Opening the books
Math professor Claude Laflamme combines a love of teaching with an entrepreneurial spirit to produce free online educational resources.
By Erin Guiltenane
Claude Laflamme is not afraid to try out new ideas. Over the last 15 years, the professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics has been combining his passion for teaching with entrepreneurship. The result of his work is innovative teaching and learning tools now available to universities and colleges across Canada.
Lyryx works with authors to develop and adapt open texts, which are then provided to students at no cost. The open licences mean there are no copyright and cost issues, as material can be downloaded for free by anyone and posted on any website. The material can also be adapted as desired, as long as the material is attributed to the original creators.
After collaborating with a large publisher for several years, Lyryx is now its own publisher, and entirely committed to supporting Open Educational Resources (OER).
Online assessments meet student and instructor needs
The idea for the company emerged out of a research initiative to develop formative online assessments for students.
“We had too many students to continue traditional paper homework, and while online multiple choice systems aren’t bad for testing whether someone has learned the material, they aren’t truly helping students learn it,” says Laflamme.
On campus, Lyryx is further experimenting with the licence fee being optional. Students currently have completely free access to all of Lyryx’s texts in any University of Calgary lab. Lyryx provides corresponding online assessments for a licence fee of $40, which students would only pay for the convenience of working elsewhere. The fee covers user support, editorial services to adapt the content, and other supplementary material such as lecture notes, solution manuals and test banks. In some subjects, the Lyryx software also includes tutorial videos and a chat room for students to communicate with each other.
“It’s about what students need, and what my colleagues need,” says Laflamme, who is also a member of the University of Calgary’s working and advocacy group for OER, chaired by Lynn Taylor, vice-provost (teaching and learning).
“We started this project to help the students, and provide the support I would like someone to give me as an instructor, because we have a lot of logistical work in our first-year courses.”
Laflamme has received support from his department. “My colleagues have been wonderful and generous," he says. "They’re contributing to the project, and willing to post their contributions as open material so that the world can benefit from them."
Open educational resource expands students' learning experience
Students who have used Lyryx have also provided feedback on their experience and Laflamme says, “This year alone, almost 5,000 students in the department are benefiting from OER for first-year calculus and linear algebra courses."
Stephan Guscott, university student and Students' Union president-elect says, “As a student who’s used Lyryx with Open Texts, as well as traditional learning resources, Lyryx removes the normal cost-benefit analysis of weighing the need for purchasing a course textbook, and also allows for the opportunity for online formative homework that is used as a part of your grade, compared to other technologies which are only permitted for practice.
"I honestly believe that open educational resources like these create a more positive learning environment and therefore, improve the ability for students to learn inside and outside the classroom.”
Canadian universities using Lyryx's open texts
Several other universities in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan are using Lyryx’s open texts. Lyryx also supports business and economics subjects like introductory accounting and micro- and macroeconomics, and Laflamme says he would also like to find authors to work with him on managerial accounting, corporate finance, and more.
As a business, Lyryx is striving for a sustainability model for OER, supporting the Lyryx team of 12 staff and the model is currently successful.
“Right now, we’re just trying to solve educational problems,” says Laflamme, “and we’re doing it.”