Dr. Rory McGreal, Athabasca University’s resident expert in open educational resources (OER), has been named co-chair of a new government-funded OER committee that plans to lighten the financial burden of post-secondary education for students both within and beyond Alberta.
“Student groups and leaders have been clear this is an important issue for them,” said Premier Dave Hancock, minister of innovation and advanced education. “We’ve heard them and are pleased to be responding with this initiative.”
Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education has pledged $2 million to fund the initiative and announced its formation in April. The announcement came shortly after a memorandum of understanding signed in March in which the provinces of Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan agreed to work together on strategically using OER so that more students in more places will have access to education that costs less.
McGreal, a professor of distance education at AU, the director of AU’s Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute and the chairholder for AU’s UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning/International Council for Open and Distance Education Chair in OER, defines OER as learning resources freely available online. “They are free, they can be updated whenever the professor feels it is needed, and unlike commercial content, there are no digital locks on them or restrictive licensing conditions,” he said.
“Most commercial etexts have drop-dead dates when they are removed from a student’s computer. Many other restrictions on commercial etexts limit the usability of the content. OER have no such restrictions.”
McGreal has been researching and advocating for OER for several years. At AU, he’s worked with colleagues in promoting an institutional move towards adopting more OER in courses (see AU’s Open Courseware site for examples).
“Sometimes a commercial text may be the only reasonable alternative (for a course),” he explained. “At the same time, faculty should make an effort to see what OER are available in their field and choose them over expensive textbooks when good OER alternatives are available.”
“Like other universities in Alberta and across Canada, we need to do more when it comes to integrating OER into our curriculum. This provincial initiative in collaboration with B.C. and Saskatchewan will move this process forward for the benefit of our students along with students in other provinces and countries.”
Learn more about the new Alberta OER Initiative and AU’s adventures in OER
- Alberta Government media release on the Alberta OER Initiative
- OER backgrounder by Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education
- Feature article on OER, “Shredding an Old Idea,” in the new issue of AU’s Open magazine (page 24)
- Athabasca University Open Courseware site (access OER for AU courses in math, science, distance education and more)
- OERu (try out free OER-based courses from accredited post-secondary institutions around the world)