OER in Canada

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Major Canadian Initiatives and Collaborative Partnerships

Creative Commons Canada

Born from the global open education movement, the creation and use of OER benefits from the development and use of Creative Commons licences, which provide the legal framework to share these resources. A non-profit organization, Creative Commons "develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation." It has created a set of free licensing tools permitting authors/developers to share, reuse, and remix materials (including, but limited to OER) with an explicit "some rights reserved", but others clearly allowed, approach to copyright.

As an affiliate of this larger body, Creative Commons Canada (CC Canada) is a collaborative initiative comprising the Samuelson Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), BCcampus and AU. Working with members of artistic, education, government, private business, cultural, scientific and technological groups, CC Canada aims to

advance the mission of goals of Creative Commons and communities it supports and enables, through the advancement of public education and outreach about CC licenses, tools, technology and programs, among other things, for the purpose of cultivating a cultural commons of shared intellectual, scientific, educational and creative content.
(CC Canada, 2012)

In addition to helping users choose licences and find cc-licensed work, CC Canada is a proponent of open government and the philosophy that government data should be accessible, shareable and re-usable under open licences by everyone. It is actively involved in this pursuit, studying how CC licences can be used by governments to make data available freely for public use.

Another CC Canada project is being spearheaded by its legal team at CIPPIC, which is researching the development of user-friendly tools that will provide comprehensive knowledge to users on how to analyze and use different open licenses. CC Canada has also launched a series of conferences (salons) country-wide to raise awareness of CC and its potential among different constituencies including educators, writers and artists.

Athabasca University

There is significant OER/OEP activity at AU. AU was the first university in Canada to join the OpenCourseware Consortium (OCWCC), and as of late 2012, was still the only Canadian member. AU has made available courses and course modules including multimedia objects at the AU OCW site licensed for use, generally with a Creative Commons Attribution licence. The materials contained in this site are open and free of charge for anyone to use.

AU is home to the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute (TEKRI), and the UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning Chair in OER, which promotes the use of OER at the institutional, national and international levels. The Chair is a member of the board of the international OER Foundation, which hosts the OER university (OER u), an international consortium of universities, community colleges and other organizations supporting pathways to accreditation using OER. Athabasca University is a founding partner in the OER u and a partner in the re-launch of Creative Commons Canada described above.

AU is particularly well-suited for participation in the assessment and accreditation of informal learners, as is the goal of the OER u initiative. The Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) program at AU has been a feature of this open university for many years through the Centre for Learning Accreditation. Through PLAR, the university awards credit towards a degree or certificate based on the recognition of learning acquired through life experience, job training, workshops, seminars or other experience. AU also has a well-established Challenge for Credit policy that allows people to demonstrate that they are proficient in the subject matter of a specific course, without having to take that course. Credit is given based on a challenger's knowledge of the course content and the payment of a testing fee.. Transfer credits from other universities across Canada, the USA, and internationally are readily recognizable at AU. And, it is the only Canadian university that has US accreditation (through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education) and so AU credits are likewise recognized across North America and internationally.

With respect to actual policy-making, AU has drafted an OER policy slated for release in 2013. It is presently being reviewed through consultations with the AU community and a strategy for integration with course development is being established. (A policy on intellectual property is also being developed and is scheduled for release in 2013).

As previously mentioned, AU policy on open access already exists, and emphasizes the belief that access to information and knowledge defines both the classical and modern university; to this end, it encourages making results of research accessible to everyone and has made a public commitment to Open Access research publishing. This started with the AU library in 2005, with the implementation of AUSpace, a DSpace repository of scholarly articles, theses and other documents produced in the AU community.

In addition, AUPress at AU was the first open access university press in Canada. It publishes all titles under open access licence and in multiple formats including print (at a cost) and PDF (no cost). In a research paper comparing AUPress sales using data from Amazon, the print book sales of AU Press compared favourably with sales of other university presses in Canada (McGreal, Shen, McNamara, 2012).

In addition, the Athabasca University Graduate Student Association (AUGSA) has developed two policies it is proposing to government around open access. A draft document, designed for provincial government action, asks for the introduction of policies to deliver publicly funded research findings back to the public in Open Access publication formats, as well as legislation for the integration of OA with authors, institutions and other funding agencies.

A second draft policy to the federal government includes requests for the three federal research funding councils (SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR) to adopt a policy to ensure that all findings produced with publicly funded research are made available in Open Access formats; calls upon individual researchers to publish in Open Access journals and/or deposit their peer-reviewed manuscripts in Open Access repositories; requests academic institutions to adopt policies that mandate researchers to publish all their post-refereed manuscripts in an Open Access format; and supports the creation, maintenance, archival, promotion, standardization and interoperability of Open Access repositories at the institutional and national agency level.

In addition, the AUGSA report - augsa - open education canada.pdf Canada's Contribution to the Commons makes several recommendations to administration and faculty in support of OER. These include adopting open practices, incentivizing OER, open access publishing, and using open textbooks (Coffin, 2012).

Editors from AU's scholarly journal, the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), were instrumental (through appeals and lobbying) for the SSHRC aide to scholarly publication program to reverse itself from discriminatory funding prohibiting funding for OA journals to the current policy that supports not only OA journals, and now promotes open access more widely.

The AU Centre for Learning Design and Development (CLDD) staff are building an inventory of existing OER produced and used in AU courses. Training for faculty and staff in the identification, evaluation, selection and adaptation of OER for adoption as learning resources in courses is currently being implemented, and there is an extensive list of OER/OEP activities undertaken and underway for internal and external audiences, including, but not limited to:

  • Development of an OER repository and database;
  • OER research;
  • A mapping exercise of international activity related to OER;
  • Open education/open access activities (presentations, workshops, conferences, etc.);
  • the OER Knowledge Cloud;
  • the OER Global Graduate Network;
  • OER awareness survey (internal);
  • OER u courses, e-texts and AU press book on OER;
  • OER evaluation (development of a matrix to assist internal staff to evaluate OER); and
  • Open Education MOOC.

AU researchers/course designers developed an OER in English Second Language Grammar for use on mobile devices as early as 2006 and has also adapted and delivered its first online graduate course adapted and developed entirely from an existing Australian OER in Green Computing. In addition, AU has delivered MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on Change and Open Education. These were made available freely online.

Finally, AU President, Frits Pannekoek is working on the idea and development of "The Best First Year Online" - an OER option that:

would consist of a digital repository of the world's best courses for a generic first-year university program….The courses would all be made available online - fully accessible, totally free, completely adaptable, always changing and, to ensure intellectual excellence, peer reviewed. They would represent the best pedagogy in combination with the best available content
(Pannekoek, n.d., p. 6)

Government of Alberta

Alberta, without making direct commitments has been actively supporting OER initiatives for several years. In 1999, the Campus Alberta Repository of Educational Objects (CAREO) was funded to promote the sharing of open learning resources within Alberta. In 2007, the Alberta Rural Development Network was funded for a project called Blaze for Delivery of Open Educational Resources.pdf Blaze to work with the Canadian Virtual College Consortium, to test the feasibility of using Flintbox for the dissemination of OER, particularly to developing countries. Unfortunately, these initiatives were not funded after the initial investment and eventually were closed. Another limited project that is still extant is the Alberta Core (Collaborative Online Resource Environment) and the LearnAlberta.Ca site at the K-12 level. These are limited quasi-open initiatives, restricting the openness on some resources to provincial or institutional teachers similar to the BCcampus so-called BC Commons licence (See below.)

Through its Access to the Future Program, the Alberta Department of Enterprise and Advanced Education has been financially supporting OER initiatives at Athabasca University. These include a project to promote OER within the university and search out and identify reusable objects for courses and support for the AU UNESCO/COL Chair in OER, which is charged with promoting the use of OER institutionally, provincially and internationally.

BC Campus

BCcampus, arguably the most active collaborative Canadian organization in the OER arena, is a publicly funded service which has turned to open concepts and methods to create a sustainable approach to online learning for BC public post-secondary institutions.

Founding director, David Porter (n.d.) a Sustainable Online Consortium report.pdf wrote that BCcampus was

created to enhance students' ability to not only identify, choose, register for and take courses but also to apply any academic credits earned against credentials from a selected home institution…(it) was also intended to benefit institutions through the rationalization of demand for academic opportunities from students with the supply of online courses from BC public post-secondary institutions.

A participant in the OER u initiative, BCcampus is a leading proponent of OER. It has been operating a provincially limited "open" initiative since 2003. Supported by annual Ministry of Advanced Education government funding for a cumulative total to 2012 of $9.5million, BCcampus projects produce online lessons that are available for free sharing and reuse among educators within the provincial post-secondary system.

BCcampus is currently at work to develop and establish higher level government policy for OER, drafted in alignment with the Government of BC "open government" policy. The BCcampus OER initiative has produced extensive documentation (including calls for proposals, summary of outcomes, and analysis of results) around the use, creation and adoption of OER. In addition, it is currently providing OER program and policy advice to eCampus Alberta for its Online Course Development Fund and to Contact North for potential use in the yet to be launched Ontario Online Institute (P. Stacey, personal communication, April 18, 2012).

All BC public post-secondary institutions participate in the BCcampus OER initiative. A feature of the grants for course development through the Online Program Development Fund (OPDF) is that extensive inter-institutional collaboration is required. The vast majority of development is done collaboratively, involving two or more institutions. While BC post-secondary institutions are the lead developers for all OPDF initiatives, many projects have outside partners including associations, non-profit groups, societies, school districts, First Nation groups, federal government agencies, private sector companies, and higher education institutions outside of BC. The contributions of these partners are significant and their participation broadens the reach and benefits of OPDF development activities across sectors and beyond.

As projects complete their development cycle, they are licensed for sharing and uploaded to the BCcampus Shareable Online Learning Resources repository (SOL*R), which enables the licensing, contribution, and access to free online teaching and learning resources. SOL*R adheres to the OER principles of sharing, discovery, reuse and remixing of learning objects (from individual activities to full courses) from a variety of disciplines and subject areas. SOL*R also has a search engine that enables one to search for resources by field of study, subject area, contributing institution and other attributes. (Stacey, P., personal communication, April 13, 2012).

The OPDF provides developers with the option to license their work under the global terms of a Creative Commons licence or, in what might be seen as a strategic move to promote OER/OEP, to use a BC Commons licence which restricts sharing to a local environment (the BC public post-secondary system) and audience (post-secondary faculty and staff only). This, according to Stacey (2006), "provides developers with an opportunity to experience sustainable development benefits through sharing on a local level, amongst peers, before considering the larger global context." More than 90% of the OPDF developers have taken this BC-only route. Stacey contends that this provincially-confined openness step has reduced fears that the sharing and reuse of one's material comes with a loss of control over authorship, while promoting critical knowledge of how open licences work in relation to copyright in a sheltered BC environment. However, as these fears recede, Stacey contends that there will be more use of national and international Creative Commons type licences. On the other hand, it could be seen by others as an unnecessary concession to recalcitrant faculty.

BCcampus has been operating its initiative through the annual BCcampus OPDF since its conception in 2003. It follows from previous Canadian course development programmes initiated by Contact North and TeleEducation NB in the 1990s (Anderson, 1991, McGreal, 2000). The BC OPDF achievements include the creation of more than 350 courses and nearly 400 course components leading to 47 credentials, although less than 10% of these are openly licensed, most being under the BC Commons licence and restricted for use only by BC post-secondary institutions. Interestingly, Athabasca University has been recognized officially as a BC documented university, and so also has access to these BC only materials.

Specifically in support of OER, other BCcampus initiatives are underway. This includes the major open textbook initiative announced by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology. Another initiative is the implementation of an OER initiative around apprenticeships for the trades in partnership with BC's Industry Training Authority. BCCampus is also working with the North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO), building on the success of the Web-based Science Laboratory (RWSL) Remote Web-based Science Laboratory (RWSL) and open educational science courseware previously developed by BCcampus.

BCcampus hosted a working forum on OER for senior post-secondary institution representatives in Vancouver in October, 2012 with the objective of developing a common understanding of what OER could mean for BC and building a shared vision of how to develop and use them. The session also studied ways BC can take advantage of the promise of OER and specifically, open textbooks. This coincided with the announcement by the Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology that they will collaborate with post-secondary institutions in implementing an open textbook policy in anticipation of their use in B.C. institutions as early as 2013-14, supporting students taking the 40 popular post-secondary courses (BC Ministry, 2012). The development of this open textbook initiative is scheduled to take place with input from B.C. faculty, institutions and publishers through an open Request for Proposal process co-ordinated by BCcampus.

The forum was heralded as

an opportunity to put on the table real action plans for institutions, heads of teaching and learning centres, VP's/Presidents, and government. Action can be small or big, policy or practice, cost or no-cost. Action can be something an institution pursues autonomously or done in collaboration with others across the BC system and globally. This event provides us with the opportunity to move BC forward so hearing action plan recommendations will be very helpful for the Ministry, for institutions and for BCcampus.
(Stacey, 2012)

Government of British Columbia

The BC Campus forum was called to discuss OER because of the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation & Technology announcement previously mentioned, in which it made a public commitment to OER, working with BCcampus. Ian Rongve, BC Assistant Deputy Minister, Advanced Education (AVED), wrote that "BCcampus is prominent in the open education movement and AVED's sponsorship of the BCcampus initiative demonstrates a proactive approach to supporting education and training initiatives that promote the use and reuse of open resources" (Rongve, personal communication, May 16, 2012). He also directly referenced the government's acknowledgement of open educational practices and confirms its support and funding of openly licensed education. Although Rongve did not confirm the exact status of OER policy development, he noted "discussions regarding open licensing of educational materials are ongoing . . . ." The Ministry has a history of involvement in open education in British Columbia, and continues "to explore new options and opportunities in this evolving domain of practice" (Rongve, ibid).

OCAD U Inclusive Design Research Centre (OCAD-IDRC)

IDRC, a research and development centre at OCAD U in Ontario, consists of an international community of open source software developers, designers, researchers, advocates and volunteers working collaboratively to ensure that emerging information technology and practices are designed inclusively. Based on a philosophy of sharing and supporting open standards, open access and open source, the IDRC distributes it work as broadly as possible to encourage participation in its initiatives. The learning technologies and products that have been developed and distributed by IDRC are distributed under the GNU General Public License meaning that the code is open source and requires users to share product on the same liberal licensing that they have acquired it.

A key project, FLOE (Flexible Learning for Open Education) is one of the Centre's biggest initiatives. It has received substantial funding from the Hewlett Foundation and the European Commission. FLOE takes advantage of the fact they have a set of curricula that is openly licensed that can be repurposed and reused to make content accessible. Jutta Treviranus, Director of the IDRC, recognizes that the FLOE strategy is very much co-dependent on OER (J. Treviranus, personal communication, October 6, 2012).

In the public description of the FLOE project, Treviranus (Ontario College of Art & Design, 2010) wrote that the work being done demonstrates how OER presents an optimal learning environment to meet the needs of all learners, including those with disabilities. Supporting the OER community in providing a sustainable, integrated approach to accessible learning and addressing the needs of learners who currently face barriers, FLOE advances the strengths and values of open education and encourages pedagogical and technical innovation. FLOE also promotes content portability, ease of updating, internationalization and localization, content reuse and repurposing, and more efficient and effective content discovery.

FLOE's work is international and broad: to support adoption in Africa and other areas where mobile devices are more prevalent than internet access, FLOE is acting to create critical tools and services for delivery of OER via audio-only, text messages and the small screens found on popular cell phones. These same tools and services are intended to support accessibility, adding a compelling motivation for OER adoption of inclusive design.

FLOE's goals include:

  • development of an engaging outreach and awareness program for both the OER community and the accessibility community to encourage collaboration in meeting diverse learner needs;
  • enabling learners to identify their specific learning needs;
  • supporting OER producers to create and label transformable content, and OER repositories or portals to match learning needs with suitable OER through a set of embeddable components and services to be integrated into OER initiatives;
  • creation of demand services that recruit the online community and alternative format services to provide resource alternatives that meet unmet learner needs;
  • collaborating with mainstream Web developers to integrate individualized learning delivery into common tools; and
  • assisting the OER community in meeting the commitment to inclusive learning
(Ontario College of Art & Design, 2010)

Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Open Learning

Irwin DeVries, Director, Instructional Design, TRU is acting for Thompson Rivers University as the Open Learning representative to the OER University project (OER u), of which TRU is a Founding Anchor Partner. This is an international collaboration among 20 institutions and organizations, including BCcampus and Athabasca University in Canada. TRU is working with several of these institutions providing initial prototype courses to the project. TRU Open Learning, like AU, has a robust PLAR system that includes challenge examinations and transfer of credit, which makes it a key partner in the OER u assessment and accreditation project.

Contact North

Contact North/Contact Nord is Ontario's distance education and training network. It works to provide programming from public college, universities and schools with a focus in smaller towns, rural and remote communities. Contact North works with Ontario institutions to help develop strategic, cost-effective and focused approaches to online learning. Contact North is investing in new online courses and programs based on their groundbreaking Northern course development model used in the 1990s (Anderson, 1991). Their new model is to create OER modelling the BCcampus approach according to S. Murgatroyd (personal communication, April 11, 2012). Stephen Murgatroyd is the Chief Innovation Officer at Contact North.

Contact North (October 2011) published a position paper on OER, "Open Educational Resources (OER) Opportunities for Ontario" which "set(s) out the case for OER and how their adoption can benefit all the key stakeholders in post-secondary education in Ontario" (p. 2). The paper has been discontinued online without explanation.

Ontario Online Institute (OOI)

The OOI is a 2010 conception of the Ontario provincial government, which has yet to be realized. The Institute was intended to join Ontario colleges, universities and training institutions in an effort to maximize online learning opportunities for students. In his April, 2011 recommendations for the implementation of an OOI, Maxim Jean-Louis, Contact North President/CEO and special advisor to the Minister wrote that the creation and goals of an OOI would be to "facilitate the sharing of digital resources by establishing a repository of shared online learning resources and facilitate collaboration between all education and training providers" (Jean-Louis, M. 2011, p. 74). Jean-Louis (2011) further stressed the benefits of online learning and the need for a clear (government) policy framework for online learning in Ontario, hinting in several places of the need to move toward open and shared collaboration of online resources and to adopt innovative use of technology.

Unfortunately, digital resources in Ontario are not clearly identified as being OER and it cannot be assumed that this is the direction being proposed, despite Tony Bates' comments that "the recommendations suggest an organization very similar to BC Campus in British Columbia" (Bates, personal blog, 2012). Will it be a quasi-open licence only for Ontario like the BC Commons one or will the content be OER?

Government of Ontario

Similar to other provinces surveyed for this research, the Ontario government currently uses a password-protected learning object repository (LOR) to share resources amongst primary and secondary teachers, and to manage ownership and copyright. Although Ontario has worked with the OCAD's IDRC people to develop policy related to accessibility, and there is a degree of activity province-wide at different institutional levels with respect to OER/OEP, to date there is no evidence that any provincial policy related to OER is being considered.

Royal Roads University

Spearheaded by Mary Burgess, Director, Centre for Teaching and Educational Technologies, Royal Roads University has just started an OER project to enable the sharing of selected course content, including multimedia objects, custom Moodle code and Moodle training units. The primary object of the project is to share Royal Roads on-line instructional resources with the rest of the educational community and to share their learning of the process such that other institutions are encouraged to do so as well and are supported in that endeavour (Burgess, M., personal communication, April 15, 2012). Royal Roads has been supported in its OER project by BCcampus.

University of Manitoba

Dr. Lori Wallace, Dean of Extended Education stated that "using, repurposing and sharing OER, and developing a business model for OER are items on UM Extended Education's Strategic Priorities plan. On both items, we plan to collaborate with our CVU partner universities." (L. Wallace, personal communication, April 13, 2012).

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Maurice Barry is the director of program development, Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation for the Department of Education, Newfoundland and Labrador (K12). The CDLI has prepared thousands of learning objects and makes them freely available from its website; but, they are all provided under a restrictive "all rights reserved" licence. At last count there were approximately 34 courses with materials and several thousand individual learning objects. These objects were developed in-house using provincial government funding. However, since 2008, less emphasis has been placed on the creation of learning objects and very few projects have been approved. Nonetheless, Barry states they are not "taking a back seat with respect to what they are doing, and want to accomplish, with OER in their province" (M. Barry, M., personal communication, April 19, 2012).


On the other hand, Mark Hunter, Post-Secondary Policy and Program Specialist with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador noted that the Department of Advanced Education and Skills would not draft policies for OER in higher education because provincial post-secondary institutions have autonomy from government. He also pointed out that they would not be in support of any national policy for OER (M. Hunter, personal communication, April 16, 2012).

This disagreement from two professionals in different departments of the same government is a good example of the confusion that exists over OER. This is typical of differences across the country.

Government of Quebec

In Quebec, the government differs from other provincial governments regarding copyright protection in education and so is not inclined to be supportive of OER initiatives. Quebec, as Canada's only officially French-speaking province, has a thriving local francophone cultural industry, unlike the anglophone provinces that tend to rely on US cultural imports. So, the protection of the French culture in Quebec is a paramount concern and as such they are much more concerned about protecting their publishers and authors than they are about supporting open content for their educational institutions. They use the term "droit d'auteur" to translate the term "copyright", which is more in keeping with the European custom emphasizing the rights of the copyright owners over the rights of learners and other consumers. Membres du Comité sur le droit d'auteur de l'Association nationale des éditeurs de livres [Members of the committee on author's rights {copyright} of the National Association of Book Editors have been particularly vocal in expressing their opinions (Foulon, Jetté, Saint-Jean, et al., 2006). And the Quebec government has been alone of all the governments in Canada opposing the educational exemption to copyright (Geist, 2006).

Still, the higher education sector of the Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports has supported some limited projects that release content as OER, including the shared collegiate platform DECclic. Normetic is another project under the Quebec working group on norms and standards for content interoperability that can be applied to OER, but is not specifically aimed at supporting them.

Téléuniversité - Université du Québec à Montréal (TéLUQ)

TéLUQ has a policy on the dissemination of educational resources - Politique de gestion de la diffusion des ressources d'enseignement et d'apprentissage (REA). These policies relate to learning content in general and could include OER, but are also designed for proprietary content. Raymond Duchesne, General Director, noted that because TéLUQ faculty retain the intellectual property of all original material they produce for teaching, institutional policy has limited impact on what professors do with their material outside TÉLUQ (Duchesne, personal communication, April 18, 2012).

Simon Fraser University (SFU)

Helen Wussow, Dean, SFU wrote that her department (Lifelong Learning), is not involved in any OER initiatives, and commented that "any OER initiatives at SFU are faculty member specific. I know of one faculty member who puts all his lectures and course materials online as OER, but he is unique" (Wussow, H., personal communication, May 14, 2012).

Capilano University

Instructors at Capilano University have developed an OpenCourseWare site that is a free and open educational resource, but there is no evidence of any institutional support.


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