Introducing the Guerilla Open Access League: a new group supporting open education at McMaster University

by Wes Kerfoot

The Guerilla Open Access League (GOAL) is a new student group at McMaster University dedicated to promoting the use of Open Educational Resources (OER). Our primary task is to help fight for more use of OER at McMaster and to educate faculty and students about why there is a need to fix the current system. We're working on this by trying to educate students and instructors about OER, as well as by taking direct action to convince instructors to use open resources, and by finding cheaper or public domain versions of existing resources. OER benefits students by lowering the cost of materials, and it allows instructors more flexibility because they can make modifications. Importantly though, it also makes it possible for those who cannot attend university to get a high quality education. Pioneering institutions like MIT, who created http://ocw.mit.edu have seen amazing success with a broad range of users. Even high school students use it to learn about advanced topics or as a supplement to their education.

In a nutshell, at GOAL, we think that there is a fundamental inequity in the current way post-secondary education works. Publishers pay authors and researchers to produce textbooks, and then they charge large sums of money for them. Universities and colleges then sell these books at a marked-up price to students. Both of these entities are to blame for the financial burden the public faces in accessing an education. The publishers perpetuate their stranglehold because the alternative (free and open textbooks) seem too daunting or just lack any traction. Institutions do little to nothing to foster alternatives. For example, McMaster did a great thing by creating an engineering course called “Experimentation for Improvement”, which uses completely free resources (you can find it here https://www.coursera.org/mcmaster). We think this is a good start, but clearly one engineering course is not going to do much to cut down on textbook costs, or benefit the public. We would like to see additional courses added, as well as more awareness of how to use and contribute to existing free materials.

Part of the problem is an overall lack of awareness about how copyright works and how it enables the sort of profiteering that publishers engage in. This is an area where we also want to educate students, because we believe there needs to be a complete overhaul in how copyright law works in Canada. For example, the Liberal government recently signed on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which if implemented, would add an extra 20 years to the copyright terms of all books under copyright. There is absolutely no doubt that this will end up raising the cost of a post-secondary education. Many instructors make use of public domain materials where they would otherwise be unable to use fair-dealing. We wish more people, especially those with power to lobby the federal government (like public universities and unions) had a good grasp of this issue and its impact.

There is obviously a massive amount of change that needs to happen, and one small group cannot do it alone. Our approach is a long-term one, though, because we can continue to educate, create tools to help students, and help them take action against the current system. Check out https://mgoal.ca/blog for more posts and follow us on Facebook at https://facebook.com/mcmastergoal. 

Wes Kerfoot is an undergraduate student majoring in Philosophy at McMaster University. He co-founded the Guerilla Open Access League with Ana Qarri, an undergraduate Arts and Sciences student. 


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