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BU prof makes a difference with open textbook

For over 8 years, Debra Dusome sought a solution for her third year course in Psychiatric Nursing. She needed a textbook. “I spent 8 years asking publishers for a book on supporting people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness,” she recalls. “There wasn’t one available.”

Dusome teaches in Brandon University’s Faculty of Health Studies for the Department of Psychiatric Nursing. Students take the 4-year program on the way to careers in a field that supports an under-served and marginalized part of the population.

Without a suitable textbook for her “Developmental Challenges” course, Dusome considered her options.

She was fortunate to meet Sherri Melrose from Athabasca University at a Canadian Federation of Mental Health Nurses conference. Melrose was also presenting on individuals with intellectual disabilities. It was Melrose who suggested the option of co-authoring a book about supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities who were also experiencing mental health challenges.

Melrose and Dusome reached out to other interdisciplinary professionals in the field teaching in universities across Canada. Other co-authors included John Simpson (Psychiatric Nursing), also of Brandon University, Cheryl Crocker (Rehabilitation and Community Studies), and Elizabeth Athens (Behavioral Analyst).

Together, they began working on a multidisciplinary textbook about supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illness.

This wasn’t just any textbook project, though. They wanted to make it free for their students and widely available to the public.

“We saw a real need to educate people who don’t have a lot of resources to learn about mental illness,” says Dusome. “We wanted it to be accessible and have the widest impact.”

BCcampus and the open textbook project

While Dusome and her co-authors started working on the resource, something new and exciting was happening in British Columbia.

BCcampus, an organization that supports teaching, learning, and educational technology in BC, had begun their ambitious OpenEd project.  The goal of the project was to make higher education more accessible by reducing student costs through the use of openly licensed textbooks. BCcampus was asked to create a collection of open textbooks aligned with the highest-enrolled subject areas in the province. Those open textbooks now also reside in the OpenEd MB collection.


Dusome and her co-authors earned one of several grants issued by BCcampus to contribute to the open textbook project.

Supporting Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities and Mental Illness was published in February, 2015. As an openly licensed (CC-BY) resource, the textbook is freely available online and is being used in universities across Canada.

The Creative Commons license allows readers to freely distribute the resource to anyone who needs it. “We chose to do this because of our audience. Our primary audience was people who care for individuals with intellectual disabilities who may not have knowledge of mental illness in this population. We wanted it to be as accessible as possible,” says Dusome.

The textbook’s open license also allows other faculty to use, modify, and adapt the resource to suit their pedagogical needs.

For students, a free digital textbook was a welcome change. “Our other audience was students — we wanted to help them save money and share the link [to the textbook] with other people,” she said. “Students appreciate the convenience of digital. They’re okay with the move to online resources.”

Approaching research and teaching with a “social justice lens”

Dusome has spent more than 40 years working in the Psychiatric Nursing field. Early in her psychiatric nursing career, she managed a unit in Ontario where they assessed individuals with intellectual disabilities for mental health and addiction issues. In 2005, she joined the Psychiatric Nursing Department in Brandon, first as an instructor, then as an assistant professor, researcher, and author. With the intellectual disability field facing numerous challenges as individuals move from large institutions into communities, she sees a need to recognize that people with intellectual disabilities still need support.

“I approach the field with a social justice lens,” says Dusome. “We can no longer get away with a world where people with psychiatric needs are under-served.”

As an accessible resource that fills a gap in knowledge, Supporting Individual with Intellectual Disabilities and Mental Illness serves the field in a practical and scholarly way. Students, caregivers, families, and researchers can use the book for a variety of purposes, with a common goal of helping those who need support.

Open education has also been called a “social justice issue” by advocates. Like Dusome, Rajiv Jhangiani of Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia approaches education with a social justice lens.

When asked about Open Educational Resources (OER), Jhangiani brings up affordability and access as central components.

“Really, for me, it’s a social justice issue, because if students can’t afford the required course materials, who are we saying higher education is reserved for?” Jhangiani said in an interview with CTV Vancouver. For Jhangiani, that’s where OER comes in. “There’s a few things that we can control as faculty. We can’t control the cost of living or tuition, but when it comes to course materials, that’s under our control, and this is where we have more of an impact than we realize.”

Campus Manitoba is a consortium of Manitoba’s public post-secondary institutions. Through collaborative projects and shared services, we facilitate student mobility and expand access to post-secondary programs for students in Manitoba. To learn more about open education in Manitoba and how to get involved, please visit

Published On: November 21, 2016|Categories: Open Education|Tags: , |

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