4. eCampusOntario: Seneca College, University of Guelph, and Ryerson University

eCampusOntario is an educational not-for-profit corporation that supports all public institutions in the province of Ontario. They specialize specifically in learning technologies and finding digital solutions to common problems in higher education. The following case studies can be seen as representative of the experiences an OER program may have when working with a not-for-profit consortium to create OER. In addition, these case studies can be representative of Canadian institutions of various sizes, types, and modes of administration.

Structure

eCampusOntario is “a not-for-profit corporation […] funded by the Government of Ontario to be a centre of excellence in online and technology-enabled learning for all publicly-funded colleges and universities in Ontario.”[1] One such technology that the eCampusOntario corporation provides for its schools is access to a hosted Pressbooks network for open textbook production. The reach of eCampusOntario covers 21 Ontario universities and 24 colleges to total 45 institutions with Pressbooks access in all. Among these are Seneca College, University of Guelph, and Ryerson University.

Funding

Seneca College has begun to invest resources into an open educational resources program, but the program itself is in its beginning stages. Funding authors for open educational resources is a challenge that the school faces: “Seventy percent of our faculty are either part-time or partial load – they’re not full-time faculty,” Peters states.[2] Full-time faculty qualify for course releases, and part-time faculty do not, which adds an extra layer to the difficulty of finding willing authors on campus.

The University of Guelph OER program has funded two projects so far. The program paid $8,000, which was the cost of a course release, to have a faculty member create one of these projects.[3] Another project had funding from three different sources on campus. Verluis finds that funding efforts for the program can be a challenge because of changes in the government of Ontario; in the wake of a more conservative provincial government, Guelph sees finding a sustainable funding structure for their OER production program as a time-sensitive goal.

Ryerson has received grants through eCampusOntario in order to actualize projects, helping to establish credibility for the program as they push off the initiative. No centralized funding currently exists at Ryerson for OER, though individual departments may operate differently within the institution. The library also has a grant model coming into effect soon.[4]

Administration

The OER program at Seneca College has not yet produced an open text, though one faculty member is using the eCampusOntario Pressbooks network to adapt an already existing text. The Seneca OER Committee is a sub-committee of the Educational Technology Advisory Committee at Seneca College. Jennifer Peters, eLearning and Digital Literacies Librarian at Seneca, is a major part of the OER initiative on the campus and leads the OER sub-committee. Seneca has the benefit of a top-down OER initiative, according to Peters, with the push for open textbooks coming from the Academic VP of the college.[5]

The OER program at the University of Guelph itself is a consortium of three Ontario institutions’ libraries: the University of Guelph, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University. This program just had their first major text adoption on campus as of September 2018. Ali Versluis, Open Education Resources Librarian at the university has been forefront in the open text initiatives on the campus. According to Versluis, a few faculty members have used Pressbooks independently: “But this is sort of the first project the library has been involved in. It’s the first project in what will be an OER publishing program. So we’re really figuring a lot of stuff out.”[6] In this preliminary stage, their workflow involved helping the authoring faculty member learn the Pressbooks interface and connecting them with other individuals and resources, including the eCampusOntario consortium, through which the university currently accesses Pressbooks.

Guelph has major plans for the future, however; the institution plans to establish and run their own local instance of Pressbooks in order to facilitate workflows that are currently difficult or impossible while working under the eCampusOntario umbrella, due to their restrictions on non-derivative creative commons licenses, and other issues. Versluis states, “I would really like us to have a local instance because it would heighten visibility, be easier for tracking for our purposes – knowing who is using this tool on campus, rather than having to pester the eCampusOntario people to find out. Also, it would give us the opportunity to host things that are licensed in a specific way.”[7] Versluis believes that the university will acquire their local Pressbooks network either sometime during the fall 2018 academic semester or by the end of the following year, but sees the network as an inevitability for the institution. Versluis also foresees the benefits of having a brandable, standalone network for Guelph in helping boost visibility on campus.

Copyright and Scholarly Engagement Librarian Ann Ludbrook, as well as Web Services Librarian Sally Wilson have been at the forefront of the OER efforts at Ryerson University. Ryerson’s OER program isn’t entirely run through the library, but rather is a decentralized system that connects the library, the Office of eLearning, and the Learning and Teaching Office, though much of the program’s Pressbooks-centric work is done in the library. The program will sort OER projects into different platforms, like Pressbooks, according to need. They also work on campus outreach.[8]

Community Relations

In the OER program’s nascent stage at Seneca College, an OER committee serves as a central resource point for faculty who are interested in authoring an open textbook. Authors talk to liaison librarians, who then become consultants for OER. Peters states, “If the faculty is really interested in adapting something – they actually want to either customize a text or change examples, or add something to it, that’s when they can speak to the OER committee. They can talk about potential platforms.”[9] Currently, only a few individuals have been interested in that level of consultation, and only one project has gone forward. In the program’s current iteration, more of a focus is placed on reuse than creation and adaptation. Liaison librarians are not expected to participate in the publishing aspects of the workflow. In the program’s nascent stage, the committee serves as a central resource point for faculty who are interested in authoring an open textbook. Authors talk to liaison librarians, who then become consultants for OER. Peters states, “If the faculty is really interested in adapting something – they actually want to either customize a text or change examples, or add something to it, that’s when they can speak to the OER committee. They can talk about potential platforms.” Currently, only a few individuals have been interested in that level of consultation, and only one project has gone forward. In the program’s current iteration, more of a focus is placed on reuse than creation and adaptation. Liaison librarians are not expected to participate in the publishing aspects of the workflow.

The library at University of Guelph is in an ideal position to assist with the technological aspects of OER creation, like licensing and software. Versluis admits that currently the workflow is scattered as the library adjusts to the new program. They’re also trying to figure out how to make the program sustainable in the long term, while building visibility and strengthening relationships with faculty who may be interested in developing open educational resources. Versluis summarizes the goal of the program: “Further down the line, I’d love to see it as more of an expertise and an advisory capacity. It would be great to have the program be the one-stop shop.”[10] The librarian would assist in outlining workflows, provide technical support, and help faculty authors figure out who they need to contact to move forward with their project.

Ryerson University’s main role as publisher is to host Pressbooks for their faculty’s OER. Ludbrook and Wilson state that “We host Pressbooks, so that’s our primary publishing platform. Right now I think we have three books that we’ve published on that platform. And there are other ones that received grants from eCampusOntario, and once those books are completed they will also be published on that platform.”[11] Publication management has the potential to vary from case to case in the future, however.  The Ryerson OER program currently only offers assistance for OER projects when they’re approached by individuals on campus who are creating OER. Grants have become a major motivator on the campus for faculty to get involved in authoring open texts. The university also conducts workshops for faculty through the Ryerson Learning and Teaching Office, and other miscellaneous outreach efforts are conducted on a regular basis.

The Role of Pressbooks at eCampusOntario

Seneca College, the University of Guelph, and Ryerson University perceive their use of and intentions for Pressbooks in different ways.

Seneca’s Pressbooks network isn’t particularly active, with one author currently working on an adapted text. Peters feels that the network will in the future play a larger part in Seneca’s OER production, though they are likely to cater their consultation to each faculty’s skills and comfort with technology.[12]

The University of Guelph’s opted for Pressbooks in part because they were interested in investing in a Canadian company for their OER creation tool. “The nice thing about using Pressbooks as a tool is that it is Canadian. So, we’re investing in Canadian infrastructure that’s in our country already,” states Versluis.[13] She also acknowledges that Pressbooks has been responsive, and excels at adapting and changing to accommodate clients’ requests. The University of Guelph also benefits from seeing that there are successful OER programs using Pressbooks to model themselves after, such as BCcampus.

Ryerson University finds that Pressbooks may not currently meet all of their needs when it comes to offering a platform for interactive, digital open textbooks. The Ryerson OER staff state, “[Users] don’t want the traditional textbook – very flat, no interactivity. You can still add a little bit with H5P,” Ludbrook states.[14]  H5P is a form of interactive content known as HTML5 Package, often used to integrate quizzes and other educational media in web-based texts. Currently, the program facilitates a more traditional approach to open resources through Pressbooks by replicating the format and function of a typical printed textbook. However, other methods may be used on the different platforms that Ryerson incorporates into their OER production program.

Barriers to Success

The three represented institutions associated with eCampusOntario experience various barriers to the success of their OER production programs. Lack of resources like time or money is just one reported impediment to the growth of a program. These schools also face challenges in finding texts to adopt, navigating intricate organization structures, and promoting open education as a viable alternative to commercial texts.

The largest barrier to success at Seneca College, according to Peters, is the ratio of part-time to full-time faculty eligible for OER course releases. Funding is a big part of this. Seneca College’s OER program. The program isn’t yet funded in a tangible way, aside from the librarians’ employment through the institution. Currently, faculty interested in creating an open textbook have to approach their department chairperson and ask about potential course releases or other funding streams. Possible funding may come from eCampusOntario as they put out calls for funded projects. In one case, Seneca had plans for an OER funded by eCampusOntario that fell through. “We were supposed to be doing an accounting OER last year, and then we had labor disputes, so we were on strike,” Peters says. “I’m not sure what happened with the project, but I have not seen anything come through.”[15] Other calls from eCampusOntario have been too last-minute for Seneca College to apply.

Another big issue the college faces is a lack of existing resources out there that are applicable for college courses taught on the Seneca campus. Peters states, “A lot of the OERs are meant for university programs. They don’t have that real practical, contextual type of stuff that we need at colleges.”[16] Colleges like Seneca also tend to have niche programs that are more difficult to find texts for. Finding a niche text that’s openly licensed is even more difficult.

The University of Guelph’s major obstacle to tackle in the coming years is sustainability. According to Versluis, “It’s super time-intensive to do this work. Not only is it super focused on relationships, and raising awareness, and educating people on what OER is and why they should care about it, but if you have to do that – which is time-intensive enough – and also be the point person for helping people with adaptation and creation, both from the technical side of things and the copyright side of things, it takes up a huge portion of time.”[17] The work also requires skills that aren’t necessarily in the skill set of a librarian. OER librarians may have gaps in expertise when it comes to some facets of the process, such as pedagogy or educational design.

The program has also had to push back against institutional barriers. While most at the institution believe that OER is good, politics can affect choices surrounding the mechanisms for the program. Not all units on campus are positive or even neutral about OER; bookstores, for instance, are revenue-generating organizations, which means that freely accessible open textbooks can pose serious competition and negatively impact revenue from traditional textbook sales. While the OER program has the support of the provost and president of the university, that support doesn’t completely mitigate the need to delicately navigate institutional politics, as administrators still seek to balance the needs of the entire campus. In addition, the university has faced administrative-level changes, as each of the three institutions within the consortium are fairly independent. While course buyouts may be more feasible for one university, it may be a challenge for another. Versluis states, “It makes things harder to organize across the institution because the actual admin people don’t have a lot of power, because [individual] colleges have all the power.”[18] This complex organizational structure can complicate university-wide change. Versluis identifies institutional culture as a major barrier in this way.

The primary barrier to success for the open educational resources program on Ryerson University’s campus is faculty buy-in. There are many causes for this; for one, open textbooks are not currently considered as part of Ryerson’s tenure process. Another factor is part-time faculty’s ineligibility for the sort of grants that the program can offer at this time. Ludbrook and Wilson have also found that more onboarding needs to be done in the future in order for faculty to truly understand what OER is, as many times they don’t understand Creative Commons licenses:  “Creative Commons CC BY licenses, which [are] what eCampusOntario has expected in their grants, [are] much more restrictive than what [faculty] could do in even a textbook that they could be doing for a commercial publisher.”[19] Ryerson intends to include more instruction on copyright information in their onboarding process for future faculty authors.

Association with a Consortium

The relationships that Seneca College, the University of Guelph, and Ryerson University have with the eCampusOntario educational consortium differ from case to case as each institution balances its need for a local network with its participation in the central eCampusOntario network and various resources that eCampusOntario offers.

Seneca College desires a few things from its partnership with eCampusOntario. Among these are: administration, trainings, and accessibility consultation. A disadvantage of the partnership with a provincially funded program is that the funding is beholden to the changes in government. Peters acknowledges this, saying “We had a really good year under the liberals, funding through ecampus. Who knows what’s going to happen now. Ford doesn’t seem like he’ll be supportive of OER. Most faculty and students agree it’s the direction to go in, but resources are necessary.”[20] Though Seneca College has just acquired their own standalone Pressbooks network separate from eCampusOntario’s central Pressbooks network, the program maintains a relationship with eCampusOntario’s OER initiative. “For us, it’s great to have a consortium to rely on.”[21]

The University of Guelph finds advantages in sourcing Pressbooks through the eCampusOntario consortium, but for them the advantages of running a local network outweigh the consortial benefits. Versluis attributes this mostly to differences in ideology, a lack of communication, and the inability to track certain data. “eCampusOntario is not great at pushing out information to its member institutions,” Versluis states. “It’s great that it’s a consortial effort, but I think that it also makes it harder for the institutions that are just kind of spinning this up on their own, to figure out what’s happening, because there’s not a lot of communication happening.”[22]

Discoverability and advocacy are also big selling factors for independence. Versluis acknowledges that eCampusOntario’s Pressbooks access can potentially offer more of a benefit for smaller schools, who unlike Guelph may not be able to build the infrastructure for a local network. Versluis states that the University of Guelph is sizable enough that they can run their own shop; other smaller institutions may benefit more from the eCampusOntario infrastructure in this respect.

Ryerson University’s OER program sees benefit in eCampusOntario’s network most especially when it comes to funding and distribution. According to Ludbrook and Wilson, “The funding structure is great. Ryerson helped build DSpace repository, so that is where everything is going to be stored. And then, eCampus does support through education and outreach.” eCampusOntario is also in a good position to build on top of the work that was done at BCcampus. “We definitely are influenced by what’s happening in BC, because it’s more vibrant. For sure, we’ve looked to the West.”[23] Ryerson has worked closely with the consortium when it’s come to involvement with Pressbooks; however, Ryerson has their own local network, and will continue to opt for the local network regardless of eCampusOntario’s offered access. They add that the choice to host one’s own network may be dependent on a number of factors, including size, funding, and priorities.


  1. "About." ECampusOntario. Accessed October 01, 2018. https://www.ecampusontario.ca/about/.
  2. Peters, Jennifer. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 10, 2018.
  3. Versluis, Ali. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 21, 2018.
  4. Ludbrook, Ann and Sally Wilson. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 9, 2018.
  5. Peters, Jennifer. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 10, 2018.
  6. Versluis, Ali. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 21, 2018.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ludbrook, Ann and Sally Wilson. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 9, 2018.
  9. Peters, Jennifer. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 10, 2018.
  10. Versluis, Ali. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 21, 2018.
  11. Ludbrook, Ann and Sally Wilson. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 9, 2018.
  12. Peters, Jennifer. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 10, 2018.
  13. Versluis, Ali. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 21, 2018.
  14. Ludbrook, Ann and Sally Wilson. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 9, 2018.
  15. Peters, Jennifer. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 10, 2018.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Versluis, Ali. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 21, 2018.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ludbrook, Ann and Sally Wilson. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 9, 2018.
  20. Peters, Jennifer. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 10, 2018.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Versluis, Ali. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC, September 21, 2018.
  23. Ludbrook, Ann and Sally Wilson. Interview with Taylor McGrath. Personal interview. Montreal, QC. September 9, 2018.

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