AMS advocates for open educational resources in Textbook Broke campaign

With the beginning of the academic year came another iteration of the AMS #TextbookbrokeBC campaign.

Now in its fifth year, #TextbookbrokeBC engages students about the costs of learning materials by asking them how much they spent on textbooks. The campaign is part of the AMS’s larger advocacy efforts for the development of open educational resources (OERs) at UBC.

This year the BC government committed $3.26 million towards the development of OERs to help alleviate the financial burden on students.

According to AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Julia Burnham, the campaign received responses from around 500 students.

Typically located in front of the Bookstore, the #TextbookbrokeBC booth was set up in the Nest this year. But location isn’t the only thing that has changed about this year’s campaign. It’s now focusing more on advocacy in addition to raising awareness.

“All our previous campaigns have been about unaffordability of textbooks and their rising costs, but this year more and more students — because of the advocacy that AMS has been able to do every year — already know about the issue and what open education resources are,” said Burnham.

“They are more informed to advocate for themselves and demonstrate to the university that this is what they care about.”

Championing professors and OER developers

The AMS campaign has also expanded its scope to include faculty members.

Burnham noted that OER development is often the result of unpaid and unrecognized labour from faculty members, so the AMS developed a “Shout out an OER Champion” sub-campaign to recognize the work of faculty members who develop OERs for their classrooms.

“This year, we’re celebrating the OER champions, the faculty that have successfully been able to adapt their course content so that the students don’t have to buy expensive textbooks anymore,” she said.

“And by celebrating them, we hope to engage more people with our cause, grow our community and lead a cultural shift.”

While there are some faculty members who have had a positive impact on the campaign, there is still a long way to go before the entire university can become textbook-free.

“Most of the publishers that approach faculty members come up with attractive offers of in-built assessment quizzes and materials so that the already overworked faculty don’t have to worry about another thing,” said Burnham.

To combat this, UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, the provost office and other members of the campaign are trying to provide the faculty with more support and resources.

The AMS is also drafting an open letter, signed by students to faculty members, about overcoming the stigma associated with voicing financial concerns felt by the students. The letter articulates the different ways OERs can be used in the classroom and the kind of impact it can have on students’ learning experiences.

It proposes three courses of action for the faculty members to cut textbook costs. First, the faculty members can look into the BC campus repositories and see if any open texts already exist for their disciplines. Second, they could look at creative commons licensing for their own works like journal articles. Third, they can use support available on campus, especially the new OER fund, and apply for OER grants.

Dr. Jonathan Verrett, an instructor at the Chemical and Biological Engineering department (CHBE) has been striving to make open resource education available to all students. With his colleagues at the CHBE, Verrett has developed an online homework system, spanning 13 engineering disciplines, called WeBWorK.

“Other resources cost $40 per student, so if you multiply that by 1,000 engineering students the costs would start to add up,” said Verrett. “We also ran a survey to gauge students' response to the platform and found that students preferred WeBWorK to other platforms in terms of ease of use, and enhanced learning.”

Verrett and his colleagues were able to secure $50,000 from the UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement funding as well as $7500 from the BCcampus OER fund.

Ultimately, Burnham hopes that by lessening their financial load, the campaign will help students succeed in and enjoy their studies.

“We're here for the process of learning and teaching,” she said.