When we started the Adaptation Learning Network project in 2019, we committed to making everything we created Open. This included all course materials, content and resources. Our rationale was simple. The planet is on fire and we need everyone to be able to access the knowledge, skills, tools and resources they need to put the fire out and protect us from future fires. While education providers would need to charge fees for courses convened by an instructor, we wanted to make sure the content in those courses would be available to all, in open repositories.
As it turns out, that’s a pretty radical idea in higher education. In the continuing studies world, it’s almost unheard of. So by trying to do what we perceived as the right thing, we unintentionally created another major sub-project for the ALN for which we had neither a plan nor budget.
In plain language, Open Educational Resources (OERs) use a Creative Commons (CC) license that allows other people to reuse, remix and redistribute them for free. That’s the opposite of traditional copyright licenses that forbid those things.
The hope with open publishing is that, once you put something out into the world with a CC license, someone will take your idea and build on it to make it even better. This kind of thinking is the foundation of innovation and something we need more of if we’re going to adapt successfully to climate change.
To meet our goal of creating a library of Open Educational Resources (OERs) through the ALN, we’d have to overcome several barriers.
Starting on Day One, we had to invest heavily in helping our university partners, subject matter experts, funders and community members understand what OER means, how the licensing works, and why it would be a good thing for them.
Fortunately, there’s excellent research available that demonstrates that publishing a book or course as an OER can generate more reach, revenue and impact than doing so in a fee-for-service or product way. Why? Because more people find and use your work, which improves awareness of and respect for your work. Additionally, the true value of most educational experiences comes from interactions with the instructor or facilitator, and others in the course – not just the textbook or slide deck. So most people will still pay to take a course, even if the materials are available free of charge.
Once we had our partners on board, we turned to the next challenge – building a repository for all the OERs we were creating, along with the courses themselves.
This was tricky, as it had many layers to it. We had to ensure that the course designers weren’t including materials in their courses that were covered by traditional copyright.
We also had to find a platform that was easy to use – and would be maintained after the project was complete in 2022.
Finally, we had to find someone to do all this work, along with a way to pay them.
To do this, we engaged several experts, including Dr. Tannis Morgan, Krista Lambert and Amanda Coolidge, all OER experts at BCcampus. They helped us develop systems to organize and manage our digital assets so we could get them into the OER Commons Repository – the global home of Open resources for education.
Once we had a workflow established to support our Open strategy for course creation, we then had to figure out a digital format for the courses, to assure that videos and other rich media would work and be accessible.
We turned to BCcampus to see if their Pressbooks platform would work as a way to share course materials where rich media could actually work as intended. A Pressbook is essentially a digital container for a course and all its digital assets, a bit like a website (in fact, this report is published in a Pressbook.) By teaming up with the BCcampus Pressbooks initiative, we were able to reproduce all of the ALN courses, which were originally developed in “closed” learning management systems in each participating university (e.g. Moodle, Canvas and Brightspace) into an open format that anyone in the world could access, share and adapt for future uses.
Here is an example of a course module on the BCcampus site.
However, we wanted to extend our reach beyond British Columbia. So we contacted our web hosting partner weAdapt to see if they’d be interested in adding climate adaptation courses to their extensive knowledge management library. The timing was perfect as they were just starting to look at expanding their information services to include educational resources. In the final year of the project, we worked with weADAPT to make all of the courses and materials openly available through this international platform with its singular focus on supporting the climate adaptation community.
Despite the initial concerns of some universities about our Open mandate, it appears that it did not affect enrolment, and all of our university partners were able to include these courses in their continuing studies portfolios. A total of 579 students enrolled and paid for their participation in the 10 courses offered via ALN.
Over the three years of the project, we also saw the Open approach generate several additional benefits, including access to materials for learners once a course was complete and the option for learners to share course content and tools with colleagues outside the course.
Additionally, as more people with Royal Roads University and our other academic partners grew comfortable with the concept of Open, we saw them begin to adopt it on their own as a design principle for future courses – which is a significant legacy of this work. Specifically, the new Master of Arts in Climate Action Leadership is a fully open program by design, built to encourage the amplification and growth of climate action knowledge and capacity.