Since the turn of the 21st century, Trades Education has been subjected to rapid changes due to advances in technology, changes in global markets, and other influences such as climate change. A prime example of this pace of change can be seen in the automotive trade. Volvo Cars have committed to putting one million electric cars on the road by 2025. In order to do this, every new Volvo car launched from 2019 onwards will have an electric motor. However, the current Program Outline (curricular guideline) for the Automotive Technician Program in BC provides only an introduction to electric vehicles, leaving instructors interested in fully preparing their students with no choice but to go above and beyond the outline, locating external resources and textbooks to cover this subject matter. The current Industry Training Authority (ITA) model that oversees all trades programs in BC reviews and revises program outlines on a five-year cycle, which means many teaching and learning resources are only updated every five years at best.

Enter Open Educational Resources (OERs)

OERs enable instructors to collaborate and to make timely changes to open textbooks. In the past, each time a change was made to a textbook during the span of a four-year apprenticeship, many trades students were required to purchase the updated version of the text, or struggle to use the outdated version. In the case of Hairstylist, students attending post-secondary institutions where Pivot Point texts were used were forced to pay $900 for the full set of books, with no option to purchase used, or sell, because of edition updates and study guides that come as part of the package. Trades instructors have the potential to make changes to this system by using OER tools that increase learner access to education and drastically alleviating economic barriers.

Incorporating OERs

Recently, an Electrical trades instructor and OER fanatic, Chad Flinn, wrote a blogpost entitled Late to the Party. In this article, Chad talks about what led him to incorporate OER into his daily practice, and the success he has had in creating his YouTube channel The Electric Academy Chad’s original idea in curating this open digital resource was to provide his students access to bite-size class lectures covering complex subjects that could be accessed outside of regular class hours. Chad knew that many students would watch them repeatedly. Since the launch of The Electric Academy, Chad has gained 17K plus worldwide followers, and has drawn attention from electrical apprentices from around the world.

Chad’s success is not surprising considering how busy students are today. Many apprentices attending full-time post-secondary education are juggling family commitments, and many are managing part-time/full-time work on top of their 30 hour per week class schedule. Some are even juggling all three.

But being busy is nothing new. What is new is the fact that we live in a digital world where access to knowledge is no longer limited to the confines of the classroom walls. Many of our students have grown up in a digital world where Google has provided a 24-hour conduit to all that is known. These students have learned to access information and misinformation without the presence of a formal teacher.

Possible barriers at the door

Yet, despite the possibilities that OERs hold, Chad points out that Trades educators, on the whole, appear to be late to the OER party. His claim has led me to think about possible barriers. What is it exactly that is preventing Trades instructors from getting onboard? Is it possible that we, as Trades Instructors, are so accustomed to teaching within four walls, with data-projectors, PowerPoint slides, Queen’s printers Line Book Modules for apprentices, and hands-on workshops, that our vision to think outside the box has been constrained by our own practice?  Are we ignoring the possibilities for teaching and learning that the digital world holds? Are we afraid to let go – are we afraid to give up our authoritative role as educators?

Or is it that the historical relationship between publishers and curriculum development is acting as a bouncer at the door?

Whatever it is that is standing in our way, the big question is this: Whatresources are available to help us develop and adopt OERs?

Enter BC Campus

Well, BC Campus for one! The Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training fund BC Campus, whose mandate is to support post-secondary institutions in BC as they adopt, adapt, and evolve their teaching and learning practices to create better experiences for students. BC Campus has been active since 2012 and has been busy supporting the adoption and curation of OERs in BC. As a result, BC Campus reports the total cost savings for students through open textbook adoption is between 12 million and 14 million dollars over the span of 7 years (2012 – 2019). The number of students currently using open textbooks is roughly 136 000, and the number of BC Institutions currently adopting open textbooks is 40.

These numbers alone are evidence that many educators are onboard with adopting and adapting their teaching practices with the use of OERs, and one advantage is clearly the cost-saving benefit to students. But further investigation reveals that out of 304 open textbooks available in BC only 34 represent trades.

Enter the 5R’s

Having dug deep into the OER ethos – and learned much about the advantages for both students and educators — I can safely say when OERs are adopted or curated by instructors it’s a win-win for all involved. A pretty big claim you might say? Let me explain.

Firstly, with OERs, students get to save money, making education more affordable and accessible to many. That’s a huge win, right? And secondly, open textbooks are licenced through the Creative Commons agreement which permits users a range of permissions known as the 5 R’s:

  1. Retain– the right to make, own, and control copies of the content.
  2. Reuse– the right to use the content in a wide range of ways.
  3. Revise– the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself.
  4. Remix– the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new.
  5. Redistribute– the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others.

This material was created by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at:

To me, the concept of the 5 R’s is what makes Trades a perfect fit with OER. Instructors can collaborate in the curating of resources. They can retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute resources to meet the specific needs of a course. They can update as needed, and adapt content for the individual needs of students. If you’d like to see an example of this, check out Trigonometry and Single Phase AC Generation for Electricians authored by Chad Flinn.

Another great example of OER is BC Code Books. Earlier this year the Province of BC announced easy online access to the BC Building, Plumbing, and Fire Codes at no charge. Another great saving for students!

Want to know more?

Check out the inaugural episode of Praxis Pedagogy hosted by Tim Carson, piping instructor from BCIT. This podcast is about practicing this craft called pedagogy, and open educational resources in the Trades world. Tim makes the claim that the OERevolution is beginning and Trades is on the edge of something great.

Want to join the party and chat more about OER and the Trades?

Find us on Twitter
Tim S Carson – praxis pedagogy @praxispedagogy
Chad Flinn @chadhflinn
Sally Vinden @sallyvinden