“That’ll be $0, please”: Art History forgoes textbooks, embraces open education

At the start of the summer semester, Langara Art History students discovered that their learning materials this term will cost them nothing. This surely came as a relief to many struggling with financial instability, limited library access, and delayed textbook deliveries related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ten sections of AHIS 1114, AHIS 1115, and AHIS 1214 are now using a combination of open educational resources (OER) from Khan Academy, the Helibrunn Timeline of Art, and other museum databases for required readings.

The Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) model is gaining momentum amongst Canadian post-secondary institutions. ZTC courses forego costly commercial textbooks in favour of OER and/or library materials that students can access for free. Kwantlen Polytechnic University currently offers seven ZTC programs, including a Bachelor of Arts Degree in General Studies.

By Department Chair Dr. Alena Buis’ calculations, Art History’s ZTC courses will save students $44,544 in the current semester alone. This impressive number is not captured in the data Langara records in partnership with BCcampus, which calculates cost savings for classes that have replaced a commercial textbook with a single open textbook (versus OER more broadly).

According to Alena, the quick transition to fully online instruction prompted, but was not entirely responsible, for Art History’s move to the ZTC model. The values that underpin the open education movement—affordable, accessible, high-quality education for all—resonate deeply with Alena, who currently holds an OER Research Fellowship sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She also teaches at Kwantlen, a national leader in open education.

Alena expressed gratitude and admiration for her fellow Art History instructors Anne Kristiansen and Randip Bakshi, who have embraced the changes with enthusiasm and a spirit of curiosity. Together they are exploring how the ZTC model dovetails with open educational practices. “We are going to have some fantastic critical, creative projects come out of [Anne and Randip’s] innovative pedagogy,” said Alena. “[We’re] ready for [the new semester] and will be endeavouring to provide students with an exceptional learning experience.”

For more information about how to incorporate open educational resources and practices into your teaching, visit Langara’s Open Education website or contact Open Langara at open@langara.ca.

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