The benefits of student-created materials

By Natalie Chu

The average UBC student pays $829 on textbooks each school year. Between the high cost of textbooks, tuition, student fees, and overall living in Vancouver, many UBC students have to make academic sacrifices. 70% of these students reported using an outdated textbook or not using a textbook at all, while 20% reported they may need to abandon their studies altogether.

Open Educational Resources (OERs) can help ease the financial burden. OERs are free course materials that are available to anyone, ranging from online textbooks to video series and anything in between. While hardcopy textbooks still rule the lecture hall, OERs are gaining momentum. Great news for students but it still takes professors long hours and lots of behind the scenes work to create or customize OERs materials. However, there are some professors who have dedicated their time to equitable accessibility by creating and implementing OERs in their classes, and we want to celebrate these OER champions.

 

Dr. Janette Bulkan introduced OERs in 2016

AMS OERDr. Janette Bulkan is a UBC professor in the Department of Forest Resource Management and teaches courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including Aboriginal Forestry, and Community Forests and Community Forestry. In these courses, student-created open educational resources (OERs) are a large part of students’ learning. Dr. Bulkan talks about the positive impacts that she sees when students are involved in producing OERs.

“I introduced OERs, I believe in 2016, getting my students to create UBC Wiki pages. There was this opportunity because these courses are very writing heavy.”

Final projects in these types of courses typically include producing a large research paper on topics like natural resource management or natural resources in Canada. “It seemed a pity to write about these issues just for a class,” says Dr. Bulkan. So instead, with the help of the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT), students produce online informational pages. These online pages, which students have the option to make public, contain all the same information as a final paper might.

Dr. Bulkan explains, “The students create the pages with me. They choose a topic, find at least eight credible sources, annotate the sources, and I give them a structure they can choose to follow. The CTLT would teach them how to embed different images or maps, and help students avoid plagiarism.”

The pages that have been made accessible to the public are then used by other students and community members at UBC and across the globe. Some of the pages have even risen to the top of search engine results pages, for others to learn from.

“Students are privileged to have the space to see public issues and can use this opportunity to advocate for public good. They’ve done good work and gathered information for people to use globally, where people don’t have access to all the same resources we do.”

 

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Dr. Bulkan has also seen how the student-crafted wiki pages go further than just information sharing. “Some people have found the sites and found the author, and they have started conversations surrounding the work and topics that students write about.”

Beyond educating others using these resources, Dr. Bulkan explains that the students who create OERs benefit on a personal level. “For some students, it’s the first time they’ve had to write an essay. The students read, synthesize, get their own conceptual framing, and learn to have confidence in themselves and their own point of view. That’s really satisfying.”

For other students, their work has helped influence their lives beyond the classroom. “Some students have come back and said to me, ‘I linked the page at the top of my CV, and I got the job!’ Some people have found certain sites and found the author and started deeper conversations about the topic.”

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