Post-secondary students and instructors in B.C. will be able to access more than 120 open textbooks as dozens of new skills training titles hit digital shelves this fall. Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson made the announcement at the third-annual BCcampus OpenTextbook Summit  in Vancouver. The summit brought together members of the open textbook community, including students and instructors from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Participants offered talks and presentations to demonstrate the growth and potential of the open textbook movement.
“Students and instructors will benefit from the addition of 50 new open textbooks covering subject areas such as adult basic education, culinary arts and introductory courses for trades training,” said Wilkinson. “Increasing access to open textbooks means more money in student pockets, more flexibility for instructors and greater versatility in learning materials.”
Government kick-started the Open Textbook Project  with BCcampus in 2012 by providing $1 million in funding for open textbooks in the most highly-enrolled first and second year subjects. In 2013, government made a platform commitment and provided further funding of $1 million to develop 20 additional open texts in skills and technical subjects by September 2015. The Open Textbook Project will see 50 new titles added this fall – more than double the expected number.
“We are thrilled with the positive response to open textbooks by B.C. post-secondary faculty and institutions,” said Clint Lalonde, senior manager of open education at BCcampus. “Educators from throughout the province are embracing open textbooks as a tangible way to help lower the cost of higher education for students in British Columbia. In addition to reducing student costs, open textbooks allow new models of innovative teaching and learning practices to emerge, and they position British Columbia as a worldwide leader in the use of open educational resources in higher education.”
The Open Textbook Project is the first of its kind in Canada. There are currently more than 70 open-license titles available online, which means students can download and print these texts for free and instructors can adapt content to fit the needs of their students. More than 50 faculty members at public post-secondary institutions throughout the province currently participate in the project, and it is estimated that 5,400 students in B.C. have saved up to $700,000 to date by using open textbooks.
“With free open textbooks, the potential for reduced anxiety among students is huge,” said Rebecca Deutschmann, soon-to-be fourth-year history and psychology student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. “Tight student budgets coupled with the cost of textbooks can sometimes limit the number of courses a student is able to take. Students should be able to finish courses faster using open textbooks because they won’t have to worry about cost.”
The new open texts support B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint by focusing on subject areas that support high-demand occupations such as trades, adult basic education, tourism and hospitality and healthcare. Blueprint – introduced one year ago in April 2014 – outlines a plan to align funding and programs to target in-demand occupations.
“We wanted to create open textbooks that are usable as introductory information for a wide range of trades programs,” said Rod Lidstone, open textbook author and instructor of plumbing, pipe and refrigeration trades at Camosun College. “There are old print resources, but these were created 20 years ago and they are not available electronically. We decided to create a set of updated text books that would be available in multiple electronic formats, free for use and adaptable by instructors.”
B.C. signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2014 to work together on open education resources. The MOU makes it easier to share resources and develop open textbooks to benefit students and instructors in all three provinces.