Open textbooks save students money, but Ryerson is not sure if their implementation will be mandatory.
Simant Upreti, chair of the chemical engineering department at Ryerson, said that open textbooks have to be held to the same academic standards as physical ones. Even if those standards were met, there’s no guarantee that open textbooks would be integrated into the curriculum.
“It lies in the realm of the instructor,” he said. “When these books come out we make them available to the relevant course instructors who evaluate them and see if they could be adopted in courses.”
Open textbooks, or open educational resources (OERs), are digitized texts that have non-restrictive licenses.
“It is too early to say if such resources will be mandatory, but we are pleased with the progress to date,” wrote Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi in an e-mail.
Since 2013, Ryerson librarian Ann Ludbrook has done two workshops a year focused on educating faculty about how to create and implement open textbooks in their classes. Under the library’s Infrastructure for Open Publishing of Curriculum Resources Project, there are four faculty members currently working on developing their own open textbooks.
“We have some grants at Ryerson to create open textbooks,” said Ludbrook. “But they’re just getting completed now and will be ready for the fall.”
First-year business student Jennifer Ord spoke about how difficult it can be to deal with the fact you need to buy textbooks, but might not be financially able to.
“It’s definitely a stressor for myself deciding which textbooks I definitely need to buy and sometimes you don’t know necessarily, and it can really impact you if you don’t buy it and your grades can suffer because of that.”
Lauri Aesoph, the manager of open education at BCcampus—an organization that works with post-secondary institutions in British Columbia to create more accessible education—says it takes time to bring open textbooks to the post-secondary level because it takes time for faculty and staff to figure out what open textbooks are and how they work.
Since BCcampus began to track the use of open textbooks in 2012, they have documented about $7 to $8 million dollars in student savings.
Spencer Rebelo, a fourth-year sport media student, shared the sort of textbook costs he has to deal with as a student.
“I remember the most expensive one was like around $200 or something like that. But that’s not even the worst, right? There are some that are like $300. It depends on your program. Like I’m in sport media so we don’t even have a lot of textbooks really required for our program… But I can imagine that if you’re in engineering or something it’s probably crazy.”
RSU vice-president of education, Daniel Lis, said it will be a while before open textbooks are integrated fully at Ryerson, but believes something should be done soon to address the costs.
“The cost of being a student is almost unbearable,” said Lis.
However, according to Lis, pushing for open textbooks isn’t something Ryerson should be doing alone.
“The burden isn’t just on Ryerson, the burden is also on the government of Ontario to further spending on OERs, to make an investment into this new educational strategy,” he said. “On Ryerson’s part, the library is doing a lot of great work. I think there just needs to be more of an investment [from] the university’s budget on it.”