OpenMoments: The Stories

4 If You Built It, They Will Come

Chris’s Project

Chris MacDonald, from the School of Business Management at Ryerson University, has created a number of open resources outside of the traditional OER textbook. He created a series of open business cases, some are traditional readings hosted in an open setting, and others are digital “choose your own adventure” style programs. Chris also has created an online accessible encyclopedia, with short entries that can be understood and used in a variety of settings. Recently, Chris has also worked as an “open publisher,” where he hopes to host articles and journals to increase the reputability of open publications and materials.

Coming to Open

Chris wanted to publish and share resources in an online setting in order to provide greater access to the material in hopes that it would be useful in a variety of settings. Chris mainly teaches business ethics, and it was important to him that components of ethics be included across the programs offered by the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) at Ryerson University. Chris has had the opportunity to watch his open resources be used and distributed by other faculty members, resulting in a more cohesive curriculum for TRSM.

“It is an attempt to have influence,”

Chris uses openness and open platforms to create reputable resources. These resources are not so much designed to fill the need within a course, but to disseminate the knowledge and projects that he believes could prove useful to a variety of programs and courses within the academy. Rather than focusing on the traditional OER textbook model, Chris looks to OER as a new publication avenue.

Often times, Chris has noticed that people create open resources when they have a particular teaching need which they are seeking to fill. However, Chris arrived at open with the perspective of using these new techniques to create an open flow of information. He created modules that are easy to use across disciplines and courses to help students hone their ethical reasoning and critical thinking skills. Additionally, Chris recognizes that to get people to use your “product,”  you need to make this product easy to access. In fact, that is some of the feedback he has received on his work: it is easy to use! Along with Paul Chafe, Chris uses online analytics to see who is accessing his resources. This is important from the perspective of OER as a product, it also helps him to see what schools are assigning it. For example, when he noticed over 100 check-ins from one particular town, he concluded it likely means someone has assigned this resource for a course. 

Each resource Chris created conceived and built in a different way. For example, when creating the concise encyclopedia, Chris and his co-authors decided how many entries, how long, and the style. They were then able to determine what entries were needed and write in a very prescriptive way. Since students would be the mostly likely audience for this resource, and students don’t generally care about peer-review, and because he realized a peer review process would slow down the writing, he chose to abandon it — this demonstrates Chris’s tendency to think from a business perspective and to focus on the needs of the market. For this particular resource, Chris’s goal was to be very user friendly. It was to play first to the student audience and then to the faculty audience. 

Learning from Open

Chris believes there is a difference between the types of resources that students appreciate as opposed to those that faculty appreciate. Students appreciate easy access and readability, perhaps even more so than quality, whereas faculty tend to care more about the academic quality of the content. Chris has been able to combine these qualities by creating a reputable resource that focused on the needs of the students, the Concise Encyclopedia. Again, moving from the first phase of students onto the faculty, Chris knew it was important to create a level of legitimacy for the faculty. This was why he created the non-profit publisher — to generate a level of academic reputability. This entire process brought the production of OER out of the textbook creation tradition and into a model of production with a business perspective. 

It was important to Chris that the models be adaptable and flexible. These resources, especially the case studies, are intended to be used across courses and disciplines. In order to be used in a variety of contexts, they need to be adaptable to the needs of the course they are being assigned in. For example, Chris is also hoping to generate open course syllabi that can be used in a variety of courses to streamline the curriculum across programs. “We want people to adapt the tools to their needs,” he says.

“Financial accessibility is as much a mechanism as it is an outcome.”For him, creating content was the most important aspect. Chris uses open platforms as a new way to disseminate the content that he is passionate about creating. Student participation was not a factor for Chris, as he did not consult with students to create the resource.

Student success, however, has been his primary goal as an instructor, especially when creating educational tools and content. Financial accessibility has always been an issue with for-profit publishing companies. Chris wants students to be able to Google whatever they are looking for and find something that is not only useful but also reputable. Students are not always able yet to tell the good from the bad, so it’s important to make sure those good resources are there for them when they go looking. Chris and his collaborators treated this project like entrepreneurs. There were not as many avenues for their product to be seen, as there would be with, say, a textbook repository, so they needed to be creative in how they spread the word. They even attended conferences with promotional materials to increase the reputability and reputation of their resource.

Advice for Other Faculty

  • Do it because you see a need that you want to address and not a vanity project.
  • Find the right marketing channel
  • Don’t write any old fashioned book that there are already a million copies of, find your niche and claim your new angle. There are already so many books, and many of them are good. Do something different.
  • Find the gap. Then fill it.


From Chris: In the end, Open Educational Resources are about the joy of teaching, and the joy of learning. Those of us who write OERs do so because we’ve got knowledge that we believe is useful to others, and a passion to share it. Commercial publishers will likely continue to have a role in providing educational resources, perhaps for a very long time. And there may well be some things that commercial publishers are simply better at. But modern technology provides the means to a more direct route, providing a more direct form of access to rich educational materials, and an opportunity for a professor like me to teach a class that is not just large, but global.

Credits: business ethics by Justin Blake from the Noun Project, CC-BY.


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Ryerson Open Moments by Erin Meger, Wendy Freeman, Michelle Schwartz, Ann Ludbrook, Maureen Glynn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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