDougall at Campus Manitoba, as well as colleagues Brianne Selman, Karly Swain and John Dobson at the University of Winnipeg. Questions ranged from Pressbooks support, through to licensing requirements, to repository, library, and print-shop distribution.
The resource is already available for use in MERLOT and Winnspace. Work continues to have the resource in the Manitoba/BC Open Textbook Repository and OER Commons.
Latimer has a simple recommendation for anyone considering a similar project. Because as 2020 has shown us, we have to look for positives wherever we can.
“Do it. No matter what happens, it’s an exercise that makes you take yet another critical look at your course content. That’s always a good thing.”
The Manitoba Open Textbook Initiative is Campus Manitoba‘s platform for all things open education. Contact us to learn more about adopting, adapting, or creating Open Educational Resources (OERs), or to submit a textbook review. Whether you are new to open education or a seasoned champion, we look forward to supporting you on your open education journey.