Saskatchewan agrees to open textbook program

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April 8, 2014 - 12:37pm
University of Saskatchewan - Michael Aynsley/News Talk Radio
University of Saskatchewan - Michael Aynsley/News Talk Radio

Post-secondary students in Saskatchewan could soon have access to some textbooks online for free.
 
"We were hearing that the costs of textbooks are one of the highest costs that students have to bear when they come to university," Max FineDay, president of the University of Saskatchewan Students Union, said.
 
The province has provided funding to the two universities and SIAST to attend an open textbook summit in Vancouver this month.
 
Open textbooks are textbooks that are published under a creative commons licence, so there's no copyright associated with them and they can be put online for students and professors to access at no cost.
 
"This is a pretty huge, innovative step that we're trying to make happen at the university," FineDay said. 
 
"Instead of buying a textbook that is $300 that you might only use for that one class or might only use one chapter of, students would be able to access that textbook online for free," he said.
 
FineDay was involved with "Be Book Smart Week" last fall, which collected 1,300 signatures from students calling on the government to adopt an open textbook policy.
 
Since then, the province has signed a memorandum of understanding with British Columbia and Alberta to collaborate and develop open educational resources.
 
"Our students are very excited about the concept and about helping to bring this to fruition for the province," Arnold Boldt, associate vice-president of academic and research at SIAST, said.
 
In B.C., there has already been funding provided to develop open textbooks and to have them peer reviewed and adopted for certain courses.
 
"The last I heard, there were 28 completed texts and 18 of them had already been approved by a peer review group," Boldt said.
 
He added that there will hopefully by 40 by then end of the year and another group of 20 being developed out of B.C. and that Alberta is developing some as well.
 
"Working together with the other provinces, these will be available to all of our students and we can grow that list from there," Boldt said.
 
FineDay, who was recently re-elected for another term, said that he hopes to sit down with the U of S and the province once he returns from the open textbook summit to discuss how to implement the program here.
 
"I'm pretty confident after seeing the government and the university signing on that it will move pretty quickly," he said.
 
He said that students are spending over a thousand dollars on textbooks each year and some are spending $800 each semester.
 
"It actually affects the accessibility to post secondary education. It doesn't matter how many scholarships you get for tuition if you still have to pay an exorbitant amount in textbook costs," FineDay said.
 
There is also an environmental component that is attractive to students, because textbooks will not be overprinted and most people will access the information online.
 
FineDay said that if students want to study from a hard copy, they can print the PDF at the campus bookstore at cost.
 
"This won't be applied to all textbooks at the university, it will be started with 30 courses, so there won't be a significant impact on revenue generation at the campus bookstore," FineDay said.
 
At SIAST, Boldt said that they will need to analyze the impact the program will have on the bookstore as they work towards developing more online resources.
 
He added that educational resources are evolving -- digital textbooks provide live links and have videos embedded in them.
 
"What we used to call textbook is no longer, we still have those, but there's so many other kinds of textbooks out there now," he said.
 
At the end of April, an open textbook expert from B.C. will be coming to the province to speak at each of the universities and two SIAST campuses. Students and faculty will be able to hear about the program and ask questions about how it works.
 
"This program is going to hopefully increase accessibility and affordability of post secondary education in Saskatchewan, and I think that's good news for everyone," FineDay said.
 
awills@rawlco.com
 
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