Democratizing education: Challenging times can present an incredible opportunity

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: July 16, 2020 8:00 a.m.

Open educational resources have an important role to play in helping solve the challenges posed by remote delivery.
Open educational resources have an important role to play in helping solve the challenges posed by remote delivery. Photo: Johan Larsson

The Spring 2020 semester marked the first time, Melissa Hrebenik, an Instructor in the Faculty of Nursing, taught CNUR 301, Leadership and Influencing Change at the University of Regina. This was also the first time Hrebenik used an open textbook in her class, and if she has anything to say about it - it won't be the last.

Amidst the immediate demands caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver all courses remotely, Hrebenik and her colleagues at the U of R and Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Regina and Saskatoon quickly pulled together to condense the 12-week nursing leadership course into six weeks and bring the course to life - virtually.

Melissa Hrebenik used OER in a nursing leadership course, Leadership and Influencing Change, during the Spring 2020 semester.
Credit: U of R Photography

"It was amazing to work with everybody, including those who had experience teaching the course before, the open textbook editor Dr. Joan Wagner, and my colleagues who are new to teaching CNUR 301," says Hrebenik. "Everyone was so accommodating and dedicated, putting our brains together to make this course be the best it could be."

By using existing open educational resources for the course, Hrebenik and her fellow instructors were able to easily customize the digital material to fit the shortened course length, add links to more journal articles, and adapt the exam questions and PowerPoint slides as needed.

Open educational resources (commonly known as OER) are teaching, learning, and research resources in digital or print formats that are in the public domain or have been released under an open license (such as one of the Creative Commons licences) and are made available at low-cost or no-cost to users. OER include textbooks, PowerPoint slide decks, test banks, and more. Open licences give creators - such as authors, illustrators, and photographers - the ability to apply a range of permissions to their work that allows end users - students, teachers, and the general public - to use, redistribute, and customize the resources.

In courses that use OER, students don't have to contend with high course resource costs in addition to tuition and related fees. This Spring, approximately 168 students took CNUR 301, Leadership and Influence Change in the Saskatchewan Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. This amounted to a savings of approximately $14,280 in course materials for these students. On a global scale, in 2018, SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) estimated the global savings from OER use at over $1 billion USD.

"Textbook resources are often quite costly and cost savings is one important feature of OER," says Hrebenik. "But I think having access to Canadian- and Saskatchewan-based resources is really key, because these are more relevant to supporting our students' learning experience. If we can align these open resources so that they meet student learning outcomes for the course, then all the better."

The Faculty of Nursing is a leader in the development of OER at the University.
Credit: University of Regina Open Textbook Publishing Program

This tailored approach to educational material is a key benefit for nursing instructors who need to stay up to date with the latest practises, policies, and regulations in health care, as well as for practitioners who may want to read about recent changes or refresh their knowledge.

"In nursing, we have an accountability to stay current with our practice," says Hrebenik. "When you have open resources available to you as an instructor, the opportunities are endless for continuous learning. This is a major advantage over published print resources which, by the time we get them, may be dated and require us to supplement the material with current evidence."

Overall, Hrebenik says that student feedback on her use of OER in the nursing leadership course this Spring has been positive.

"Using the textbook Leadership and Influencing Change in Nursing made my studies convenient and affordable," says third-year nursing student Kaitlyn Arvidson who took CNUR 301 this past Spring and accessed the textbook on both her laptop and cellphone. "The open access feature was practical and clearly outlined. In the future, I hope to have the chance to use more open access textbooks during my studies."

Since 2016, the University of Regina has worked to develop new, adopt existing, and adapt open textbooks and other OER through its Open Textbook Publishing Program, funded by the Government of Saskatchewan.

"Creating an open textbook from scratch is a labour of love for any professor and a significant commitment of time, energy, and resources," explains Dr. Joan Wagner, Associate Dean (Graduate Programs and Research), whose textbook Leadership and Influencing Change in Nursing was published in June 2018 through the Program.

With the support of Dr. david Gregory, Dean of Nursing at the time, Wagner wrote chapters and coordinated submissions from 17 contributors throughout Saskatchewan and Canada, which were then peer reviewed to ensure the new textbook met high academic standards. Other faculties across the University are now closely considering adopting or adapting OER for use in courses that have high student enrolment and high textbook costs.

"In this remote teaching context, many more course instructors are adopting OER," says Dr. Nilgün Önder, Associate Vice-President (Academic). "For example, with the encouragement of Dean Farenick, the Faculty of Science is currently making special efforts to integrate quality open textbooks in high-enrolment introductory courses, thus reducing textbook costs for Science students."

For more information on other OER published or currently in development in the Open Textbook Publishing Program, visit U of R Open Textbooks. U of R academics interested in adopting, adapting or creating OERs should contact the OTP Manager Isaac Mulolani at


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