What’s an Open Textbook?

An open textbook is a type of Open Education Resource (OER). And what is an OER? We’re so glad you asked! OERs are openly licensed teaching and learning materials that consist mainly of open textbooks, but also include things such as blogs, videos, TED talks, artwork, simulations, and teaching resources. Many open textbooks are written and peer reviewed by experts, and studies have found that students do as well or better in classes that use open textbooks. What sets open textbooks apart is the “open” licence under which they are published, which enables them to be legally copied, distributed, shared and accessed at a low cost with no fear of expiration dates.

Our goal with this campaign is to promote the availability of on-demand open educational resources, and educate faculty on how they can adapt and customize open textbooks for their courses.

Why it’s a big deal

The high cost of textbooks has become a serious obstacle to accessing post-secondary education in British Columbia. The commercial textbook market enables publishers to generate huge profits at students’ expense. While B.C. students (and their families) incur debt due to rent, food and tuition costs, the rising costs of already expensive textbooks adds additional financial burden and can result in delayed life choices, increased debt, and compromised academic goals. These costs limit our academic potential, and are a barrier to accessing post-secondary education for many students like us.


  • OER has saved BC students tens of millions of dollars

    Way back in 2012, the BC Open Textbook Collection received its initial round of funding from the BC Government to create a collection of free, openly sourced textbooks.

    Over the course of just ten years, this project has saved students an incredible $30 million in textbook costs. The collection now includes almost 400 open resources (like textbooks and publishing guides), with thousands of educators from all over the province adopting OERs.

  • OER = Better Education

    Open educational resources are shown to increase knowledge flow and increase the overall quality of education. Not only are these resources freely available to students, researchers, professors and others, but they can be changed, edited, summarized or customized for a specific class or module.

  • OER Reduces the costs to Students, Researchers, and Institutions

    The cost of textbooks and course material has long been a financial challenge for students. Unlike tuition and other fees charged by colleges and universities, the cost of textbooks is not regulated by government, but rather controlled by the publishing industry. Constantly changing versions and skyrocketing prices have put many needed textbooks beyond the reach of students, and unlike governments, publishers have no need to respond to political campaigns.

    OER has the very real potential to save students hundreds each semester, and thousands over their time in university or college. Their existence not only saves money for users, but also applies real pressure to publishers to make their copyrighted materials more affordable, and easier to access and adapt.

Who makes OERS? How are they funded?

BCcampus, an agency of the BC government, is tasked with centralizing efforts to create and enhance open education resources in the province. In 2012 the government provided one million dollars to initiate the open textbook initiative, and added an additional one million in 2013 to further grow the project. Since that time, open textbooks have saved students over $30 million collectively through traditional, high-cost textbooks being replaced with OER options. More funding will result in more resources and save students money one class at a time! All it takes to expand the program is a commitment from instructors and administration to make saving students money a priority.

To learn more about BCcampus and to search the database of available resources, check out their website.

In June 2018, the provincial government provided BCcampus with $250,000 to create or adapt open textbooks for all course levels in the BC Adult Dogwood diploma (adult basic education), including math, English, science, social science, computer studies, education, and career planning.

In April 2019, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training Melanie Mark announced an infusion of an additional $3.26 million to BCcampus for the creation and enhancement of OERs. This is an historic investment and will launch the OER initiative in BC forward leaps and bounds!

What you can do

Join the online provincial conversation on OERs by following #textbookbrokeBC, and posting online your experience with OERs. You can also tweet your textbook receipt using the hashtag #textbookbrokeBC to share how the rising costs of textbooks are affecting you.

Talk to an instructor you think would be interested in adopting open education resources, or point them to your institutions library for information on OERs.

We usually have a few pledges at our events, and they’re always available in our offices. Help us tell the provincial government that this is an important cause! You can also talk to us for other ways to get involved!

OERs at Okanagan College

The Library has tons of free textbooks for many of OC’s courses. Not all of their textbooks are “true” OERs – some books may only allow a few simultaneous users, for example – but they are still an incredible resource! We thank the library staff for all their hard work in helping ensure students have access to the learning resources they need to succeed in their education.

Information for Instructors

The COVID-19 crisis has been a challenge for students and instructors alike. Working and teaching from home is, as it would turn out, quite difficult. But did you know that OERs can help make it a bit easier? It’s true! They save instructors time and money, grant freedom in teaching your course, and everything is available online – no need to worry about print books! Check out BCcampus’s handy infographic here to learn more.

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We respectfully acknowledge that our places of work are on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Syilx/Okanagan people & Secwepemc Shuswap people.