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Xinli Wang at Crescent Driv

Get to know Xinli Wang: Open Education at UM

February 24, 2023 — 

While UM gets ready to celebrate our second Open Education Week (OE Week) during March 6-10, 2023, Xinli Wang, an instructor in the UM Mathematics Department, has been using Open Educational Resources (OER) teaching materials in her courses since 2019.

OER are materials like textbooks that are free to use and come with licensing which allows professors to distribute and even adapt the material to suit their own teaching needs.

Wang first became interested in OER while teaching at the University of Toronto Mississauga and encountered high-quality open textbooks through OpenStax. She saw the opportunity as a way to reduce barriers in access to course materials for her students.

In 2019 Wang began an Open Education fellowship through eCampusOntario, where she ultimately created her own adaptation of a Linear Algebra textbook for use in her classes. Since then, she has continued to use OER in her teaching and finds students appreciate easy access to their textbooks in multiple formats, even before the semester starts.

Finding an OER teaching community

Improved access to course materials for students wasn’t the only benefit Wang found. “It makes it possible to collaborate with people outside of your organization. Because these people are using the same open textbook, we connect and have discussions about how to use the book for our courses,” says Wang. And that builds community.  

“Two semesters ago I was teaching a multivariable calculus course using an open textbook and there is a Google group for all instructors who were using this book. I was part of that group, and for that particular semester I learned that a professor from Germany and another professor from Queen’s University were teaching the same course using the same book. We managed to exchange quite a few ideas in terms of course design, assessment design, and how we teach our courses using this book.”

Wang says this was particularly valuable during the pandemic when it was easy to feel disconnected. “I really felt I had some support with people who share the same interest.”

OER tools

Wang has tried different tools for using and creating OER. Her linear algebra textbook used the Pressbooks platform, for which the UM now has an institutional license. “If anybody is interested in getting an open book out, Pressbooks is a relatively easy platform to work with.” She is also interested in OER outside of the traditional textbook, whether that be embedding interactive activities in her online teaching using H5P, or investigating new homework-assigning systems like MyOpenMath.

OER use in the mathematics department

Wang isn’t the only math professor at UM using OER. This semester she is teaching Math 1500, using an open textbook that was adapted by Math colleague Nicholas Harland. Harland was featured during last year’s OE Week as part of a panel discussion.

Why is Math so successful in OER use? While Xinli has some ideas, she can’t pinpoint to a reason why it happens, “but I’m pretty happy to be a part of it.”

How you can take part in OE Week

Get involved in OE Week 2023, March 6-10, by participating in Open OE Week Events listed on the UM’s OE Week webpage.  Also, check out our resources, like the OER by Discipline Guide, to help you get started in finding OER for your classes.


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