Open Textbook Project eases costs for students

Carson Varney’s responsibilities include a two-year-old son, with another child expected soon, and rent payments, all while attending Camosun College

It makes the $600 to $1,000 he saves in a year through British Columbia’s Open Textbook Project that much more important. The Open Textbook initiative allows him to use materials online, download or print them.

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“It’s super user-friendly,” said the 26-year-old, who moved from Comox for his first year in refrigeration technology. “And the best aspect is not having to pay.”

The project began in 2012 and is the first initiative of its kind in Canada.

An estimated 17,000 post-secondary students in B.C. have used the online materials.

The Open Textbook Project began with $1 million in provincial funding spent with BCcampus, a government project office set up to assist post-secondary educators in B.C.

The following year, a further $1 million was spent.

More than 160 textbooks are available online. Students sign into a password-protected website and find the works they require.

The project began with widely studied subjects, such as math and sciences, but has expanded to include course materials for trades and technology areas, such as plumbing, pipe-fitting and health care.

Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson, at Camosun College this week to talk with students using the material, said the initiative is part of the government’s determination to make post-secondary education as affordable as possible.

Wilkinson said the province has about 430,000 students attending 25 public institutions and that use of online textbooks has only just beginning.

“We expect this to grow rapidly,” he said.

Eric Sehn, dean of technology and trades at Camosun College, said online textbooks have an enormous advantage over traditional texts in that they can be easily updated.

Faculty members revise and update material themselves, he said.

The result is collaboration among faculty members across the province.

“You might get one instructor saying: ‘For me this one section was a bit clunky, so I added a video,’ ” Sehn said. “It supports and bolsters collaboration.

“What we see is faculty members start talking with one another, students start talking with one another and we get this momentum building.

“I am happy to encourage that.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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