Open Educational Resources: A Call to Action — Dina Meunier

open signOn February 8th, Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in B.C. presented a strong case for the use of open textbooks in higher education to an interested audience at the University of Waterloo1. Open textbooks, he argues, such as those provided through OpenStax College or BC Campus OpenEd, benefit students, professors and institutions.

What are open textbooks? Open textbooks are “licensed under an open copyright license [such as a Creative Commons license] and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers and members of the public.”2 How do open textbooks differ from electronic versions of traditional textbooks? Some textbook publishers provide students with an online or digital version of a traditional hard copy textbook, but access to this electronic version is not free and it is under a limited license, that is, students loose access to the digital textbook after a period of time, for example, 6 months after purchase. Open textbooks, due to the nature of being openly available also promote lifelong learning, says Jhangiani.

There is no denying that traditional textbooks are expensive. Textbook costs have increased by 82% in the last decade, according to Jhangiani and these costs contribute to crippling student debt.  In Canada, the average student graduates with a debt of over $28,000 and three years after graduation, only about one-third of graduates are debt free, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Jhangiani argues that professors can mitigate this unfortunate situation simply by deciding to use an open textbook or a series of open educational resources to replace their traditional text.

Another advantage of open textbooks, for both students and instructors, lies in their flexibility. Open textbooks, Jhangiani explains, “aren’t just free, they’re free with permissions.” These permissions include the ability not only to retain, reuse and redistribute the resource, but to potentially remix and redistribute it based the instructor’s pedagogical goals for the course.

Universities also benefit from the use of open textbooks. There is a direct relationship, Jhargiani says, between textbook costs and student success and retention. Research shows that students enrolled in courses using OERs, had lower withdrawal rates, had better grades and enrolled in more courses in the current and subsequent semesters3.

So why aren’t more instructors using open textbooks?  Lack of awareness about where to find open textbooks and uncertainty around their quality are two of the main reasons.4 But the quality issue is an issue of perception.  Jhangiani states that quality has improved dramatically in the last 5 years and recent research shows that 75% of faculty who have an opinion about OERs, rate them as equivalent or better than the traditional textbook.5

Want to learn more about open educational resources? March 7 to 11th is Open Education Week so there is no better time to start than right now.

  • Check out how the Faculty of Mathematics is leading the way in Waterloo’s own open courseware initiative: math.uwaterloo and courseware.cemc.uwaterloo;
  • Explore the possibility of incorporating an open textbook in your upcoming course this spring or fall;
  • Are you interested in creating your own set of open educational resources to replace a costly textbook in your large enrollment course? Contact the Centre for Extended Learning (, we may be able to help you!


1To view “Open Educational Practices by Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani,” Centre for Teaching Excellence, (published to YouTube on Feb 12 2016) go to

2Open Textbook FAQ. BCCampus OpenEd.

3 Fischer, L., Hilton, J., Robinson T. J., & Wiley, D. (2015). A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 27(3), 159-172. doi:10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x

4 Green, K. (N.D.). Going Digital: Faculty Perspectives on Digital and OER course materials. Retrieved from The Campus Computing Project.

5 Allen, I.E., & Seaman, J. (Oct 2014). Opening the Curriculum: Open Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2014, Babson Research. Retrieved from

The author of this post, Dina Meunier, is Associate Director of Online Learning at Waterloo’s Centre for Extended Learning

Leave a Reply