"A Learning Experience": Chatting GIS and OER with Steven Hills

Dylan WoodcockBlogs

It’s no secret that we are passionate about increasing awareness of Open Education here at Campus Manitoba. Sharing our experiences is an important part of what we do, and why we love it!


GIS's store, check and display data regarding the earths position.
Geographic Information Systems is a framework used to gather, manage and analyze data. (Ed 259 // Unsplash)

Steven Hills had no notion when he began a career in the Forest industry thirty-two years ago that he would come anywhere close to sharing his knowledge at a college campus. But twenty years into a diverse, challenging, and uplifting involvement in government and private sectors, he knew he was ready for a change. And the professional shift to his current role as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Instructor at Assiniboine Community College (ACC), at least at first, was a pretty significant adjustment.

Breaking Things Down for College

“The first year was a learning experience, because I was distilling down all of the things I had picked up along the way…that first year was a lot of tweaking, a lot of refinement. [But] I was ready for a career change and felt that because I had such a broad range of experience, and unique experiences, that [college] would be a good fit.”

Perhaps experience is the most fitting word to describe Steven’s transition, as it was then, and as it is now. In his present role at ACC–one of Campus Manitoba’s partner institutions–he is part of a dedicated body of faculty and staff responsible for the challenging task of improving learners’ overall experiences, ensuring that students grow into marketable professionals, ready to make an impact in their respective fields. And with GIS information and technology changing dramatically over the course of a few years at a time, Steven faces a challenge: how to ensure that his students access the most up-to-date, insightful perspectives on matters in the field.

Building Things Up for GIS

It was serendipitous, then, when advocates for Open Educational Resources (OERs) visited ACC in 2016 and presented on the many advantages of including open materials in post-secondary programs. Steven was quick to see the benefits, not just for his own curriculum in GIS, but for the students to whom he was dedicated.

It took some initial research, he says, but once he recognized how flexible the OERs were, “there really was easy access. It was very easy, very user-friendly. I could take basic information and expand on it with course-specific examples and applications. Having that all Open is a big benefit to my students’ careers.”

Steven touches on one of the most appealing aspects of OERs: the “customization factor.” OERs can be tweaked at any point to fit a particular course or program. Such ‘living’ documents have the potential to increase collaboration in teaching and learning, and they place students at the heart of the most recent professional and critical issues in their field. As institutions support their faculty through the process of updating OERs, students not only garner knowledge that will have the strongest impact on their young careers, but are able to engage in important dialogue with their instructors and classmates as new information and critical approaches emerge. In a “very specialized” area like GIS, it is important that students have this understanding, and are able to develop their professional perspectives through collaboration.

“As time goes on, I have been more specific in each of my courses, and can really customize the questions and discussions to fit the resources we use. [We have] full class discussions that I integrate into my teaching and topics.”

OERs can replace piles of traditional textbooks, which saves students lots of money.
OERs replace traditional textbooks, which saves students money and increases collaboration. (Sharon McCutcheon // Unsplash).

Student Savings

That said, Steven still thinks that the most appealing aspect of OERs is affordability. A claim that exhibits above everything else, his dedication to the learning experience. He recognizes that the momentum of Open is growing, but that student awareness needs to increase. “I don’t think students recognize the full impact of OERs. The biggest benefit of the movement is that it provides cost-effective ways of supporting our learners.” To date, Steven’s use of OERs have resulted in cumulative savings of $26,535. By dedicating time to the OER movement, faculty enhance the acts of teaching and learning at the institution, and save students vital dollars by eliminating the high costs of traditional textbooks. This affords learners a dynamic, comprehensive post-secondary experience, where they are guided to new perspectives without breaking the bank. As a result, they can divert their savings to other expensive aspects of young adult life, reduce student loan debt, or get an early start on saving for the future.

Moving Forward Together

All told, it is hard not to be excited at the potential for the Open movement. Much like the movement, Steven’s own involvement continues to expand, with about 85% of his course materials coming from OERs. To date, he has utilized three OERs through the Manitoba Open Textbook Initiative: Database Design – Second Edition (Watt & Eng), Project Management (Watt), and Geographic Information Systems Basics (Campbell & Shin). And, he is definitely committed to more.

“I think it is only going to keep growing. I would like to see more guides, exercises, and resources that are specific to the GIS field available. Someday, I would like to pull something together myself, something that would fill a need in our area. I would love to continue being a part of that movement, that progress.”

As our team at Campus Manitoba works to enhance the post-secondary experience, we are certain he will be.


For more information on OERs and how you can support their development, Campus Manitoba is here to help. We can direct you to many resources, connect you with experts who can guide you through the creation process, and identify possible funding sources.