Removing Barriers with OER

Two institutions have come together to create an English as a Second Language resource that’s more applicable to a Canadian context

When newcomers to Canada are learning English as a second language, they engage better with their learning when using materials that relate to their experience. Therefore, textbooks that feature Canadian examples and cultural experiences relevant to the country are incredibly helpful, says Lisa Rochman, Associate Dean of Immigrant Education at NorQuest College.

Rochman along with Diane Hardy of Bow Valley College are working with a team to create two Open Educational Resources (OER) in the form of e-textbooks that will be used for ESL classes—the first text focuses on community while the second relates to work. One of the big benefits of creating these textbooks as OERs is that they are able to adjust the information so that it will relate more specifically to the Canadian experience while adhering to the Canadian Language Benchmarks, a national standard.

“The people mentioned in the texts are more reflective of people you would actually find in our country— and the situations are more reflective of situations you would actually encounter. We wanted books that the students could see themselves in. Since the books will be used primarily by newcomers, we want them to be feeling a connection to their new country, to their life here,” says Rochman.

The textbooks are meant to help those in rural settings as well as urban, though Hardy mentions that instructors can adapt the information for their own educational settings. The materials are peer reviewed, and the OER format allows the creators to incorporate audio-visual material that can help reinforce skills outlined in the textbooks. Each chapter within the book has a corresponding video that sets the theme and context for each chapter. Recorded audio is also included to provide learners with opportunities to listen to dialogues, scripts and presentations.  

The textbooks will be used starting in the coming semester, and the team has a plan for getting the word out to the community. “This resource will be highlighted on the Rural Routes website and Rural Routes will provide training on the resource in small urban and rural communities throughout Alberta,” says Rochman. Rural Routes is a joint initiative funded by Advanced Education and Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour and delivered through NorQuest College. The resource will be available to anyone on both the Bow Valley and NorQuest websites.

Both Hardy and Rochman are happy with the collaboration between NorQuest College and Bow Valley College that made the books possible. “I think benefits of the collaboration lie in the opportunities to pool expertise, share ideas, and go through the peer review process,” says Hardy.

All of these benefits can be applied more broadly to open educational resources, as well. Hardy believes OERs help remove barriers and provide access to materials that are peer reviewed. “Open Educational Resources have fostered the opportunity for collaboration and partnership between our institutions, which in turn will allow us to engage with the wider community and help support learners in smaller regions throughout Alberta,” says Hardy.