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OER24 Guest Post – It’s simple: Ontario’s open education movement is about our learners

By eCampusOntario

It’s not surprising. In Canada, learners who complete higher education have much better employment prospects and earn significantly more than those without a diploma or degree.

Nearly 64% of Ontario residents 25-64 years of age earn a higher education credential. Still, youth who do not have employment, education or training are at much higher risk of being left behind without the same resilience or opportunities for a better future. 

We prioritize the learner to expand participation in higher education.

Since 2019, Ontario learners have saved more than $22 million by using open education resources (OER) that reduce mandatory textbook fees for the assigned resources in their courses. Nearly 450 educators have selected open resources from our collection, adopting them in about 4,500 course sections, and we are ready to grow OER use. 

The evaluation of OER efficacy beyond affordability requires that we put learners at the centre of what we do. Although affordability is a social justice issue, our measures of success must evolve beyond savings. We know the higher education achievement gap of marginalized populations in our province continues to widen. The growth of the open movement offers us new opportunities to share knowledge and raise the voices of diverse learners across our higher education system. 

Listening to evolve and expand access to higher education among underserved learners is necessary. Ontario covers more than 1 million km2 with urban, rural, and remote communities. Our province is home to over 13.5 million people, nearly 270,000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people, and almost 100,000 people immigrate annually. Nearly 120 first languages are spoken across our province each day among people with intersecting social identities, histories, cultural perspectives and experiences of oppression or discrimination.

We customize OER to promote access and interest in digital higher learning.

We moderate communities of practice, host events, and facilitate OER creation sprints to increase the availability of high-quality OER in our collection. Educators can develop original resources or adapt and translate OER to address local needs and reflect regional social, economic and political trends. We recognize diverse contributors’ voices, incorporating local expertise and experiences. Educators are customizing their approach, creating new learner access and interest in academic programming, especially in small or remote communities. 

Ontario’s higher education open community is creating and adapting OER to remove barriers for learners with different preferences, learning styles, and abilities. Educators are adding elements to comply with the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and align content with Universal Design for Learning principles to support inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. 

Our efforts build capacity to sustain Ontario’s open movement. 

Experts from Indigenous institutes, colleges and universities are helping to inform the broader higher education open community with lessons learned, best practices, scenarios and OER as pedagogical support resources. OER Rangers form a network of champions across the province who share best practices in our communities of practice and brainstorm possibilities to take back to their institutions. From Working Groups to Communities of Practice and entire OER departments, institutions are now developing policies and guidelines to promote open education and support OER implementation. 

Sharing our knowledge will help us sustain the open movement across the sector, supporting digital higher education participation for years to come. Our learners will continue to help us apply an equitable lens and inform our understanding of OER efficacy and use. 

Learn more about eCampusOntario and our work to broaden learner access and fulfill learner ambitions through open education at www.ecampusontario.ca.

Thanks to data available at Statistics Canada https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/start and open education resources in the eCampusOntario Open Library https://openlibrary.ecampusontario.ca/.

OER24 is next week 27-28 March 2024. The 15th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy will be organised by ALT, in partnership with Munster Technological University (MTU).

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