While preparing to cross the border into Canada on my solo bike trip, I emailed the only person who I “sort of” knew in British Columbia and asked if he’d like a get together for lunch. The only problem was that I had never met this individual in person before, nor did I have any idea where he was located in the province. But hey, there’s only 4.6 million people in an area the size of California, and everyone knows that Canadians are so friendly, so how hard could it be to find this guy?
Thankfully, Brad Payne replied to my email and encouraged me to stop by his office, which happened to be located in downtown Victoria, BC, just a few blocks from my 3pm ferry ride back to the States. Turns out that he’s an avid biker, too. I corresponded with Brad several times over the past year due to our mutual interest in open-access digital publishing. Brad invited me to have lunch with him and two colleagues, Amanda Coolidge and Clint Lalonde, who work at BCCampus OpenEd. Together, they collaborate with faculty throughout the BC public higher ed system to create and adapt open-access textbooks for the most heavily enrolled courses, which means that students may read online or download for free, or purchase a print copy at low cost. Brad is a software developer who has made incredibly valuable contributions to PressBooks, the WordPress-based open-source code (developed by Hugh McGuire and colleagues in Montreal), which allows authors to easily publish books in multiple formats: online, PDF, EPUB, Kindle, etc. I’m a big fan of the PressBooks Textbook plugin that Brad developed, which makes this platform very suitable for all types of academic publishing, such as the scholarly edited volume that co-editor Tennyson O’Donnell and I completed just before my trip, Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning (forthcoming from Michigan Publishing).
We had a great lunch and conversation about the BCCampus approach to open-access textbooks, their strategies for broadening faculty involvement, and their occasional need to “Canada-ize” materials (a new word for me) that were not originally designed for their student population. Given all of their youthful energy, I initially thought this was a “start-up” operation, but then learned that BCCampus has been producing open education resources for at least ten years, so am very impressed by their stability in the field. The BC crew invited me to meet up with them at the Open Education Resources annual conference in Washington DC in November 2014. And they also introduced me to the flavorful Phillips Intergalactic local root beer, which was other-worldly.