Open education

In the October edition of Edubytes, our guest editors, Dr. Surita Jhangiani, Georgia Yee and Shivani Mehta, will be exploring the topic of open education. Surita is an open education advocate, and assistant professor in the Faculty of Education. From the UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS), Georgia is Vice-President Academic and University Affairs, and Shivani is Associate Vice-President Academic Affairs.

Open education: An overview

The movement towards open education has grown tremendously over the last two decades. It is empowered by the belief that everyone should have access to educational opportunities: that it is a human right. At the core of the movement is achieving equitable access to knowledge, cutting across barriers such as gender, socioeconomic status, accessibility of resources, and knowledge production.

An important tool in achieving this is the development and reuse of Open Educational Resources (OERs). These are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium (digital, print, etc.) that are in a public domain or have an open license. This allows for no-cost access, such as by students, and for the use, adaptation and redistribution by others, such as professors, with no or limited restrictions.

Why open education matters

While the use of open resources can benefit both educators and students, a particular benefit is to help students overcome one of the highest barriers to post-secondary education — the cost of textbooks. Research studies have noted the burden of textbook costs compounds food and housing insecurities and can result in students dropping or taking fewer courses. To deal with the financial hardship related to textbook costs, students will often forgo purchasing required texts, which in turn negatively impacts their grades and academic standing.

For marginalized students, the consequences are even greater, as their grades may limit their opportunities to major in a particular field or to seek advanced educational opportunities. This is how the cycle continues; by awarding those who are privileged enough to afford an education while abandoning the students who cannot.


It is clear that the cost of textbooks exacerbates the gap between students and education, and that OERs can help institutions work towards closing it. However, according to a survey conducted by the AMS in June, over 83% of UBC students reported that they engaged with OERs infrequently or not at all.

This may be because many students don’t know what they are, or how to access them. When asked if they had used OERs for their courses, 67.9% of students said they had never heard of open resources, while 14.9% of students were unsure. This data highlights the need for two things; clear communication to students about open resources, and the need for professors to be encouraged to develop OERs for their specific courses.


Learn more about how the AMS hopes to achieve these goals, and topics relating to open access:

Open and Student Advocacy

  • An Open Letter to UBC from the AMS: In this compelling open letter, the UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS) urges professors to consider how the pandemic is affecting students, especially in terms of financial instability. The AMS asks educators to be involved in open educational practices, to help ease student financial strain and create more equitable pathways to learning.
  • Open Champions Award Call for Nominations: Last year, the AMS collaborated with Open UBC to create the first Open Champions Award to honour the work done by professors, staff, and teaching assistants to contribute to open scholarship. As the move to virtual learning has increased the need for accessible learning materials, this year’s nominations will honour instructors on the spectrum of open learning with a letter signed by AMS President Cole Evans and UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono.

Open and Indigenous Scholarship

  • Open Dialogues: Daniel Heath Justice on Decolonizing Open: When creating open educational resources, many call to ensure that the materials produced avoid creating further inequities — such as being mindful of whose voices and perspectives are foregrounded as we move to decolonizing knowledge systems. Indigenous scholar Daniel Heath Justice talks about the limitations of open education, and how we must be considerate of knowledge boundaries.

Open Educational Resources

  • The 5 Rs of Using OER: The emphasis on collaboration and transparency in open education allows educators and students to work together to create high quality work that is more nuanced, fulsome, and contextualized. The open licensing of these materials allows for greater access as resources can be revised, reused, remixed, retained, and redistributed for a particular context.
  • What do we mean by ‘open’ in education?: In Malala Yousafzai’s 2014 Nobel Peace Prize speech she states, “I’m just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education”. This blog post by Tony Bates explores various aspects of ‘open’ in education.
  • Open Educational Resources Adoption Guide: This is a guide published by BCcampus Open Education, the provincial body for open educational development.

Further resources

  • Embodying Openness as Inclusive Digital Praxis: With our sudden shift to online teaching, Maha Bali’s piece helps us consider what it means to practice critical digital pedagogy in open education. Bali stresses that inclusivity is about listening to others who are different from us, fostering agency, and allowing ourselves to be changed by the needs and perspectives of our students.
  • Open Education, Open Questions: In this article, Catherine Cronin examines what it means to be open in different contexts, and the complexity of this seemingly simple term. The author reminds us that open must be critical otherwise we may risk creating inequalities, which is in opposition to open.
  • Critical Open Pedagogy: Episode 226: In this podcast, Rajiv Jhangiani talks with the host of Teaching in Higher Education, Bonni Stachowiak, about critical open pedagogy. In addition to all the great advice and tips offered in the podcast, there is a rich list of resources that also accompany this talk.

Enjoyed reading about open education? Learn about other topics we covered in the October 2020 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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