Open Textbooks Provide Financial Savings and Pedagogical Benefits for Students

By Noreen Mahoney, Associate Dean, Students & Degree Programs, Edwards School of Business and Brooke Klassen, Director, Undergraduate & Certificate Programs, Edwards School of Business

We have been instructors of Comm 119 Business Competencies for a number of years and the course has evolved significantly during that time. We are constantly adapting and experimenting to add value for our students.  Initially the intention and objectives of the course were to ensure that students had the foundational skills necessary to succeed in their other courses within Edwards and to ensure that students felt a sense of identification with the Edwards School of Business as well as some fundamental computer application skills and foundation knowledge of business concepts. We wanted to have students taking classes in our building interacting with our support staff (particularly our IT staff) early on in their academic careers.

While the course continues to be a way to introduce students to business and business concepts it has expanded to include skills relevant to their overall success in University, mentorship and teamwork. In essence this is a catch all course to ensure students are well prepared for all of their University courses. Because of the diversity of materials required it has been very difficult to find resource materials to support the broad objectives of the course.

For the 2015/2016 academic year we determined that the best way to bring together a diverse set of materials was though a custom publication. We spent several weeks piecing together several texts to form what we felt was the best combination of materials. The quote for this textbook was in the $80-$90 range. Given that the material was very straight forward, non-technical material that was mostly available online in a variety of formats for free, we were unhappy with the cost to the students.

During that time we were made aware through the staff at the Gwenna Moss Centre that there was a repository of on-line open source publications that could be used for educational purposes without charging students through Creative Commons licensing.

This introduced us to a world of information that we could put together and provide as reference to students without requiring they pay significant textbook costs.

We selected a College Success open source book out of the US as our base material and edited it to include Canadian references and information relevant only to our School. We also put together chapters from other open source textbooks to enhance the materials as needed.

For the current year our goal was to simply get started using an open source textbook and to find ways of improving and adding to it over time.

The task was daunting at first as the editing process was quite cumbersome. We learned early on that converting the document into an editable word processing format was much easier than trying to work with the document in pdf format. I’m not sure that had we anticipated the amount of work required to get the chapters ready we would have undertaken this in the timeline that we did.   We set a goal of having all of the chapters ready to go prior to the start of the class. However, it has ended up that we are releasing the textbook one chapter at a time. We surmised that if you asked a student whether they would prefer to pay $80 or wait for the information to be released chapter by chapter as they needed it to prepare for each week’s lecture they would select the latter option.

We also were able to secure funding from the Gwenna Moss Centre to hire some help to create ancillary materials. We originally planned to have an assistant prepare the PowerPoint slides, practice questions and exam materials, however we discovered that we needed to focus all of their time on preparing exam materials. It was too difficult to have someone else prepare the slides as we are both very particular about how we present and wanted to have control over the materials. That meant extra time for us to go in and incorporate the textbook materials into our slides.

We are three quarters of the way through the term and the class has been very successful, albeit a lot of work. In the midst of adopting an open source textbook we also significantly revamped our pedagogy in order to address some gaps in assurance of learning objectives established at the program level.

For anyone thinking of adopting an open source textbook I would strongly suggest starting with a well-researched book and building on it. Look for books that already have the ancillary materials created… and start early!

Don’t think too much about the possible work required or you won’t do it. Change is hard but it comes with its rewards. We are providing more targeted and relevant materials that meet our course objectives very well; there are no extraneous chapters that we have to tell students to ignore. And we know that getting over the hurdle of editing the first edition will make next year much easier. We also saved our students over $25,000 and this makes us (and them) very happy.

Our hope is that once we have finished adapting the book to our standards, we can provide it back to the Canadian marketplace as a valuable and free resource for others to adopt.

Truth and Reconciliation – Call to Action for Educators

Indigenous people and their communities have had a long and contentious experience with Western education. For far too long, schools and education were used as instruments to systematically dismantle Indigenous culture, their way of living and knowing. Generation after generation of children were taken from their homes, sometime forcefully, in the name of providing them with a civilized education. Instead, what many of these children experienced was at its best a destructive education, and at its worse an inhumane brainwashing, aimed at having these children renounce their ‘savage’ Indigenous perspectives for a more ‘sophisticated’ Canadian approach to life.

Many Canadian universities are just beginning to acknowledge their role in reconciling the negative educational experiences of Indigenous people. Many Universities, like the University of Saskatchewan, are starting to recognize and respond appropriately to the impact of intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools by critically looking at how to effectively support Indigenous students’ ability to participate in postsecondary schools (please see future blog posts for more information on this topic). This is further supported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action for all educators across Canada.

So it is with great anticipation and excitement that I am looking forward to seeing how our new University president, Peter Stoicheff, will plan out and follow through on his priority to Indigenize the University of Saskatchewan.

In Saskatchewan, including here at the University, we are blessed with an abundance of strong, capable Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who are invested in improving the academic experiences and outcomes of Indigenous students. This is reflected in the strong response and support for the University of Saskatchewan’s two day national forum, “Building Reconciliation: Universities Answering the TRC’s Calls to Action”. Canadian university presidents and their leadership teams, First Nations and Métis leaders, student leaders, Aboriginal scholars, and scholars dedicated to research that is meaningful to Aboriginal peoples will all participate. For more information about this event, please visit Building Reconciliation.

Single-Point Rubrics: Exceeding Expectations

As an Instructional Designer, I often speak on the value of assessment rubrics. There are many reasons why creating a rubric for each assignment, providing students with the rubric, and using the rubric while grading can be advantageous. Many of these reasons are highlighted in the video below, including:

  • You write the same comments on several assignments
  • You decide how to assess after the assignments are handed in
  • You realize after grading a few papers that your students didn’t understand the assignment expectations (Stevens & Levi, 2005)

Knowing about these reasons for rubrics, I sat down last fall to create few rubrics for the assignments in an undergraduate class I was about to teach. I started with the “Good” or “Excellent” column, as this is where I recommend starting. That was pretty easy as it simply explains the criteria for the assignment.

The next thing I needed to do was to fill in the lower columns (e.g., minimal pass, satisfactory) and ran into difficulties. I found myself guessing at what it is that students may or may not do to deviate from the criteria. This was especially difficult since I like to be as descriptive and objective as possible with the criteria I put in the cells, trying to avoid vague terms, such as “acceptable” and “good”. Filling in these cells was really challenging and would have potentially put me in a bind when grading if my guesses turned out to be wrong. I have been in that situation before and it is not a good feeling to look at your rubric descriptors and to look at a student’s assignment and realize that you have trapped yourself into either giving too high or too low of a grade based on those start-of-term guesses. These guesses are even more difficult if it is a new-to-you course or a new assignment. Due to these challenges, I ended up with more of a checklist and comment box than a fully filled-in rubric.

This past summer, a blog post by Jennifer Gonzalez came across my email that explained the concept of a “Single-Point Rubric”. I think the Single-Point Rubric is the answer to my struggles. It is essentially the “Good” or “Excellent” column that explains the criteria for the assignment and a column on each side surrounds it. These columns are labelled “Concerns: Areas that Need Work” and “Advanced: Evidence of Exceeding Standards”. This serves many of the same purposes as a rubric full of filled-in cells plus it provides a great and clear means of providing positive and negative feedback on each of the criterion.

Single Point RubricI still see advantages to having a fully filled-in rubric, but for new-to-you assignments and courses, where you really are guessing at student performance, I think the “Single-Point Rubric” is a great first step in providing clear criteria. I would highly recommend reading Jennifer’s post and seeing if it will meet your needs, as well.

Open Textbook Integration Catching on at USask

A year ago we ran a reprint of a blog post by Professor Eric Micheels who teaches in the College of Agriculture and Bioresource. As far as I know, Eric was the first instructor on campus to adopt an open textbook instead of having students buy a commercial textbook. He saved the students in the class about $27,000 by doing so.

Open textbooks are free, digital textbooks that instructors can customize to meet their specific needs, or use them as is. These open texts are written by instructors and many go through a peer review process. The book that Eric adopted includes a test bank and other ancillary resources, as do many open textbooks.

In the year since Eric wrote that blog post, five other instructors on campus have adopted open textbooks for courses in the Edwards School of Business (ESB), and the Departments of Chemistry and Economics. Eric is using the same open textbook again this year along with another for a different course. As a result of all of these adoptions, approximately 900 students are saving around $100 each for a total of $90,000 in savings for students at the U of S this academic year.

One of the adoptions in ESB is by co-instructors Noreen Mahoney and Professor Brooke Klassen for the required course Business Competencies, which has about 350 students between two sections. These instructors are taking an existing open textbook and revising it, combining it with other open materials to create the textbook that will best meet their, and their students needs.

Karla Panchuk, an instructor in the Department of Geology contributed a chapter to a new open geology textbook produced through BCcampus. This book, Physical Geology was released in late September.

Other instructors on campus are reviewing open textbooks to provide feedback to the OpenStax College open textbook project (the same organization that created the book Eric Micheels is using) and to determine if the book would be appropriate for their own courses. BCcampus offers instructors in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba $250 to review textbooks within their expertise that are currently in the BCcampus open textbook collection.

To assist in keeping the momentum going for an increasing number of adoptions, adaptations, reviews, and creations of open textbooks, the U of S will be implementing a granting process to fund the adaptation and creation of open textbooks and needed ancillary materials. Information about the funding and the application process will be available in November.

For more information about open textbooks in general or how to integrate them into your own teaching, please contact the GMCTE.

Talking with Students About Suspected Plagiarism: Ten Guiding Questions

As assignments start to come in, this can be the time in the term when faculty notice what may be inadvertent or intentional plagiarism by students.  Hopefully, you rarely encounter this yourself. But, if you do suspect plagiarism, how can you best proceed? Here’s what I would do…

First, become familiar with the institutional policy and any particular procedures with respect to this policy in your department or college.

Next, I suggest that you discuss the matter with the student(s) you suspect.  Here are ten guiding questions offered to help you to prepare for and to anticipate the potential directions of a discussion:

  1. Why am I asking to discuss the matter with the student?
  2. How can I best convey my commitment to students’ learning and to fair assessment generally?
  3. What are the facts of the situation from my perspective?
  4. What are the facts of the situation from the student’s perspective?
  5. How will I respond to the student if she or he denies wrongdoing, claims ignorance, admits to the plagiarism, or implicates others?
  6. How interested am I in knowing what contributed to this situation for the student?
  7. How will I handle my feelings about the student’s explanation or comments during our discussion?
  8. How will I handle the student’s reactions during the discussion?
  9. Am I prepared to bring the discussion to an early close if emotions (including mine) are running too high and/or am I prepared to connect the student to other campus resources (e.g., counseling)?
  10. How can I be sure I don’t commit to any course of action before I am ready to do so?

With respect to #10, what the student has to say may or may not affect your ultimate decision, but I do recommend taking some time to reflect on what you heard from the student before you proceed.

  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty and/or a resubmission for the assessment in question, then look to the informal procedure in the U of S policy.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty beyond the assessment in question and/or you think there should be a record of the plagiarism, then look to the formal procedures in the U of S policy and expect to participate in a hearing process.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in an educational response or a warning, then look to the student’s role as a learner and your role as a teacher. This may involve providing some direct instruction yourself or referring the student to resources in the Library about writing and referencing.

While these concerning situations can be quite straight forward, they can also become quite complicated. Feel free to contact me at the Gwenna Moss Centre if you’d like to think through a situation you face.

Why Mentoring for New and Pre-Tenure Faculty? Academic Success!

By Dr. Jim Thornhill, Special Assistant to the Vice-President Research

Mentorship of pre-tenure faculty is a key component to academic success. Sutherland and Peterson (2009) advocate from a national study conducted throughout New Zealand that early academic success of new faculty is determined by 3 factors:

  1. Prior training and experience of the new candidate,
  2. Personal characteristics of the candidate (tenacity, resolve, work/life balance) and
  3. The institutional support provided (e.g. time, space, resources).

At the University of Saskatchewan, The Provost’s Office via the Gwenna Moss Teaching & Learning Centre and the Vice President Research Office via the Research Mentorship Program have come together to highlight and support mentorship in assisting new faculty in planning and implementing their teaching and research plans.

This video introduces how academic mentorship teams support new faculty at the University of Saskatchewan with their two major mandates, namely their teaching and research portfolios as experienced by two pre-tenure faculty in The College of Kinesiology. Dr. Leah Ferguson and Dr. Marta Erlandson, along with Dean Carol Rodgers, discuss what academic success looks like, how their mentorship committees were formed, the benefits to working with mentorship committees, suggestions based on their experiences, the importance of a diverse committee, practical considerations for a positive mentorship experience, and how mentorship can contribute to academic success.

If you have questions about mentorship activities at the University of Saskatchewan, please contact: Dr. Jim Thornhill, Co-Lead of University Mentorship Program at

Complying with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications

By Diane (DeDe) Dawson, Science Liaison Librarian, University Library

The new Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications came into effect on May 1st 2015. This policy applies to all grants awarded from that day and onward (exception: CIHR has had this policy in place since Jan 1, 2008). This blog post is intended to be a handy, practical introduction to the policy and how to comply.

The Policy Details:

“Grant recipients are required to ensure that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from Agency-supported research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication” (emphasis my own).

There are two routes to achieve this:

  1. Online Repositories (a.k.a. the “Green” route)
    Grant recipients can deposit their final, peer-reviewed manuscript into an institutional or disciplinary repository that will make the manuscript freely accessible within 12 months of publication. It is the responsibility of the grant recipient to determine which publishers allow authors to retain copyright and/or allow authors to archive journal publications in accordance with funding agency policies.
  1. Journals (a.k.a. the “Gold” route)
    Grant recipients can publish in a journal that offers immediate open access or that offers open access on its website within 12 months. Some journals require authors to pay article processing charges (APCs) to make manuscripts freely available upon publication. The cost of publishing in open access journals is an eligible expense under the Use of Grant Funds.

Tips and Tools for Complying:

Green/Repository Route:

  • You do not need to publish in an OA journal – just make sure that the journal you want to publish in complies with the Tri-Agency OA Policy. This means the journal/publisher must allow you to post a copy of the manuscript in a repository within 12 months of publication (often known as the “embargo period”).
    • Check Sherpa/Romeo for publisher’s policies.
    • Carefully read your Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA) when publishing; negotiate with the publisher to keep the rights you need to post a copy (use an addendum tool).
    • Make sure you post the proper version of the article. Most publishers permit posting of the “post-print” or “author’s accepted version” (the final copy of the manuscript after peer-review and after final revisions have been made). Sherpa/Romeo and your CTA will tell you which version is acceptable to post by your publisher.
  • Currently the U of S does not have an institutional repository, but there are a growing number of disciplinary repositories that you can post to. Search the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR).
  • Posting on your own website is not enough. You must also post in an institutional or disciplinary repository. Although the Tri-Agency has not clearly stated this, it is likely that posting in a social network site like ResearchGate is also not an acceptable route to compliance.

Gold/Open Access Journals Route:

The Green and Gold routes are not mutually exclusive. If you publish in an OA journal, you can still post a copy to a repository. In fact this is encouraged. Why not have your article available in more than one location? It will increase discoverability, accessibility, and ultimately readership and citations!

All of these resources (and more!) are listed on the University Library’s Open Access Guide.

This is a modified version of a blog post originally posted on May 1st 2015 here:

What is the science behind your course design madness?

By Fred Phillips, Professor, Baxter Scholar, Edwards School of Business

As we begin another year, students are encountering some of the course design decisions made by their instructors. Some will be introduced to “flipped classrooms”, where students prepare by reading/viewing/responding to a learning prompt before it is formally taken up in class. Others will encounter new learning tools, such as adaptive reading systems that embed interactive questions within reading materials with the goal of assessing each student’s comprehension so that new topics can be delivered the moment he or she is ready to comprehend them.

Just as instructors have questions about these approaches and tools, students are likely to be curious about whether there is a method to our course design madness. To help explain the underlying learning science, I have made a few videos that describe relevant (and fun) studies that lend support to these pedagogies. Each video focuses on a particular question that students (and possibly instructors) are likely to have about elements of their courses. Each video describes two or three relevant studies in just enough depth to convey the gist of how they were designed and what they discovered. And, in the spirit of a TED Talk, they are each less than 10 minutes in length.

My thought with these videos is that instructors can send each link to students at the moment they expect their students will be asking the particular question, or they can provide them en masse. My hope is that the videos will help students appreciate why our courses might be designed as they are. And, if we’re really lucky, the videos will inspire our campus community to learn more about the scholarship of teaching and learning. Enjoy!

1. Why do we have so many tests? (7 min 24 sec)

  • Students often wonder why I plan frequent quizzes and exams throughout the term.

2. Why attempt to answer questions before “being taught”? (7 min 22 sec)

  • Students often think that there isn’t benefit in attempting to answer questions before they are formally taught content.

3. Is easier and more convenient learning better? (8 min 54 sec)

  • Is it more effective for students to have a cramming study session or to study throughout the term? When practicing, should students group questions of similar type or mix different question types? Does use of analogies help or hinder student learning?

Feedback in Marking – Some Tips for Efficiency

Feedback is one of the most important factors when it comes to improving student performance in a course. Yet many instructors would use words like tediousgrueling, or headache-inducing to describe the process of providing feedback to student work. If you are one of those instructors, consider integrating one (or more!) of the following strategies into your grading practice.

  • Separate Grading and Feedback: If the student cannot use your feedback to improve the quality of their work, writing comments on student work is probably just a waste of your time and energy.
  • Frontload Feedback: Provide specific and more detailed feedback early and frequent in the term, so it can be integrated into student work throughout the term. Early and frequent, but brief, feedback has a more powerful effect on student performance than long and detailed feedback later in the term does.
  • Comment Code: Create a list of frequent comments / feedback about student work (errors, corrections, suggestions, etc.), and give each a code. (For example, “AV” could be the code for “Use active voice, not passive voice”.) Distribute your Comments Code list to students, and use these codes when marking student work to cut down on your time spent writing comments.
  • Less is Sometimes More: Too much feedback can overwhelm and discourage students who are struggling. On each assignmentfocus primarily on giving feedback in the one or two areas that these students can improve on, which will lead to the greatest improvement in their performance in your class.
  • Delegate: Provide students with a self-evaluation checklist or rubric that they must fill in and submit as part of their assignment. Include reflection questions such as “What do you think the most interesting part of your paper is?” or “For me, the hardest part of completing this assignment was…”

The suggestions in this post are derived from Walvoord & Johnson Anderson’s book Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment, which is available for faculty and instructors to borrow from GMCTE’s Resource Lending Library. For more information on making your marking and grading practices more efficient or to borrow this book, please feel free to contact GMCTE.

“If Not Us, Who? If Not Now, When?”

In Peter Stoicheff’s speech for the Presidential Announcement, he posed two questions that inspire the university’s efforts to decolonize and Indigenize our campus (July 9, 2015,  Emphasizing the urgency for action, he asked, “If not us, who?” and “If not now, when?”

At the University of Saskatchewan, we have a growing number of Indigenous staff, students, and faculty. Yet the U of S is comprised of a predominantly white settler Canadian campus population, and is set within a traditional Western institution. As we build capacity and become strengthened by the work and contributions of Indigenous staff, students, and faculty, the non-Indigenous people on campus have a large task ahead of them. The time is “now,” and the “who,” regarding decolonization, is made up of “us” (a majority of non-Indigenous peoples) who, mostly unknowingly, contribute to the systemic racism and oppression felt by the various peoples on campus.

Part of the solution to decolonizing the institution is to draw the elements of oppression out of our classes, content, curricula, and institutional systems and policies/documents. What will remain will be generative soil for Indigenous staff, students, and scholars to take root, feel respected and valued for their work and contributions, belonging, and being to thrive.

For more information regarding decolonizing and Indigenizing your classes, content, and curricula, and to participate in relevant professional development, contact the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness at 306.966.2231, or

Additionally, we encourage people to consider submitting applications to the Experiential Learning Fund, to help support their efforts to decolonize and Indigenize through practicums, community engaged learning, or field-based instruction. For more information, click here.