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New U of R Zero-Cost Material courses offer accessible, affordable education

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: August 28, 2020 2:00 p.m.

Through the expansion of zero-cost material courses or ZCM courses, a U of R education will be more accessible and equitable – while saving students money.
Through the expansion of zero-cost material courses or ZCM courses, a U of R education will be more accessible and equitable – while saving students money. Photo: iStock

As the Fall semester approaches, staff and faculty across the University have been working hard to reduce costs for students. Through the expansion of zero-cost material courses or ZCM courses, a U of R education will be more accessible and equitable – while saving students money.

Zero-cost material courses exclusively use teaching materials and resources that are freely available and easily accessible to students, and hold the potential to make a big difference to students’ wallets. And the current list of 77 ZCM courses is expected to grow.

“Like small streams trickling down and merging into a large river, the new ZCM course offering for this Fall is the result of the dedicated efforts of many individuals from senior University leadership to faculty members, instructors, and groups on campus all coming together,” explains Dr. Nilgün Önder, Associate Vice-President (Academic). “Through the generous support of the Saskatchewan Government, the U of R has put in a lot of effort to develop the infrastructure and support, such as the Open Educational Resource Publishing Program, to build a culture of high-quality open educational resource and zero-cost material use at our institution.”

Discussions between Önder, U of R Registrar James D’arcy, and the University of Regina Students’ Union started several months ago to look into the process and parameters required for designating specific courses at the U of R as zero-cost material courses. After consultation with the Deans’ Council, the University Librarian Brett Waytuck, and many faculty and instructors, a small working group was formed to develop strategies and support for developing ZCM courses.

“In order for their courses to qualify for the ZCM designation, instructors need to use teaching materials or resources that are available to students free of charge and easily accessible,” says Önder. “This includes open educational resources (OER) that are available in digital formats through various platforms and from various institutions, such as the U of R OER Publishing Program, BC Campus, and eCampus Ontario, as well as through the U of R Library’s online collection.”

Currently, the U of R determines ZCM courses on a semester-by-semester basis, as the courses are taught each semester by different instructors who may use various teaching and learning resources.

“This is the beginning,” says Önder. “In time, the goal of this initiative is to identify entire programs as ZCM.”

In order to determine which courses at the U of R fit the ZCM criteria, the University sent out a call and the criteria specifications to all course instructors for the Fall, asking them to identify if their courses qualified.

“At this time, we rely on course instructors to self-report their resource use,” says Önder, who continues to receive responses from faculty and instructors.

These responses are compiled and featured on the University Registrar’s webpage. Almost 70 ZCM courses will be offered at the U of R this Fall in a wide range of subjects, including biology, anthropology, statistics, and philosophy. Instructors are encouraged to identify their use of ZCM materials and resources by emailing zero.cost@uregina.ca.

“When students are registering for their classes, they will be able to see if the course they have selected is a ZCM course or not,” explains Önder.

The use of zero cost materials and resources holds much promise for student savings in courses with large enrolments. Many of the courses in the ZCM list are first- or second-year undergraduate courses with high student enrolments.

This Fall semester, Laura Ambrose is teaching BIOL 140 – Human Biology, which has 145 students enrolled, and will be using the open textbook Concepts of Biology.

“The last time I used a proprietary text was in 2015 when the textbook cost about $270,” explains Ambrose, who is a sessional lecturer and lab instructor for Luther College, a federated collage of the U of R. “If every student in the current class purchased a textbook, based on 2015 prices, the total savings for all 145 students would be about $39,000.”

These savings can make a significant impact toward improving the affordability of education for students.

“Especially now when many students are facing greater financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s very important to continue to reduce costs for our students and increase accessibility,” stresses Önder. “To do that, we need to focus on reducing education costs for students through the use of affordable, high quality, peer reviewed resources. Equally important, our instructors are considering how to remove barriers and increase access for their students studying remotely.”

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