#OER18 Guest Blog post by Nick Baker

We’re excited about the upcoming #OER18 Conference!

Seems like they might be excited about us too, because they asked our Director, Nick Baker to contribute to a great blog post series they have leading up to the Conference.


A view of openness from the Great White North: From tiny ripples to surfing the waves of openness

By Nick Baker, University of Windsor, Canada.

Twitter: @nbaker

Skimming Stones- ripples

Skimming Stones – Ripples” by Barney Moss is licensed under CC BY 2.0

While open educational practices are slowly becoming an embedded part of the higher education landscape globally, there is still a long way to go before we can consider them as mainstream in Canada, or North America in general. Around the world, the open movement is growing, driven by the many dedicated individuals who truly, madly, deeply believe in the benefits of open access to knowledge and education. Yet, the majority of our colleagues (and senior administrators) still seem to have very little awareness of the potential, or even existence of, open educational resources. Those who are still carry mistrust, convinced that free = poor quality. What, one wonders, might it take to get their collective attention, or to convince them open can mean high quality?

Anyone reflecting on the last two decades of open education activities in North America might remember that it is 20 years since David Wiley came up with the idea of the Open Content Licence – a first step towards open licencing of educational resources. Then there was that little project known as the MIT OpenCourseware Initiative, which has had 200 million visitors since 2001 engaging with content from 2,400 MIT courses made freely available to the global community (at least, those with a solid enough internet connection to access the resources). Or what about the Merlot OER repository, which started 20 years ago and has over 80,000 items in its database of open resources? And who could forget the original cMOOC that was a product of George Seimens and Stephen Downes’ experiment with connectivist teaching and learning approaches, which predated the MOOC hysteria by several years (of course, the term MOOC was even coined by a Canadian – Dave Cormier). More recently, BCcampus’ and eCampus Ontario’s respective open textbook repositories and resources to encourage adoption, adaptation, and creation of open educational resources have emerged as important players on the open practice landscape in Canada and beyond. These and other initiatives have led to the formation of the Canada OER working group, bringing together various provincial open education initiatives with the aim of leveraging their work to save students money.

There is a lot of good stuff happening in open educational practice in Canada and the US, but until fairly recently, it didn’t seem to have the same profile locally as elsewhere in the world. The conversation about open educational practices in Canada and the US is becoming louder and more insistent, and it is being driven by many voices outside of academia, as well as a band of champions within. How do we help to facilitate and amplify those voices so that real change can happen? We are making some headway in driving OERs into the mainstream, but it has been a long, slow, bumpy road so far. This got me thinking about why that might be, and what could be done to accelerate the trend.

bumpy road, by eflon

bumpy road” by eflon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Kortemeyer argued that OERs had failed to make significant impact on universities in their first decade of existence. He suggests four key hurdles to adoption; 1. Discoverability, 2. Quality control and lack of enhancement based on feedback, 3. The Last Mile – difficulty of packaging disparate OERs into a coherent group of learning resources, and 4. Acquisition – the contribution of open materials to the community is still fairly uncommon among faculty and they also have concerns about tracking impact of their resources. Belikov and Bodily (2016) found the top three barriers to adoption to be a need for more information, lack of discoverability, and confusing OERs with other digital resources. Conversely, they noted the greatest incentives to adoption included saving students money, pedagogical benefits, and institutional support for and recognition of the adoption.

Globally, higher education institutions remain places where some of the most elite brains of the world tend to lock themselves away to think deeply about and explore the world’s greatest challenges, which is what we have traditionally set them up to do. This tends to be a very isolated and individualistic profession in many disciplines, but the public (and as a result, the government) in Canada are now more than ever demanding a window into that world, wondering what they get for the investment of public funds into universities. What differs a lot from higher education system to system is the culture of openness, sharing, and the level of focus on the public good and responsibility of these institutions. In short, where there is a culture of sharing and accountability for public investment in our institutions, it seems that open education is less at odds with the dominant culture, and therefore more likely to thrive. But if that doesn’t exist, what can drive the necessary changes?

Two trends seem to be making a difference in bringing us closer to a state where universities, and the academics who inhabit them, are more open to freely sharing the knowledge with the world that they collectively generate. The first is the pressure from students. Recently, students in Canada and the US, as well as in other parts of the world, have begun to pressure their institutions and individual teachers to consider the rapidly growing cost of learning resources, in particular textbooks, in the design of their courses. At my own institution, as well as many others across the country, policies and guidelines are beginning to appear that urge faculty to adopt an open-first approach when assigning learning resources, primarily as a cost-containment measure for students. The #TextbookBroke movement has successfully leveraged social media and data about the rapid increases of higher education costs to drive a discussion about accessibility and equity. Proponents also point to viable alternatives to both traditional higher learning and the resources that underlie it to challenge the value of traditional universities. This discussion places OERs and open practice front and centre in the debate over the cost of higher education and the broader societal issue of who these costs exclude or include in access to higher education. The collective voices of student OER advocates have begun to be heard by their public representatives, with open education becoming a hot topic at various government levels. From the government perspective, they want students to graduate, and there is solid evidence that reducing cost load by using OERs impacts graduation rates, so from that view, it is a no-brainer.

This level of interest from government is the second driver of significant change towards increasing open practices in higher education, and moving them from a cottage industry to the mainstream. Governments across Canada and the US have started to take up the challenge to drive change in their higher education sectors to address not only costs to learners, but also access, equity, efficiency, and quality of outcomes for the public investment. This has manifested itself in many ways, but increasingly it has been through strong legislative intervention. Recent activity at the state level in the US, including in California and Hawai’i (among others), has seen the introduction of legislation that would require the use of Open Educational Resources in state funded institutions.

In Canada, provincial governments have responsibility for higher education, and have made less direct legislative interventions, instead opting for a combination of policies and incentives to drive change (although the federal government has also pushed universities towards openness by implementing a requirement through the research granting councils that makes all publicly funded research results publicly available, bringing Canada in line with many other western nations, and making a strong statement about openness). In many ways, our experience in Canada is similar to Joe Wilson’s experience in Scotland, where there have been a number of active innovators across Canada, but the vast majority of people have been waiting for some policy or legislative intervention to jump on board the bus. And there are certainly those who waited for the policy bus to arrive just so they could refuse to get on it! In Ontario, where I am based, the development of eCampus Ontario has seen millions of dollars of competitive funding injected into the system over the last five years and the development of hundreds of OERs tailored to the Ontario context. It has also led to the creation of a provincial open textbook and OER repository. The risk the government took in investing in what was considered by most as a fringe idea in a sector that has traditionally had almost complete autonomy from government intervention is

starting to pay off. It was also risky because what the government was trying to incentivise us to do was to become more open, sharing, and collaborative as a sector, when universities traditionally didn’t really think of themselves as part of a sector, but rather as loose collections of individuals sharing a payroll system. Universities, and the individuals that make them up in Canada have been set up and incentivised to compete, which is is counter to open culture and a barrier to greater adoption.

But there has been a palpable shift in the level of the conversation around open practices and OERs, and learning in higher education in my province. The large investment and competitive funding has increased the profile of teaching activities, and the focus on open has made those activities more available to the sector as a whole. Some would say cleverly, there has also been a focus on research and scholarship around openness that helps to legitimise these ideas in the academic community.

The visibility of OERs and open educational practices is increasing, and while there is a long way to go, I can’t help but be optimistic that the small ripples a few dedicated people started by throwing stones into the lake of higher education two decades ago are now becoming a larger wave that has enough room on it for us all to go surfing. As these waves spread out and grow, the importance of communities such as the one underlying the #OER18 conference also grows. Like David Wiley in his guest post, these reflections are my own personal observations and I make no claim to them being objective! Others will have a different experience to mine and view the developments over the last few years in very different ways. I live and work in the open space. Open practitioners are my friends, colleagues, and community. I have watched that community grow, both in Canada and globally. My hope is that the open community can be truly open to all, make space for and encourage all comers, be inclusive, embrace that diversity, and find ways to realise the potential of collaboration through the global community of open practitioners. I hope to see the ripples become real waves that bring disruption and renewal to higher education.


OOL 12 Apps of Christmas- Day 12

We’ve done it!

We’ve reached the end of our 12 Apps journey!

WE are the Office of Open Learning at UWindsor, and we wanted to connect with you this holiday season through apps that will hopefully make your teaching, learning & life a bit simpler.

Header image, 12 apps of Christmas from the Office of Open Learning

(That was a pun there, did you catch it?)

(You’re welcome.)

Welcome to Day TWELVE of our 12 Apps of Christmas, from the Office of Open Learning.

We have finally come to the end of our 12 apps of Christmas list! It’s been a blast and we hope you found at least one thing that will be useful in your teaching. We certainly had fun exploring with you.


For our final post of the year, we wanted to take a look at the new eCampusOntario Open Textbook Library (again, we know this is not an app, but rather, a totally AWESOME website). This amazing repository currently holds 238 textbooks that are available for you to adopt, adapt, revise, reuse, remix, keep, and share – all for free!

Main screen Ontario Textbook Library

Wait, how can that be, you ask? Well, the wonderful, talented, and academically well-known people who wrote them decided to licence them using a Creative Commons licence, which allows you to use them pretty much in whatever way you want, at no cost to either you or your students.

Creative Commons logo




But wait, I hear you say, you get what you pay for, and if it’s free it mustn’t be much! Sometimes that is true, but in the case of the open texts in the eCampusOntario library, which is mirrored with BC Campus and also imports OpenStax material (there are also a number of other places you can go to find open texts – check out the list here), these are all high quality texts just like the ones that people pay hundreds of dollars for from traditional publishers. They are usually peer reviewed, and in fact, eCampusOntario is even paying Ontario faculty to provide reviews of the texts. They also help out with funding to help you adopt, adapt, or even write open texts.

Ah, you say, but what about additional faculty resources, question banks, and homework systems that are all automatically marked by magic and wizardry with traditional publisher texts…the truth is that many of the open books written do have additional resources…and if they don’t, anyone with the knowledge and background to write them can contribute to the text and provide it back to the community!

So what’s in it for me if I write an open text, you ask? Well, the reality is that very few textbooks ever sell in large numbers, and even if they did, your cut of the profits with a traditional publisher is pretty small. Soooo….don’t quit your day job.  On the other hand, part of the currency of academia is ‘impact’ of your work, which is a pretty squishy term, but one way to look at it is citation rates or adoption rates of a textbook or monograph. Making content openly licenced increases the chances it will be seen and used, so the potential impact is often higher.

There’s also that whole public good with public funds idea. Universities are publicly funded and so there are many who believe the knowledge we generate should be shared as widely as possible (in Canada the Tri-Council funding agencies have made that abundantly clear (Pssst…you can’t get funding from them unless you agree to make your findings openly available), as have others around the world). There’s also a school of thought that says that in times where misinformation looms large, making reliable and academically sound information widely accessible may help to combat the rise of deliberate or willfully ignorant spreading of misinformation.

And of course, there’s the small matter of saving students thousands of dollars in textbook fees over the life of a degree if you can replace texts with open educational resources, which they tend to really love you for, and which may attract more students to your courses and programs.

So back to the open textbook library…what’s in it? Well, as we mentioned, there are over 200 books currently available across a really broad spectrum of disciplines. Everything from accounting to zoology is in there. Check it out, you never know what treasures you might find, and we’re betting you will be pleasantly surprised!

Open Textbook Library Browse collection screenshot

Are there any other reasons to take a look at open textbooks, you ask? Well, if you are concerned about accessibility (as we all are), the digital-first design makes it much easier to make these texts accessible to everyone. They come in multiple digital formats, so students can take them with them wherever they go without lugging around heavy books, and can be used either online or offline, digitally highlighted, notes can be written in the text and become searchable like the rest of the text, making studying more efficient and easier. Because they don’t cost the student anything to use, they improve access for low income students, and if they need or want a printed copy (which they can even order through the eCampus website), it is significantly cheaper than a publisher version.

Open Textbook Library, chemistry Open Stax textbook screenshot

Yet another good thing about the books in the library is that if you find an error, or just want to alter the text for your own context (move it around, delete parts, add material etc.), you can just update it yourself and contribute it back to the community, without having to wait for the next edition to fix the issue (if that is even possible).

So that’s a quick introduction to the eCampusOntario Open Textbook library. Thanks for joining us over the last 12 days. We wish you all a very safe and happy holiday!


Looking for more app suggestions? Find all of our 12 Apps of Christmas posts in one place! 

UWindsor, and our Open Learning offices, will be closed after December 22nd, 2017 and will reopen in the New Year, on January 3rd, 2018.

UWindsor, Open Learning & TESS17

What a year it’s been. Our office has seen so many changes in 2017.

We’ve secured some staffing opportunities for our valuable team members, successfully keeping our course development and office culture progressing and evolving. We’ve physically moved our offices from our original Erie Hall home, over to the very new and beautiful Welcome Centre. (Stay tuned, we’ll be moving again!)

UWindsor Welcome Centre

We’ve had an incredible year working with our partners both on and off the UWindsor campus, on our successful eCampus Ontario grant proposals. Windsor was very successful again this year. We were able to secure funding to build 4 new online programs, develop an open textbook, and complete 4 research and innovation projects.

We were really proud to showcase our progress on these projects at the eCampus Ontario Technology Enabled Seminar and Showcase 2017, in Toronto in November. Institutions from all over Ontario working in online and tech enhanced learning on their higher education campuses came together for a day of incredibly diverse and useful workshops, and a second afternoon of showcasing each other’s great work.

We also had the opportunity to present on our UWindsor culture of open. Using the power of storytelling, our team got to weave a narrative of cultivation on our campus- really using our limited resources to enrich our enthusiastic first adopters. Allowing those faculty members to use their growth and success as inspiration to others in their disciplines and peer groups. We have six courses on campus using open textbooks. We are developing two more open texts. We use, develop, and remix open access materials in our own teaching. We’ve saved students money, we’ve contributed knowledge to the broader community which would otherwise have been hidden behind paywalls. For our efforts- we won an award!


UWindsor Open won the inaugural TESS17 Best in Show award for Open & OER practice.

We share this honour with our incredible faculty and campus staff partners, without whose expertise and willingness to break down barriers, we could not be successful. It is truly a team success, and we’re very pleased that the efforts of our partners were able to be provincially recognized.

Thanks for a great showcase & seminar, eCampus Ontario! You can check the #TESS17 Twitter feed for all the many highlights straight from participants.

Not to be outdone before it’s even begun, 2018 is already shaping up to be the kind of busy that keeps us inspired and growing- just the way we like it here in the OOL! Here are a few known highlights coming up for our office, for our campus, and for anyone else who might be interested (we hope you’re interested!):

  • Launch of the Certificate in Online & Open Learning (COOL), January 2018: a flexible, post-graduate certificate program to prepare instructors from anywhere to design, develop, teach and evaluate an online course. There are many paths to certificate completion, and the entire program is running online, you can come to class in your pajamas! The first of three 6-week courses is 

    already up and available for registration. It’s free, and we’d love to have your voice in our open classroom.

  • UWindsor, along with our partners at St. Clair College & Lambton College, will be hosting a Southwestern Ontario Open Educational Resource Summit in spring of 2018. A chance to showcase our collective, ever-growing work in cultivating a culture of open in Ontario higher education. Stay tuned for an announcement in the new year.
  • We’re launching a podcast series, beginning in the new year! Conversations Under The Bridge will highlight great research and teaching on UWindsor’s campus, identifying the intersection of where skilled research meets great learning opportunities. If you’ve got something great to share with us, we’d love to have you come in for an interview! Get in touch with Alicia Higgison (higgison@uwindsor.ca) and we’ll work it out!


From our team (like family) to yours, Open Learning wants to wish you all the best this holiday season. May you experience your joy of the season, we encourage your continued success held in the potential of the new year.

OOL 12 Apps of Christmas- Day 11

One. More. Day.

We hope you have found our series helpful so far, and if not helpful then at least entertaining!

WE are the Office of Open Learning at UWindsor, and we wanted to connect with you this holiday season through apps that will hopefully make your teaching, learning & life a bit simpler.

Header image, 12 apps of Christmas from the Office of Open Learning

(That was a pun there, did you catch it?)

(You’re welcome.)

Welcome to Day 11 of our 12 Apps of Christmas, from the Office of Open Learning.

Ever been on a deadline to submit a paper and wished for an elf who managed your references and shared your research with colleagues? Well, then, the Mendeley app might just be for you!

Mendeley logo vertical

What is it?

Mendeley is a free reference manager and PDF reader software. It used to be open, but was purchased by publishing giant Elsevier in 2013. Some of us in the open access community got upset by it, but do read on. The free version offers useful basic features.

Mendeley is specially designed for researchers, students. It is available in both web and desktop versions for Windows, Mac OS (Sierra and High Sierra not officially supported), and Linux.

In addition to the desktop app, you can download Mendeley mobile apps from Google Play and App Store. This  lets you access your library so you can read and annotate your papers on the go.

Whether you just need help organizing your literature or want to read journal articles wherever you are without lugging around a bunch of articles and books, Mendeley is easy to use!

How does it work?

You can start by downloading Mendeley Desktop for Windows 7+, Mac OS, and for Linux.

We recommend that you install a Chrome extension for Mendeley. You can then import articles with one click, import PDFs when available, batch import to speed things up, import related articles, and organize them before and after you import into your Mendeley Library. Screenshot of a Mendeley Library

Once imported, you can organize your imported papers into folders, examine details (e.g. abstract, DOI), and write notes on each article.

You can also create or join groups to share your documents privately or publicly. This feature works well when you are collaborating in groups.  The Feed tab suggests people you might want to follow. It also keeps you up-to-date on the latest activity.

Screenshot of Mendeley Desktop

Finally, when you’re done writing, generate a reference list by selecting the check boxes of the papers that you want to include and click “Export to MS Word” (Hint: you will need to convert the downloaded XML file to Word (.docx) or LaTeX (for all you techies)). And you’re done. No elves required!

Elf in circle with strike though

Looking for more app suggestions? Find all of our 12 Apps of Christmas posts in one place! 

UWindsor, and our Open Learning offices, will be closed after December 22nd, 2017 and will reopen in the New Year, on January 3rd, 2018.