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Did you know the idea of open textbooks came out of the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement which in itself is aligned with the Open Source Software movement? It's true! Keep reading for background information on open textbooks.

Workshop Overview

Welcome to Open Textbooks. The purpose is to increase the demand for open textbooks in British Columbia Canada. Success is measured by the number of faculty members who adopt open textbooks.

What is an open textbook? Well, definitions vary somewhat but here is a working definition:

An open textbook is

  1. Modifiable by the instructor - which means the text is in a digital format, broken into modular chunks, and it can be adapted to serve the needs of the instructor.
  2. Low cost/no cost to students. This means the texts are usually free for those with computers and internet access. It can also mean the text may be printed for free or a small fee to cover the costs of ink and paper. Sometimes these texts can be available in bound copies, which range in cost from $10-$60. Sometimes small fees are charged for open textbooks for special media usage like files for mobile devices or highlighting software.

Licensed by the author/creator with rights that are less restrictive than copyright (i.e. all rights reserved). This license typically (though not always) includes the right of any user to copy (digitally) & print the text as well as the right to adapt it as desired for use in a course, as long as authorship is attributed and use is Some Rights Reserved using an open license like the Creative Commons license. There will be more about this in the Topic "Selecting Open Textbooks".

Watch Video on Open Textbooks

Tutorial and Links

These sites and videos will give you an idea of some of the main issues to think about in adopting an open textbook.

Taming the Texbook Market Librarian Steven Bell's commentary on the price of textbooks and the options open textbooks offer.

Physics TextbookVideo Testimonal of adoption of a physics open textbook

Great way to tap into a community of educators interested in and using open textbooks.

Evaluating Open Textbooks

One thing to consider when looking at open textbooks - whether self-created or downloaded from one of the repositories, is its quality and appeal to students.

The first question to consider is who are the competitors? The open textbook does have competitors, whether they are are other open textbooks or traditional closed, print books. How are these books being used? Who is using them? What titles are they using? If the book is being considered for mass adoption, do you know what the alternative choices are and how the text is differentiated from it?

Another question to think about is does the open textbook address the learner? Keep the user in mind with respect to how and what you (or the author) are writing. For a positive experience, it is not about what you want to convey; it is about what the students will understand. Remember, students come with different backgrounds, learning styles, levels of technology experience, etc.

Does the open textbook have clear outcomes? A quality open textbook should correlate to standards. Many institutions use learning outcomes as part of their accreditation process. Correlating the text to outcomes helps the adopting institution verify it has covered the objectives while using the text.

More to Consider

Does the open textbook engage the learner? This is a key piece for users - especially if their courses are taught online. Spend the time finding the right Creative Commons-licensed graphics to convey your messages. This is a very image-driven world. Graphics need to be accurate, attractive, and conveying and idea or emotional impact. It is also very important to spend time designing/reviewing the layout, fonts, text, and color choices.

Has the open textbook been reviewed and do you know the reviewers? Reviewers may include your faculty adopters, or a review site like College Open Textbooks. Remember, in standard publishing, executives are very selective on who they have reviewing a book for its appropriateness. You should be selective as well.

Does the open textbook follow copyright laws? Authors/creators of open textbooks need to make sure they have the rights to pictures, quotes, etc., or permission to use the material from the author. You need to be familiar with copyright, Creative Commons licensing, and providing balance on controversial issues. Fact checking is paramount as well as verifying answers to quiz/test questions are correct. Reference checking is key for any content development. Remember, the authors are only as credible as their source material.

Last but not Least - Think About...

Is your open textbook well researched? It bears repeating: you are only as credible as the sources you include within the text.

Is the content current? Book publishers can get textbooks to market in six months if pushed. How timely will the information be in your open textbook if it takes you longer than that to find/create and adopt one?

Does the open textbook have appropriate resources? Often, just text is not enough to get a textbook (open or otherwise) adopted. Consider finding/adding/creating items like:

  • A Student Edition
  • Lecture Notes
  • Study Guides
  • Standardized Test Prep and Practice
  • A Teacher Edition
  • Teacher/Classroom Resources
  • Assessments

Is the open textbook easy to adopt? There are a variety of really interesting tools to help bring content to life like adding in video and audio, simulations, games, etc. You will need to take time to review and vet these items to make sure they work as intended. The inclusion of these tools, however, could be the differentiators in your book being adopted. Remember the keys to adoption include whether the textbook has flexibility, workable technology, an acceptable price point, and ranks high in usability by a range of tech-savvy students to tech-neophytes.

Student Voices

Watch this slide show from Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate Director, Student Public Interest Research Groups as she describes the problem with current college textbooks from a student point of view.