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Open education practices in Canada

Rory McGreal, Terry Anderson, Diane Quirk Athabasca University

Location of Canada
Canada has important areas of expertise in open practices, mostly on the tertiary level, which are beginning to be built upon or replicated more broadly. There is no federal government strategy at present, but there is activity at the provincial level in Western Canada. Other than the western Canadian initiatives on open practices (see Regional initiatives below), there are not yet any governmental policies to support them. With only the western Canadian exception, there are few other signs of any significant open practice-related activity across Canadian governments, institutions or industry.

Open initiatives in Canada tend to focus on access and availability issues as opposed to development of practice and policy and/or initiatives to encourage use and re-use. This state of affairs was supported by UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning (COL) research and literature on the experiences of other jurisdictions, that open practices are neither widely known nor well understood, especially by policy makers and institutional managers. There is considerable confusion surrounding terminology related to open educational resources (OER), open source, open access (OA), openness and accessibility.

Paul Stacey (formerly at BCcampus) now of Creative Commons - a non-profit organization that "enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools" - has worked intensively on what he terms the Creative Commons opportunity and has developed a map of what he views as "the opportunity sectors which are undergoing change through use of open licences" and the activity and new public/business models emerging across:

  • open educational resources;
  • open access;
  • open user generated creative works;
  • open data;
  • open GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums);
  • open government;
  • open policies, practices and guidelines;
  • open licences;
  • open licence tools (i.e., Creative Commons), embedding them in authoring and search engine platforms;
  • open standards; and
  • open source software.

Stacey reflects on the impact of openness, suggesting there is indeed "a lot of open" and many opportunities to work in an open environment whose full potential has not been tapped.

Although the Canadian government's promotion of open access to all ended in March, 2012 with the termination of its 17-year-old Community Access Program (CAP), providing access to computers and the Internet to citizens in communities across the country, there is a federal program underway to promote the growth of the open data movement through the introduction to businesses and citizens of an open data pilot project with three streams: open data, open information and open dialogue.

The anticipated benefits of this pilot project include:

  • support for innovation;
  • leveraging public sector information to develop consumer and commercial products;
  • better use of existing investment in broadband and community information infrastructure;
  • support for research; and
  • support for informed decisions for consumers.

The British Columbia government has undertaken open government initiatives that provide public access to government information and data, giving citizens opportunities to collaborate on matters such as policy and service delivery. Its open government licence enables use and reuse of government information and data. In October 2012, the government announced support for an OER initiative for the creation of courses at the post-secondary level (see below).

Canadian universities are becoming familiar and comfortable with the concept of open access and are actively sharing scholarly research and data through university repositories; author funding to assist researchers minimize or avoid open access fees levied by publishers; support for open university presses such as Athabasca University Press (AUPress) and limited titles from University of Ottawa Press; and participation in the development of the Canadian Creative Commons licences.

The concept and activities of openness are clearly evident in the many Canadian universities and community colleges developing programs and policies to broaden open access and designing, developing and building learning object repositories (e. g., Athabasca University, Memorial University, Concordia University, University of Calgary, etc.).

Of these, Athabasca University - sometimes referred to as Canada's "First OER University" - was the first Canadian institution to adopt an open access policy in 2006, revised in 2014, which recommends ...that faculty, academic and professional staff deposit an electronic copy of any published research articles (as elsewhere accepted for publication) in an AU repository. In 2009, The University of Ottawa adopted "a comprehensive open access program that supports free and unrestricted access to scholarly research." Some of the initiatives in its open access program include a promise to make accessible for free, through an online repository, all its scholarly publications; an author fund designed to minimize open access fees charged by publishers; funding for the creation of digital educational materials accessible by all online, for free; and commitment to publish a collection of open access books and research funds to continue studies on open access.

Other universities are following suit. University of Toronto/OISE, for instance, adopted a formal policy on open access in March 2012, referencing the Open Data pilot (Government of Canada initiative). Nonetheless, while the concepts of openness and open access appear to be gaining considerable ground, and in spite of the apparent endorsement by government, their growth - similar to that of OER - is threatened by lack of public funding.

While openness can be seen as a growing trend, specific or detailed Canadian OER initiatives, in many sectors, are difficult to isolate. Few Canadian institutions are visibly working on OER practices and/or policy development. Nevertheless, the western region of Canada does have real projects and initiatives in progress and is engaged assembling, developing and using OER (see Regions below).

National open education initiatives

Open Data

The Canadian federal government has initiated an Open Data pilot project using an open government licence, which is similar to the Creative Commons attribution licensing allowing for remixing and non-commercial uses. In April 2014, Industry Canada launched Digital Canada 150, which aims to support “connecting, and protecting Canadians, economic opportunities, digital government and Canadian content.” Canarie is a federally funded corporation that is “a vital component of Canada’s digital infrastructure supporting research, education and innovation.” Along with National Research Council Knowledge Management and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, it is supporting Research Data Canada in “ramping up” its activities to meet researcher needs in the co-ordination and promotion of research data management. The strategy includes developing open science and open data to facilitate open access to the publications and related data resulting from federally-funded research in easily-accessible formats.

As previously stated, education in Canada is a provincial responsibility. Nationally, no initiatives are possible unless individual provinces collaborate with each other. On the other hand Creative Commons Canada is supporting open licencing; the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC) have signed onto the Paris Declaration on OER; the the Tri-Council group of federally financed research funding agencies have all agreed on a common open access policy; and a growing number of Canadian institutions are joining the OER universitas initiative.

Creative Commons Canada

Born from the global open education movement, the creation and use of OER benefits from the development and use of Creative Commons licences, which provide the legal framework to share these resources. A non-profit organization, Creative Commons "develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation." It has created a set of free licensing tools permitting authors/developers to share, reuse, and remix materials (including, but limited to OER) with an explicit "some rights reserved", but others clearly allowed, approach to copyright. As an affiliate of the larger body, Creative Commons Canada (CC Canada) is a collaborative initiative comprising the Samuelson Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), BCcampus and Athabasca University. Working with members of artistic, education, government, private business, cultural, scientific and technological groups, CC Canada aims to

advance the mission and goals of Creative Commons and communities it supports and enables, through the advancement of public education and outreach about CC licenses, tools, technology and programs, among other things, for the purpose of cultivating a cultural commons of shared intellectual, scientific, educational and creative content.
(CC Canada, 2012)

In addition to helping users choose licences and find cc-licensed work, CC Canada is a proponent of open government and the philosophy that government data should be accessible, shareable and re-usable under open licences by everyone. It is actively involved in this pursuit, studying how CC licences can be used by governments to make data available freely for public use.

Another CC Canada project is being spearheaded by its legal team at CIPPIC, which is researching the development of user-friendly tools that will provide comprehensive knowledge to users on how to analyze and use different open licenses. CC Canada has also launched a series of conferences (salons) country-wide to raise awareness of CC and its potential among different constituencies including educators, writers and artists.

In May, 2014, the new CEO of Creative Commons worldwide, Ryan Merkley, was appointed. He is Canadian and lives in Toronto.

Council of Ministers of Education of Canada (CMEC)

The CMEC is an organization of the 13 provincial or territorial ministries of Education. They met in Iqaluit, Nunavut in 2013 and there unanimously endorsed the UNESCO Declaration on OER. This Declaration played an important role in the growing support for OER across Canada. In response to the Declaration, OER were discussed for the first time at a national meeting in 2012. The Ministers "reaffirmed their commitment to open access to knowledge and education and to the need to adapt teaching and learning practices to the new realities of the information age." The Declaration followed by discussions at CMEC has been instrumental in the establishment of OER initiatives in three western provinces.

Tri-Agency Open Access Policy

The three Canadian research funding agencies, namely the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) have agreed on a draft policy supporting open access in scholarly publications. The agencies strongly support knowledge sharing and mobilization as well as research collaborations domestically and internationally, and so understand the importance of open access supporting the free exchange of knowledge.

OER universitas in Canada

The OERu is an international consortium of more than 30 institutions/organizations on five continents supporting pathways to learning using OER that lead to real world credentials. To support this, the OERu members are collaborating on thedevelopment of assessment and accreditation of learners policies, methods and applications.

There are six OERu members in western Canada and one in Ontario. These include BCcampus, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Thompson Rivers University in BC; Athabasca University, ECampus Alberta, and Portage College in Alberta; and Contact North/Contact Nord in Ontario.

Regional OER initiatives (Provincial OER initiatives)

Western Canada

The most important development in Canada for the open movement in 2014 was the tri-province Memorandum of Understanding on Open Educational Resources. The three western provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have agreed to “cooperate on the development of common OER”. This includes facilitating cooperation among the provinces in sharing and developing OER; identifying, sharing and encouraging the use of OER; and by using technology, foster an understanding of OER issues.

British Columbia

This MOU initiative was led by the British Columbia Ministry Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology (MAE) influenced by BCcampus. In November 2012, theE MA announced that they will collaborate with post-secondary institutions in implementing an open textbook policy in anticipation of their use in B.C. institutions, supporting students taking 40 of the most popular post-secondary courses. The development of this open textbook initiative has gone ahead with input from B.C. faculty, institutions and publishers through an open Request for Proposal process co-ordinated by BCcampus. In 2014 the number of Ministry financed OER courses was increased to 60.


Following from this MOU, the Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education and Innovation announced an OER initiative, pledging $2 million for OER development, promotion and sharing. The CollabOERate Grant Program will provide publicly funded post-secondary institutions within the province of Alberta with the opportunity to apply for funding to support the assembly, use, development, implementation and evaluation of OER to support teaching, learning and research. This is seen as

“a long-term strategy to help reduce, over time, the costs students face for a post-secondary education. By reviewing and recommending how to integrate open educational resources at post-secondary institutions, this initiative will encourage flexibility and access for all Alberta learners.”
- Alberta Premier & Minister of Advanced Education and Innovation, David Hancock

Previously, Alberta, without making direct commitments has been actively supporting OER-related initiatives for several years. In 1999, the Campus Alberta Repository of Educational Objects (CAREO) was funded to promote the sharing of open learning resources within Alberta. Unfortunately, these initiatives were not funded after the initial investment and eventually were closed. Another limited project that is still extant is the Alberta Core (Collaborative Online Resource Environment) and the LearnAlberta.Ca site at the K-12 level. These are limited quasi-open initiatives, restricting the openness on some resources to provincial or institutional teachers similar to the BCcampus so-called BC Commons licence (see below.) CanCore Learning Metadata Resource Initiative was yet another early open education initiative in Alberta, which resulted in the creation of metadata implementation standards for learning objects.

Through its Access to the Future Program, the Alberta Department of Enterprise and Advanced Education has been financially supporting OER initiatives at Athabasca University. These include a project to promote OER within the university and search out and identify reusable objects for courses and support for the AU UNESCO/COL/ICDE Chair in OER, who is charged with promoting the use of OER institutionally, provincially, and internationally.


The government of Saskatchewan, as of June, 2014 was working on an OER open textbook initiative for Saskatchewan universities and colleges. It has been heavily lobbied by student groups and has been following the initiatives in BC and Alberta closely.


The Ontario government currently uses a password-protected learning object repository (LOR) to share resources amongst primary and secondary teachers, and to manage ownership and copyright. Although Ontario has worked with people to develop policy related to accessibility, and there is a degree of activity province-wide at different institutional levels with respect to OER, to date there is no evidence that any provincial policy related to OER is being considered. On the contrary, their recently announced “Ontario Online”, which is a collaborative Centre of Excellence in technology-enabled learning is not supporting OER development. The Ministry has allocated $42 million to this initiative, which joins Ontario colleges, universities and training institutions in an effort to maximize online learning opportunities for students. Unfortunately, the “Shared Online Course” fund of $8.5 supports restrictively licensed resources rather than OER.


In Quebec, the government has differed from other provincial governments regarding copyright protection in education and so has not been inclined to be supportive of OER initiatives. Quebec, as Canada's only officially unilingual French-speaking province, has a thriving local francophone cultural industry, unlike the anglophone provinces that tend to rely on US cultural imports. So, the protection of the French language culture in Quebec is a paramount concern, and as such the government is much more concerned about protecting their publishers and authors than they are about supporting open content for their educational institutions. They officially and legally use the term "droit d'auteur" (author’s rights) to translate the term "copyright" rather than the more precise “droit de copie” (copy right), This is more in keeping with the European custom emphasizing the rights of the publishers and authors over the rights of learners and other consumers. Membres du Comité sur le droit d'auteur de l'Association nationale des éditeurs de livres [Members of the committee on author's rights {copyright} of the National Association of Book Editors] have been particularly vocal in expressing their opinions. And the Quebec government has been alone of all the provincial and territorial governments in Canada opposing the educational exemption to copyright.

However, perhaps leading to a recommendation by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, whose conference was hosted in February, 2013 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, there is renewed interest in Québec in the promotion of ‘des ressources éducatives libres’ (REL = OER). The Québec Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport du Québec is financing the website brer - banques de ressources éducatives en réseau, which is hosting French language OER. THOT CURSUS is another Québec organization that has implemented an OER repository.

Institutional/Organisational OER initiatives

Athabasca University

There is significant OER activity at Athabasca University. AU was the first university in Canada to join the OpenCourseware Consortium (now the Open Education Consortium - OEC), and as of 2014, was still the only Canadian institutional member. The province of Alberta and AU have been chosen to host the 2015 OEC Conference. AU was also given an OEC ACE Award in 2014 for its highly visible OER research website, the OER Knowledge Cloud. AU has also made available courses and course modules including multimedia objects at the AU OEC site licensed for use, generally with a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

AU is home to the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute (TEKRI), and the UNESCO/COL/ICDE Chair in OER, which promote the use of OER at the institutional, national and international levels. The Chair is a member of the board of the OER Foundation, which hosts the OER universitas (OERu), an international consortium of universities, community colleges and other organizations supporting pathways to accreditation using OER. Athabasca University is a founding partner in the OERu and a partner in the re-launch of Creative Commons Canada described above.

AU is particularly well suited for participation in the assessment and accreditation of informal learners, as is the goal of the OERu initiative. The Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) program (known in the UK as Recognition of Prior Learning - RPL) at AU has been a feature of this open university for many years through the Centre for Learning Accreditation. Through PLAR, the university awards credit towards a degree or certificate based on the recognition of learning acquired through life experience, job training, workshops, seminars or other experience. AU also has a well-established Challenge for Credit policy that allows people to demonstrate that they are proficient in the subject matter of a specific course, without having to take that course. Credit is given based on a challenger's knowledge of the course content and the payment of a testing fee. Transfer credits from other universities across Canada, the USA, and internationally are readily recognizable at AU. And, it is the only Canadian university that has US accreditation (through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education) and so AU credits are likewise generally recognized across North America and internationally.

As previously mentioned, AU policy on open access already exists, and emphasizes the belief that access to information and knowledge defines both the classical and modern university; to this end, it encourages making results of research accessible to everyone and has made a public commitment to Open Access research publishing. This started with the AU library in 2005, with the implementation of AUSpace, a DSpace repository of scholarly articles, theses, and other documents produced in the AU community.

In addition, AUPress at AU was the first open access university press in Canada. It publishes all titles under open access licence and in multiple formats including print (at a cost) and PDF (no cost). In a research paper comparing AUPress sales using data from Amazon, the print book sales of AU Press compared favourably with sales of other restriced licence university presses in Canada (McGreal, Shen, McNamara, 2012).

In addition, the Athabasca University Graduate Student Association (AUGSA) developed two policies it has proposed to government around open access. A draft document, designed for provincial government action, asks for the introduction of policies to support OER and the delivery of publicly funded research findings back to the public in Open Access publication formats, as well as legislation for the integration of OA with authors, institutions and other funding agencies.

A second draft policy to the federal government includes requests for the three federal research funding councils (SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR) to adopt a policy to ensure that all findings produced with publicly funded research are made available in Open Access formats; calls upon individual researchers to publish in Open Access journals and/or deposit their peer-reviewed manuscripts in Open Access repositories; requests academic institutions to adopt policies that mandate researchers to publish all their post-refereed manuscripts in an Open Access format; and supports the creation, maintenance, archiving, promotion, standardisation and interoperability of Open Access repositories at the institutional and national agency level. In addition, the AUGSA report Canada's Contribution to the Commons makes several recommendations to administration and faculty in support of OER. These include adopting open practices, incentivizing OER, open access publishing, and using open textbook. The efforts of AU students in supporting OER were a major reason for the Alberta government’s support of OER and along with students in Saskatchewan and BC led to the Tri-province MOU on OER.

Editors from AU's scholarly journal, the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), were instrumental (through appeals and lobbying) for the SSHRC aide to scholarly publication program to reverse itself from discriminatory funding prohibiting funding for OA journals to the current policy that supports not only OA journals, and now promotes open access more widely.

AU staff are building an inventory of existing OER produced and used in AU courses. Training for faculty and staff in the identification, evaluation, selection and adaptation of OER for adoption as learning resources in courses is currently being implemented, and there is an extensive list of OER activities undertaken and underway for internal and external audiences, including, but not limited to:

  • an OER Open Education Consortium website;
  • an open access database, AuSpace;
  • OER research;
  • a mapping exercise of international activity related to OER;
  • Open education/open access activities (presentations, workshops, conferences, etc.);
  • the OER Knowledge Cloud;
  • the OER Global Graduate Network;
  • OER awareness survey (internal);
  • OERu courses, e-texts and AU press book on OER;
  • OER evaluation (development of a matrix to assist internal staff to evaluate OER); and
  • Open Education MOOC.

AU researchers/course designers developed an OER English Second Language Grammar course for use on mobile devices as early as 2006 and they have also adapted and delivered its first online graduate course adapted and developed entirely from an existing Australian OER in Green Computing. In addition, AU has delivered MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on Change and Open Education. These were made available freely online.


BCcampus, arguably the most active collaborative Canadian organization in the OER arena, is a publicly funded service which has turned to open concepts and methods to create a sustainable approach to online learning for BC public post-secondary institutions. BCcampus was created to enhance students' ability to not only identify, choose, register for, and take courses but also to apply any academic credits earned against credentials from a selected home institution; it was also intended to benefit institutions through the rationalisation of demand for academic opportunities from students with the supply of online courses from BC public post-secondary institutions.

BCcampus has been the leader in Canada in promoting OER and were instrumental in forging BC leadership on OER at the CMEC. The also played a major role in the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology’s decision to support the Open Textbook Project, which they are implementing. BCcampus hosted a working forum on OER for senior post-secondary institution representatives in Vancouver in October, 2012 with the objective of developing a common understanding of what OER could mean for BC and building a shared vision of how to develop and use them. The session also studied ways BC can take advantage of the promise of OER and specifically, open textbooks. This led to the announcement by the MAE that they will collaborate with post-secondary institutions in implementing open textbooks. As mentioned above (see BC government) the Project started with 40 open textbooks at the postsecondary level and now is committed to 60.

A founding member of the OERu consortium, BCcampus is a leading proponent of OER. It has been operating a provincially limited "open" course programme since 2003. Supported by annual Ministry funding for a cumulative total to 2014 of more than $10 million through the Online Programme Development Fund (OPDF). This follows from previous Canadian course development programmes initiated by Contact North/Contact Nord and TeleEducation NB in the 1990s.

The OPDF provided developers with the option to license their work under the global terms of a Creative Commons licence or, in what might be seen as a strategic move to promote OER, to use a BCcampus licence, which restricts sharing to a local environment (the BC public post-secondary system) and audience (post-secondary faculty and staff only). This, according to Stacey (2006), "provided developers with an opportunity to experience sustainable development benefits through sharing on a local level, amongst peers, before considering the larger global context." More than 90% of the OPDF developers have taken this BC-only route. Proponents contend that this provincially-confined openness step has reduced fears that the sharing and reuse of one's material comes with a loss of control over authorship, while promoting critical knowledge of how open licences work in relation to copyright in a sheltered BC environment. However, as these fears recede, there will be more use of national and international Creative Commons type licences. On the other hand, the BCcampus licence could be seen by others as an unnecessary concession to recalcitrant faculty.

The BC OPDF achievements include the creation of more than 350 courses and nearly 400 course components leading to 47 credentials, although less than 10% of these are openly licensed, most being under the BC Commons licence and restricted for use only by BC post-secondary institutions. Interestingly, Athabasca University, although situated outside the province in Alberta, has been recognized officially as a BC documented university, and so also has access to these BCcampus licensed materials.

As projects complete their development cycle, they are licensed for sharing and uploaded to the BCcampus Shareable Online Learning Resources repository (SOL*R), which enables the licensing, contribution, and access to free online teaching and learning resources. SOL*R adheres to the principles of sharing, discovery, reuse and remixing of learning objects (from individual activities to full courses) from a variety of disciplines and subject areas. SOL*R also has a search engine that enables one to search for resources by field of study, subject area, contributing institution and other attributes.

Specifically in support of OER, other BCcampus initiatives are underway. This includes the major Open Textbook Project announced by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology. Another initiative is the implementation of an OER initiative around apprenticeships for the trades in partnership with BC's Industry Training Authority. BCCampus is also working with the North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO), building on the success of the Remote Web-based Science Laboratory (RWSL) and open educational science courseware previously developed by BCcampus.

Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Open Learning

TRU houses the former BC Open University as its distance education wing, called TRU Open Learning. It is working with several of OERu partner institutions providing initial prototype courses to be released as OER. TRU Open Learning, like AU, has a robust PLAR system that includes challenge examinations and transfer of credit, which makes it a key partner for OER initiatives nationally and internationally.

OCAD U Inclusive Design Research Centre (OCAD-IDRC)

IDRC, a research and development centre at OCAD U in Ontario, consists of an international community of open source software developers, designers, researchers, advocates and volunteers working collaboratively to ensure that emerging information technology and practices are designed inclusively. The learning technologies and products that have been developed and distributed by IDRC are distributed under the GNU General Public License meaning that the code is open source and requires users to share product on the same liberal licensing that they have acquired it.

A key project, FLOE (Flexible Learning for Open Education) is one of the Centre's biggest initiatives. It has received substantial funding from the Hewlett Foundation and the European Commission. FLOE takes advantage of the fact they have a set of curricula that is openly licensed that can be repurposed and reused to make content accessible. This makes FLOE heavily dependent on OER. OER present an optimal learning environment to meet the needs of all learners, including those with disabilities. FLOE advances the strengths and values of open education and encourages pedagogical and technical innovation. FLOE also promotes OER for their content portability, ease of updating, internationalization and localization, content reuse and repurposing, and more efficient and effective content discovery.

FLOE's work is international and broad: to support adoption in Africa and other areas where mobile devices are more prevalent than internet access, FLOE is acting to create critical tools and services for delivery of OER via audio-only, text messages and the small screens found on popular cell phones. These same tools and services are intended to support accessibility, adding a compelling motivation for OER adoption of inclusive design.

FLOE's goals include:

  • development of an engaging outreach and awareness program for both the OER community and the accessibility community;
  • supporting OER producers to create and label transformable content, and OER repositories or portals to match learning needs with suitable OER; and
  • assisting the OER community in meeting the commitment to inclusive learning

Contact North/Contact Nord

Contact North/Contact Nord is Ontario's distance education and training network. It works to provide programming from public college, universities and schools with a focus in smaller towns, rural and remote communities. Contact North works with Ontario institutions to help develop strategic, cost-effective and focused approaches to online learning. CN/CN is attempting to create OER, modelling the BCcampus approach. They published a major position paper on OER, "Open Educational Resources (OER) Opportunities for Ontario which "set(s) out the case for the implementation of an Ontario OER initiative, noting their benefits for post-secondary education in Ontario. CN/CN has also published an OER primer as a video series.

Téléuniversité du Québec (TéLUQ)

TÉLUQ has a policy on the dissemination of educational resources - Politique de gestion de la diffusion des ressources d'enseignement et d'apprentissage (REA). These policies relate to learning content in general and could include OER, but are also designed for proprietary content. Because TéLUQ faculty retain the intellectual property of all original material they produce for teaching, institutional policy has limited impact on what professors do with their material outside TÉLUQ. The LICEF - Laboratoire en Informatique Cognitive et Environnements de Formation is a research centre at TÉLUQ, which is hosting the Banques des ressources éeducatives en réseau (brer) a repository of French language OER.

Virtual Mobility in Canada

As previously mentioned, in Canada education continues to be the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, and educational systems vary from one jurisdiction to another. As a result, student mobility issues are the responsibility of the different provinces. Nevertheless, student mobility, based on credit transfer across Canada is fairly widespread and virtual mobility is a growing phenomenon with the growth of online learning offerings from Canada's open universities and from traditional universities and community colleges. The provinces of British Columbia and Alberta are Canadian leaders in supporting student mobility and their standards and guidelines make no differentiation between student credentials, whether they be earned online or in a traditional classroom mode. An Alberta report on credit transfer entitled What we heard, also called for further integration between the BC, Saskatchewan and Alberta systems.

Several transfer agreement issues have been identified, among them the continuously changing role of the community colleges and universities and the inconsistency of course transfer among institutions. Most courses do not have defined course outcomes and this impedes the course evaluation and impedes transferability. There are also significant inconsistencies with “laddering”, that is in fitting transfer courses into the proper level in a programme of study. Laddering combined with block transfers of multiple course credits can be problematic causing problems for students. As of 2014, there is not even a common definition for block transfers. In addition, many institutions do not have the expertise on staff to advise students properly to their advantage. Staff training is required.

The growing demand for virtual mobility is opening up further considerations as students are becoming more aware of learning opportunities available online. Students are no longer limited to local institutions, but do want their learning accepted and accredited. This can lead to students and institutions questioning the role of study programmes and how externally completed courses fit. Programme issues are a major source of the inconsistency in evaluating transfer credits. This is especially frustrating for students when courses that are accredited at one college or university are not accepted for transfer credit into programmes at another institution, especially when they are “essentially similar”. To date there is no systematic way of resolving these issues and it has been proposed that professional bodies need to have a role in deciding on standards and requirements.

Another obstacle to student mobility concerns the disparate and often confusing student admission processes in place at many institutions. There is a need for clarity so that students can understand what is expected of them. The raising of minimum entrance requirements excludes many students especially more mature students who often do not meet the standards.

The Canadian Virtual University is an association of 11 universities in seven provinces that hosts more than 2000 online courses that are transferable to partner institutions and others across the country and, for some programmes, in the United States. CVU does not grant credits or degrees. These are granted by the member universities. However, students can mix and match courses from several universities and save administration fees or use the network to fill in courses that they are missing in order to obtain a degree.

Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) is another way that students can be virtually mobile. Adults, who have extensive experience in the workplace and/or training can receive credit from several universities in Canada (e.g. Athabasca University, Thompson Rivers University). Learners' experience, training and participation in workshops is known as non-formal learning. Informal learning or life experience can also be evaluated. Both are assessed by the institution and appropriate credits are awarded. PLAR can reduce the number of credits that a student needs to complete a degree programme. On the downside, PLAR credits are not readily transferable among institutions.

Challenge for Credit is another way in which some institutions evaluate student learning. This consists of a challenge examination or other form of assessment. This allows the student to demonstrate their proficiency in the subject matter and skills of a specific course without actually taking it.

MOOCs in Canada

MOOC List: Canada

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have a Canadian origin. The name dates to an experimental course led by George Siemens at the University of Manitoba and Stephen Downes at the National Research Council in 2008. They opened up a regular university course, Connectivism and connective knowledge, with 25 students and more than 2 200 additional learners joined the course online. As Siemens reports, this course, delivered in 2008, was the first MOOC, combining open content with open teaching. This concept was developed from the idea of an open Wiki pioneered by David Wiley at Utah State University and an open session on social media in which international guest experts led discussions implemented by Alex Couros at the University of Prince Edward Island.

According to McAuley, Stewart, Siemens and Cormier (2010) “the MOOC is open and invitational”, anyone can participate and the each learner determines for him/herself the extend of their participation. This decision may be based on personal interest, worplace requirements, academic goals or for other reasons. This openness allows many people to participate who may otherwise be unable to access learning.

In 2011, Sebastien Thrun at Stanford University delivered a MOOC on Artificial Intelligence to more than 100 000 learners . But, this MOOC was more teacher-centric than the original connectivist MOOC. Downes coined the term c MOOC to describe their course — the “c” stands for “connectivist.” His called the new type xMOOCs. Whereas cMOOCs had the goal of using the Internet to create an extended network of learners who generate content and learn from one another. The later xMOOCs were exporting the “sage on the stage” lecturing model of classroom learning to the online world.

These xMOOCs have become the predominant form of MOOC delivery in Canada, with more than 20 MOOCs being offered by Canadian institutions or individuals presently. The majority of MOOC deliverers are aligned with the for-profit US company Coursera, with some others aligned with the not-for-profit EdX group led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Udemy is a for-profit company that hosts a platform for independent instructors, who run their own MOOCs, so far there is only one delivered from Canada. Wide World Ed is a Canadian grass roots organization that has tried to implement some homegrown Canadian MOOCs “for the public good” with limited success.

OER universitas, while not using the term “MOOC”, is offering free online university courses in collaboration with Canadian partners so that learners can gain formal credentials from the partner institutions. OERu is a consortium of more than 30 institutions and several organizations on five continents. It is dedicated to widening access and reducing the cost of post-secondary education for learners internationally by providing OER pathways to achieve formal credible credentials. There are seven members of the OERu in Canada: three universities (Athabasca, Thompson Rivers and Kwantlen); one community college (Portage College in Alberta); and three organizations (BCcampus, eCampus Alberta and Contact North in Ontario).

Examples of open education higher education collaboration

Most examples have been mentioned above. These include the activities of the Canadian Virtual University consortium, the provincial networks such as BCcampus, eCampus Alberta and Contact North in Ontario, which are examples of network collaborations supporting the sharing of learning resources, and credit transfer. The OERu members in Canada, along with their international partners are also sharing in the offering of MOOCs as well as accepting credit transfer supporting virtual mobility. The Tri-province MOU on supporting OER is another example of policy encouraging the open sharing of resources among different provinces.


The implementation of open practices in Canada is in its early stages. However, with the recent OER initiatives and MOU in Western Canada, it could very well be on a fast track to world leadership in open education. Although there there are only a few organizations in Canada currently working to develop and establish higher level government policy, standards and protocols related to open education, with the western Canadian initiatives, the process has begun and one can optimistically forecast expansion to the other regions of Canada.

This report is based on, adapted and updated from work done previously for the POERUP project by Diane Quirk, Terry Anderson & R. McGreal.