Thompson Rivers University

Maths prof celebrated for zero-cost textbook efforts

May 28, 2021

Izabela Mazur is being recognized with the BCcampus Award for Excellence in Open Education for her hard work in Open Educational Resources (OER), and efforts on a zero-cost textbook project.

Mazur’s fascination with numbers began when she was a child, working on math puzzles with her grandmother. Now she makes time outside of teaching Adult Basic Education mathematics to dedicate to advancing OERs, because she’s acutely aware of the cost of textbooks and how crucial they are—especially for the success of mathematics students.  

Izabela is a great advocate for OER, not only locally in her department, faculty and at TRU as a whole, but also in the province through her work as the math lead on the ABE ZTC (Adult Basic Education Zero Textbook Cost) Committee. She is very generous with her time, support and encouragement, and TRU and BC’s ABE community are very lucky to have her in our open corner,” says TRU Open Education Librarian Brenda Smith.

Q: You’ve been teaching Adult Basic Education mathematics for the last 17 years—that’s a long time! What inspired you to teach this subject?

A: My love and fascination with mathematics has roots in my childhood, when I was challenged by my grandma to work with numbers and solve little math puzzles. By the time I entered high school, I knew that one day I wanted to teach mathematics. Logical thinking, many different ways to solve a problem and one correct answer are just a few aspects of mathematics that keep me intrigued and inspired to teach this subject.

Q: Your research interests include co-operative teaching and learning, use of technology in teaching and use of open textbooks. How and why did you become an advocate for Open Educational Resources?

A: Three years ago, I attended Brenda Smith’s workshop and was introduced to the idea of OER. I remember listening to her presentation and thinking that the OER would fit perfectly in my math classes. The idea of OER intrigued me so much that shortly after that, I was reviewing open textbooks, comparing the outcomes and thinking about adopting an open textbook for one of my classes. Around the same time, I got involved in the ABE ZTC Committee. ABE ZTC Committee stands for an Adult Basic Education Zero Textbook Cost Committee. We advocate for the development of open textbooks for upgrading adults to make education affordable for them.

Q: What are the typical challenges you and other professors face when adapting textbooks, or creating OERs?

A: Probably the biggest challenge with adopting, adapting and creating OER is to find time outside your teaching hours to work on the project. Finding time was certainly an issue for me; however, learning about Pressbooks and LaTeX was even more challenging. Unfortunately, Pressbooks, the platform in which you write your book, is not very friendly to any mathematical formulas, equations, tables or graphs. To be able to import any of those to Pressbooks, you need to know LaTeX, which is a math mode that has the ability to typeset complex mathematical formulas. If someone is not planning to adapt or create a math textbook, she or he does not have to worry about LaTeX.

Q: You are known to assist and support the TRU community and beyond with OER education and training. Why have you chosen to dedicate your time to this?

A: I am a true believer that everyone should have equal access to education. I teach algebra and pre-calculus classes, and the textbooks for those math classes are very expensive. They cost roughly $230 for a single textbook for one math course. Some students simply could not afford to buy the textbook, especially if they have to upgrade three or four math classes. It is impossible for them to practice or review examples if they do not have a physical textbook and this is, of course, directly related to students’ success. One way to make education more accessible and affordable for students is to use OER, which enriches and improves their learning experience.

Q:  Have you seen any recent changes or advancements in OERs within the TRU community (or beyond) that you’d like to share?

A: In the past three years, I have seen more faculty involved in OER and more students using and appreciating free textbooks. I am delighted that TRU is one of leaders among BC universities in terms of the number of OER adoptions and of students’ savings.

Q: What do you think TRU is doing right with supporting development of OERs?

A: In the last few years, the TRU Provost’s Office has founded the OER Development Grant Program that enables many faculty to integrate OER into their teaching. Those who are interested or involved in OER can rely on support from the TRU Library, CELT, TRU OER co-ordinator and TRU Open Education Working Group. The TRU OER community has been involved in many conference presentations, workshops and showcases. I am grateful that I work for TRU, an institution that is so supportive of OER development. 

Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

A:   I am proud that my involvement with OER has an impact on education and I would encourage everyone to include Open Educational Resources in their teaching.

I can certainly attest to her involvement in and advocacy of OER. She has been involved in writing two math texts, has reviewed several others, has adopted OER textbooks for use in her classroom and has presented workshops on OER within the TRU community and beyond. Thank you for nominating her as she certainly deserves it,” says Education and Social Work faculty member Kim Moshenko.

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