The Core of Open Education? Generosity

“Open Education is not just a destination, it is a set of values.” - Billy Meinke-Lau


Image by PIRO4D via Pixabay. Pixabay’s open licensing allows free use and derivatives with no attribution required.

When the University of Alberta went remote nearly one year ago, the move challenged us to quickly take flight in online classrooms, labs, and offices. Online teaching and learning has demanded new teaching materials and ways to engage students. Many instructors turned to open educational resources (OER) as part of their solution. OER are free and allow anyone to adapt and share. Without generosity, these free and customizable resources would not be available. 

As the Open Education Lead at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, I have seen the expansive generosity of U of A instructors time and time again. Even before the pandemic, I saw the hours spent customizing learning materials, collaborating with other instructors, and carefully considering the content that shapes students’ futures. Our instructors are fiercely passionate about their fields of study. 

When I collaborate with instructors, their vision generally lands in one of three areas: (1) customizing high-quality learning materials, (2) reducing costs for students, and (3) enabling other instructors to adapt and reuse teaching materials for free. However, the definition of open education differs across the field (Cronin et al., 2018). Open education encompasses a collection of practices to freely share knowledge, and Bccampus describes these practices as “the use of OER to support learning, or the open sharing of teaching practices with a goal of improving education.” I do not settle on any one definition. When I do consultations with instructors, I focus on the instructor's values and their definition of open. This often includes pedagogical design of OER, engaging students through openly licensed materials, and enhancing student experiences through customizing OER to a specific class. 

We have some incredible examples of open educational practices that support learner experiences right here at the U of A. 

Three Examples at the U of A 

  1. Dr. Claudia Kost and Crystal Sawatzky engaged undergraduate students to develop audio, video, interactive quizzes and activities for their open textbook. OER development provides students the agency to express opinions, choose their role in development, contribute to decision making, and share ownership of the process and outcome. For others interested in co-creating learning materials with students, Healy’s Four Stages of Student Engagement (Healy et al, 2004, p 16) are a great place to start, and they can be scaffolded directly into co-creating.

    View the open textbook here.

  2. Dr. Maryam Sharifzadeh-Amin developed an Oral Health Education series in collaboration with community educators and translators to ensure its cultural appropriateness for newcomers. I recall working in the School of Dentistry during the DDS curriculum renewal and observing a theme in student interviews: community outreach opportunities such as the SHINE Dentistry clinic were viewed as high impact to their learning experience. By integrating community education OER into the curriculum, the School of Dentistry is empowering students to continue community work in their career and providing them with resources for their dental practice, as well.

    View the Oral Health series here.

  3. Engineering at Alberta (a collaboration between four departments within the faculty) committed to providing students with “as many resources as possible” by developing a platform for educators to publish their teaching resources. The collection includes text, videos, interactive examples, and downloadable content such as code snippets. What I find most exciting about this is that  students can  look both backward and forward at resources in their studies. The resources can  inform students’ course selections and provide them with a glimpse of the instructor's approach and the content of the class. In addition, adaptable resources shared among colleagues can generate shared teaching practices and discussion.

    View the Engineering at Alberta page here

How to Get More Involved

If you have your own examples of openness in teaching, or wish to learn more, we would love to see you at CTL’s Open Education Symposium, March 1 - 4, 2021. To explore how open educational practices can support your students’ learning, I welcome you to Request a CTL Consultation or check out the Library’s OER page

And, If you are already using free or open educational resources, I encourage you to tell your students about the values and experiences that led you to do so. Consider ways you are involving them in the Four Stages of Engagement, and discuss the exciting outcomes of this work. Let them see your generosity.


Krysta McNutt
Open Education Lead, Centre for Teaching and Learning
Krysta has more than 10 years of experience in project management and organizational change in the public sector including technology implementations, organizational design transitions, and course design projects. Since leading the provincial Campus Alberta OER Initiative she continues to advance openness in education by working with instructors to explore open educational practices.


Cronin, C., & MacLaren, I. (2018). Conceptualising OEP: A review of theoretical and empirical literature in Open Educational Practices. Open Praxis, 10(2), 127-143. doi:

Healy, et al. (2014). Figure 1.1, Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy.