Reducing costs and increasing relevance with open-education resources

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Dr. Janet Welch, assistant dean, Academic Technologies, University of Alberta and project lead for The Campus Alberta Open Educational Resources Initiative (, announces more than $430,000 in awards grants to AU faculty members’ projects last week at the Open Education Global 2015 conference in Banff, Alta. The funding Initiative provides publicly funded post-secondary institutions in Alberta the opportunity to apply for funding to support the assembly, use, development, implementation and evaluation of Open Education Resources (OERs) to support teaching, learning and research.

After submitting OER proposals to Campus Alberta’s Open Education Resource Initiative, AU faculty has learned six of its applications were successful. The initiative granted more than $430,000 to the faculty members’ projects.

The Campus Alberta OER Initiative is designed to assist students by reducing education costs and to provide faculty members with the resources necessary to offer updated and relevant learning content. The award announcement was made last week at the Open Education Global 2015 conference in Banff.

“The success of all AU proponents is a tribute to these fine scholars and to their creativity in exploring pathways to open education,” said interim AU President Peter MacKinnon.

The following faculty members received grants:

  • Dr. Sherri Melrose, assistant professor in the Centre for Nursing and Health Studies ($15,000)
  • Dr. Joy Fraser, professor and director, Health Administration Education in the Centre for Social Sciences and consultant with the World Health Organization ($60,000)
  •  Michael Dabrowski,  academic coordinator for Spanish in the Centre for Humanities ($121,000)
  • Dr. Frédérique Pivot, assistant professor of physical geography in the Centre for Science ($164,264)
  • Dr. Bob Barnetson, associate professor and program director for labour relations in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies ($50,000) and
  • Dr. Tilly Jensen, acting associate dean in the Faculty of Business ($20,000).

Interim Vice-President Academic Cindy Ives says the fact that nearly 25 per cent of the total $2 million available in OER grants was awarded to AU “is a reflection on both our faculty and the quality of our work.”

Dr. Melrose says her award will contribute to her work on an open-access Canadian textbook for graduate students from the health professions in clinical teaching courses and learning how to teach students in health professional training programs.

The textbook will be available as a freely downloadable e-book or a free smartphone app. Health professionals learning to teach as well as practitioners in clinical teaching positions will be able to access the text outside of their scheduled learning experiences, in the classroom or in the car, wherever and whenever they need information about clinical teaching.

Dr. Fraser’s project deals with a course redesign for Health Administration HADM 315/ HSRV 315: Health and Community Development, replacing all the textbooks and readings with OERs. This reduces the university’s reliance on commercial, for-profit textbooks and the decisions of publishers to discontinue publication, reduces costs for students and enables the university to maintain currency and relevance of course content. Fraser will work with community partners to provide input on content.

Dr. Dabrowski is working on a free digital Spanish OER-based textbook. The resource will significantly reduce financial entry barriers for students taking on the challenge of learning a second or third language.

Most of the funds will be distributed to Alberta academics across almost all post-secondary institutions in the province, and a few across Canada, to collaboratively create the curriculum and textbook.

Some of the funds are earmarked for graduate students enrolled in MA and Ph.D programs, enabling them to benefit from the experience of participating in the creation of an innovative OER platform for teaching languages.

The difficulty of implementing fieldwork in a non-traditional, geographically dispersed educational setting represents a major obstacle in offering online courses, even full degrees, in geography.

Building on the latest advancements in mobile technologies, Dr. Pivot’s project will develop and produce an open, mobile, self-guided field course in physical geography at the first- year level. The OERs will provide wider opportunities that can be adapted to various learning outcomes in physical geography courses.

Dr. Barnetson is developing a free university-level OER textbook on occupational health and safety. Instructors who use this textbook will save each of their students the cost of a commercial text—about $150.

Finally, Dr. Jensen will be developing a course for Accounting 351/352.

The Campus Alberta OER committee is co-chaired by Dr. Rory McGreal, AU professor and current United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chair and Commonwealth of Learning chair in open educational resources, and Dr. Jason Dewling, vice-president academic and research from Olds College.

This initiative is guided by a committee of experts including faculty, students, senior academic officers and other experts who deal with open educational resources. The committee reviews proposals from across Campus Alberta on how best to use these resources.