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Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development



In this contribution, three open textbook authors outline the motivations and mechanics of three successful yet different approaches to writing open textbooks. These approaches include textbook creation and adaptation projects, individual and collaborative efforts, and traditional timeline and compressed " sprint " models. Following these cases, the authors discuss similarities and differences across approaches, along with broader issues concerning how particular disciplines and philosophies of teaching influence writing open textbooks.
9. Three Approaches to Open
Textbook Development
Rajiv S. Jhangiani, Arthur G. Green, and John D. Belshaw
In this contribution, three open textbook authors outline the
motivations and mechanics of three successful yet different
approaches to writing open textbooks. These approaches include
textbook creation and adaptation projects, individual and
collaborative efforts, and traditional timeline and compressed
“sprint” models. Following these cases, the authors discuss
similarities and differences across approaches, along with broader
issues concerning how particular disciplines and philosophies of
teaching influence writing open textbooks.
© R. S. Jhangiani, A. G. Green, and J. D. Belshaw, CC BY 4.0 hp://
180 Open Education
Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
We believe that we are entering a technological age in which we will be
able to interact with the richness of living information — not merely in the
passive way that we have become accustomed to using books and libraries,
but as active participants in an ongoing process, bringing something to it
through our interaction with it, and not simply receiving something from
it by our connection to it (Licklider and Taylor, 1968, p. 21).
In October 2012, the British Columbia (BC) Ministry of Advanced
Education launched the Open Textbook Project (OTP) (http://open. The project’s goal was to create sixty open textbooks in
the forty highest-enrolled subject areas in post-secondary education in
the province. As a provincial agency that supports teaching, learning
and educational technology, BCcampus was chosen to lead the project.
Four years later, BCcampus has surpassed their initial targets with over
150 open textbooks in the BC Open Textbook repository. These textbooks
have been adopted by nearly 200 faculty teaching 606 courses at thirty-
one (twenty-three public and eight private) post-secondary institutions.
The savings to BC students are estimated at $1,850,715-$2,298,878 USD
(BCcampus, 2016), a small fraction of the $174 million that students
worldwide have saved as a result of open textbooks from organizations
that include OpenStax College and MIT’s OpenCourseWare (Creative
Commons, 2015).
These significant financial savings do not come at the expense of
educational outcomes. Indeed, students who have been assigned open
textbooks perform just as well as or better than those assigned traditional
textbooks (see Hilton, 2016, for a review). The story remains the same
for retention and program completion. These results — improved
access, significant cost savings and equivalent or improved educational
outcomes — have encouraged philanthropic organizations to support
the development of entire college programs without traditional
textbooks costs (Bliss, 2015).
Yet, the very success of open textbooks raises a series of questions,
not the least of which is how this beneficent system can be sustained
and why a faculty member would ever undertake the onerous work of
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
creating or adapting an open textbook. In the absence of royalty cheques,
prestige, or institutional recognition, faculty have few professional
incentives. For faculty with the will, little is understood about the
different approaches available and even less about how these different
approaches may align with disciplinary requirements. In other words,
we know the elixir works, but we know far less about its methods of
The authors of this chapter have created five successful open
textbooks as part of BC OTP.1 In what follows we outline the motivations
and mechanics of three different approaches to writing open textbooks.
These approaches include textbook creation and adaptation projects,
individual and collaborative efforts, and traditional timeline and
compressed “sprint” models. Following these cases, we discuss
similarities and differences across our approaches, along with broader
issues concerning how our particular disciplines and philosophies of
teaching influence our approaches to writing open textbooks.
History Making in Open Textbooks
John Douglas Belshaw
The open textbook project was, for me, an intersection of interests,
obligations, and coincidence. My interests begin in my work as a
teaching and research-active Canadian historian. With conventional
texts, we are held hostage to the table of contents. A 13-week course is
bound to follow fairly closely the chapter organization of the narrative
textbook — which is typically and not surprisingly built around 12–15
chapters. This is one of several teaching-to-the-textbook traps that one
encounters. Beyond that, I am concerned as a pedagogue that history
textbooks tend to adhere to a core “master narrative” tradition (which
can be very difficult to escape). Twenty years ago this was a more
entrenched phenomenon: the arc of the pre-Confederation historical
1 Canadian History: Pre-Confederation (Belshaw), Canadian History: Post-Confederation
(Belshaw), British Columbia in a Global Context (Green), Research Methods in Psychology
(Jhangiani), and Principles of Social Psychology (Jhangiani). All these open textbooks
are available at:
182 Open Education
tale begins with European-Aboriginal contact and culminates in
colonial union in 1867. No matter how much economic and social and
demographic history was considered, and no matter how vigorously
it was reiterated, it still came out as a story of power and the voice of
what is called the “Nationalist School” echoed throughout. Now, it
is true that the most critically sophisticated text might challenge the
master narrative but it would still be a static object constrained by its
own structure and materiality. Scholarly history is a fast-moving field,
stereotypes of stodgy old academics wearing suede elbow patches
notwithstanding. Technologically and theoretically it is very dynamic
and the conclusions drawn by historians have repeatedly shifted public
policy. Getting those ideas into a conventional textbook is enormously
challenging if not impossible.
I felt, too, that I owed it to my students to advance the open textbook
experiment. My classes are all delivered online through Thompson
Rivers University — Open Learning (TRU-OL). Each new student
receives in the mail what we call a “pizza box” — a cardboard container
that includes the course outline, a hefty manual, some audio lectures,
and textbooks. One of the textbooks is a narrative and is among the
most widely used in the country. It is now into its 7th edition and
the value-added proposition of each successive edition seems to me
subject to the law of diminishing returns. The release of a new edition,
however, necessitates a revision of the course materials, a process that
is both time-consuming and costly. TRU-OL has to contract instructors
(like me) to deal with content; the production side of the house has to
be involved. Hours of institutional labor occur because Chapter Y has
been split in two and the pagination has completely changed or there
is a new set of suggested readings. A “minor revision” contract may be
welcome but the roll-out is not. Our courses are continuous-entry, non-
cohort, and asynchronous: any change in course material necessitates
two iterations of the course until we have flushed out of the system the
old materials (and students). The fact that TRU — along with Kwantlen
Polytechnic University — is a member of the Open Educational Resource
Universitas (the OERu) gave my colleagues and I an institutional context
for addressing these issues.
Coincidence enters into the equation as regards our audio lectures.
These were compiled in the late 1970s or early 1980s by academic
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
historians mostly in Toronto. While some were timeless, the collection
was really quite dated. Newer fields — such as gender history,
Aboriginal history, and environmental history — were not represented
at all. The best-before date on the audio resource had come and gone; we
were ready to assemble new lecture material. The open textbook created
an opportunity to build a multimedia instrument, one that included
the written word but also video and sound — embedded right in the
textbook (that is, in its HTML form). This seemed to me a delightfully
Harry Potteresque possibility wherein an expert in the field speaks to
the student right off the page.
Canadian History: Pre-Confederation was able to exploit some existing
Open Educational Resources (OERs). European, American, and
(remarkably) Aboriginal history of credible quality could be found in
the Creative Commons in the form of other open textbooks. Beyond
that, however, the material had to be created from scratch. This was
a significant undertaking both intellectually and in terms of person-
hours. Learning how to manipulate the Wordpress-based PressBooks
platform on which the open textbook was fashioned constituted another
challenge.2 Looking beyond those issues, my principal concern was how
the textbook would be received. Colleagues in several institutions in at
least three provinces are already using it and report favorably, so I am
pleased on that front.
Approaching the “sequel”, Canadian History: Post-Confederation,
I decided to engage a large number of historians in crafting small- to
medium-sized sections of the text. Nearly three dozen historians from
almost every province participated. This strategy had three advantages,
the first of which was an opportunity to draw on expertise that I would
otherwise struggle to approximate. Not everyone can jump nimbly from
nineteenth century women’s organizations to the role of Aboriginal
soldiers in two world wars to the opportunities presented by oral and
digital histories. I certainly can’t. Much better to include the most up-to-
date interpretations by the most up-to-date academics. Secondly, this
was a chance to introduce students to experts in a huge range of special
2 The BCcampus open textbooks are usually compiled and delivered on a custom-
built platform called “PressBooks”. It is an adapted version of Wordpress that
allows collaborative authoring and is capable of importing and exporting a variety
of file formats.
184 Open Education
fields, not by quoting them but by getting their voice and passion into
the text. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, involving colleagues is
a way to introduce them to the open textbook as a teaching resource. As
someone put it, they’ve got skin in the game.
These projects have not advanced without objections. Giving up
one’s intellectual property to the Creative Commons runs contrary to
some scholarly instincts. On the one hand, it’s called intellectual property
for a reason. We long ago commodified our output and there isn’t a
historian who doesn’t dream of becoming the next Eric Hobsbawm
or Fernand Braudel — the sort of national historian whose books sell
and for whom traffic stops and the nation mourns at their passing. As
a writing historian, I have produced a number of books on aspects of
Canadian history and that is part of the gig: the road to tenure is paved
with peer reviewed publications. Few monographs in the Humanities
and Social Sciences, however, make much in the way of royalties
because they generally do not make much in the way of sales (especially
in a relatively small market like Canada). All that effort and within one
year the “fresh” list on which your title appeared is lining the bottom of
the budgie cage. That is the moment when most of us realize that what
we wanted, really, was not royalties but readers. The commodification
of intellectual property can be criticized, then, for erecting a monetized
barrier between the “creator” and the “consumer”, a singular reason for
supporting OERs and shifting more intellectual product to the Creative
Commons. But, as I said, this runs against the powerful current in our
culture that privileges proprietorship of knowledge.
Furthermore, rule changes are involved. Among historians, the well-
crafted footnote is a thing of beauty. Our sources are often so arcane
and deeply buried in dusty archives that we devise citations as precise
as coordinates for an airstrike. If intellectual property holds us back
from releasing material into the commons, it is intellectual integrity that
stops us from adapting OERs. One might blame the American historian,
Stephen Ambrose (1936–2002), who was to historical writing what
Lance Armstrong is to the Tour de France: undeniably amazing but
the stain of dishonesty won’t wash away (Harris, 2010). So, borrowing
whole tracts from other open textbooks — effectively a cut-and-paste
operation — flies in the face of everything we have been taught about
integrity; and one feels compelled to model good behavior for students
by not copying lengthy passages verbatim. The CC BY-SA seal is,
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
however, permission from the creator of material to use at will.3 At the
same time, the onus remains on the scholar to ensure that one does not
use inaccurate material. And that is where the tradition of intellectual
integrity continues to matter. This strikes a nice balance, one that
younger scholars seem able to reach sooner than those of us who are
closer to retirement seminars than to tenure committees.
When the Ministry of Advanced Education in British Columbia
announced that it was committed to the creation of open textbooks, these
concerns came home to me. I have written several intellectual property
policies and integrity policies as well. I know first-hand how strongly
some scholars feel about ownership of everything from a patent through
innovation and journal article to an instructional manual. I know, as well,
plenty of textbook writers whose efforts brought revenue to publishing
houses, bookstores, and their own pockets and I have respect for their
contribution to the learning community. Embracing the open textbook
project required serious second thought about a paradigm with which
I had grown up.
It is worth the candle, as they say. I have come to believe that the
old paradigm has become a barrier to intellectual vitality. Academics
wringing their hands about the high costs of education can seize upon
open textbooks as a viable solution. As well, historians ought to be
seen to be doing history, not depending on someone else to provide
the all-inclusive, palatable to the greatest number interpretation in three
or four editions. In a world of Wikipedias, we need to show students
how intellectual integrity actually functions, not by cracking down on
plagiarism but by working collaboratively to improve livestock grazing
across the Creative Commons. While it may be true that some folks
will no longer get rich off conventional textbooks in an OER world, it is
worth recalling that the monumental works in our field are not and have
never been textbooks. Writing two open textbooks has shown me where
the scholarly historian can simultaneously become a public scholar, an
activist for greater educational access, a directly-engaged member of a
community of pedagogues and a champion for integrity in this very
important field.
3 The Creative Commons licensing system provides an alphabet soup of designations.
In the development of OERs like open textbooks the “CC BY-SA” designation is the
trifecta of openness. It signals: Creative Commons material with a responsibility to
attribute the material’s origin (whom it is “BY”) and Share-Alike.
186 Open Education
Sprinting Towards an Open Geography
Arthur “Gill” Green
Three moments led me to co-author an open textbook. The first moment
was when my undergraduate university roommate loaned me his copy
of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire advocates that a change to a
liberated society requires liberating education — that is, we must rethink
the basic modalities of education. He writes, “Education must begin
with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling
the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers
and students […]” (Freire, 2000, p. 79). This reconciliation encourages
learners to participate in the creation of knowledge rather than simply
focus on consumption of knowledge. Freire’s ideas influenced my
pedagogical approach and, eventually, my belief in the game-changing
importance of OER.
The second moment came in my first year teaching geography. One
day after an introductory human geography class, I saw some students
lingering in the back of the classroom taking pictures with their phones.
Curious, I approached to see what they were doing. These were not selfies.
Apparently the most photogenic item in the room was our textbook.
The students explained that they were sharing a textbook because it cost
too much. Each week, one of them would take the textbook home and
the two others would take pictures of the textbook pages in order to
read them on their phones. Perhaps most disturbing was that they were
apologetic, as if they were doing something wrong. This was the canary
in the coal mine for me. It was time to get out. It was time to get off of the
conventional merry-go-round of corporate textbooks, where the “new
edition is better [...] now with more colorful insets, an exam question
bank, slides, and online videos and quizzes”. This approach profits at
the expense of students, and caters to the weaknesses of the modern,
harried educator.
I have come to believe that the conventional textbook issue is not
someone’s fault, but it is everyone’s problem. This merry-go-round is a
logical result of the current educational labor system and the growing
tendency to see the education sector as an unmined profit source
(students as consumers) rather than a source of a public good (learners
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
as productive citizens). Faculty keep pace with the textbook merry-go-
round because they are accustomed to it and sometimes reliant on it as a
crutch to help balance all the other demands on their time. Even so, most
faculty that I know have complaints about the textbooks they adopt and
subsequently require students to buy (missing coverage on key areas,
the sequencing of chapters, out of date facts, etc.). Yet complaints are no
longer enough. To truly care for students and ourselves, we as faculty
have to make a full stop. We must change the system within which we
teach, learn, and work.
I would argue that the most important contribution of open
textbooks is not the commonly cited cost savings, but that they relieve
the pedagogic burden that conventional textbooks impose on students
and faculty. Conventional textbooks are for transferring information to
consumers — what Freire calls the banking approach to education. The
teacher or textbook has the knowledge. The knowledge is purchased
(at great expense), deposited in the student (account), and the student
regurgitates it on demand with little to no interest (pun intended). Open
textbooks are an alternative that allow flexible adaptation of the book to
pedagogies that suit the learning relationship.
Despite my ambition, I was unable to locate any geography open
textbooks that addressed Canadian or British Columbian perspectives.
So, I decided to write an open textbook. The hurdles were significant.
First, the time required — I was teaching full-time, designing courses and
finishing a PhD. Second, colleagues advised me against writing a textbook,
let alone an open textbook. The common logic was that an academic
should focus on feeding the publication mill. Writing a textbook is just
one publication, when several articles could be produced in the same
time. Third, no professional credit for open textbooks. I was told they were
seen as “self-publishing” ebooks compared to writing niche books (with
exorbitant price tags) within publishing corporations. Fourth, why work
for free when confronted with the potential and well-known employment
hazards of sessional work in academia? Fifth, the unfamiliar language of
esoteric terms, abbreviations, and overlapping licenses seemed to be an
additional hurdle in simply trying to understand open education. Despite
Freire and the canary, the disincentives caged me in.
In 2014, BCcampus gave me my third moment as they recruited a
team to write a BC regional geography open textbook. This textbook
would be unlike any of the previous textbooks supported by BCcampus
188 Open Education
as it would be written through a book sprint — a collaborative, rapid
(less than a week) writing method. The book sprint required bringing
a team together for four days to collaboratively outline and produce
a textbook. The authors would be supported by a librarian, a graphic
artist, facilitators and BCcampus staff. Each author would receive a
stipend. The methodological innovation, support staff, stipend and fact
that I already had four years of content developed from teaching BC
regional geography broke down the disincentives for me to get to work.
I was the first of five authors to sign up.
We worked over four days to complete the first draft. The first day
we met each other, learned how to use the online writing platform,
learned the book sprint method and collectively outlined the book. We
identified service learning and community based research as important
pedagogical aims and decided to provide example activities for each
textbook section. Some content sections that we identified as critical
had never before been included in a BC regional geography textbook
(e.g. food systems). The following days involved a frenzy of writing
and editing. Book sprint participants are encouraged to not prepare
materials before meeting as a team. We soon found that as a geography
textbook there were a number of images and maps that we needed to
obtain permissions to use or to create from scratch. We soon realized that
the time pressure would force us to rely on some background materials
for both these images and for content. So, I opened up the materials
that I created during four years of teaching BC regional geography.
Giving access to my course content to all my colleagues was at first a bit
intimidating. Then, I realized that this was part of the process of being
open. I had just created OERs by sharing my course materials. Through
daily 12–14 hour cycles of text creation and editing, the textbook evolved
into a coherent draft and I came to understand that all open textbooks
are simply drafts that should be further adapted. After four days, we
emerged with a nearly 200-page open textbook. BCcampus spent the
following months conducting a peer review process and converting the
book to their online open textbook repository. This institutional support
was critical in garnering colleagues’ respect for the work.
Most of the challenges we encountered were specific to the book
sprint method and our team composition. One of the first things we
learned is that while the official book sprint method emphasizes making
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
everything on site, this is a challenge for a textbook — especially for
a geography course that combines insights from numerous sub-
disciplinary areas in human and physical geography. In retrospect,
the unique requirements of a textbook might require changes to the
book sprint method. For example, a preliminary meeting of authors
for establishing the content of the book would allow them time to find
resources that they could bring to the book sprint. This would have
allowed us to contribute better materials, identify our weak content
areas and spend more book sprint time on creatively crafting the text
and our pedagogical approach. In our book sprint, we found our team
was weak in the area of physical geography. As well, division of labor
issues negatively impacted workflows and brought up concerns about
free riders. This might also be addressed by a preliminary meeting that
allows a better division of labor and accountability as it would allow
content experts to create quality first drafts or lists of core concepts
within their area of expertise that could then be introduced to the
collaborative writing process.
There were additional challenges, but these are truly opportunities.
For example, we did not have time to develop ancillary resources — now
commonly expected with conventional textbooks. Yet, the presence
of ancillary resources influences teacher-student interactions and
assessment choices when educators are pressed for time. Perhaps
a more sustainable approach is to crowdsource, inviting others to
share the ancillary resources that they develop in an associated OER
repository. This could provide many different approaches to the same
open textbook material and opens up pedagogical discussion.
To recap, there are unique challenges to sprinting through an open
textbook. Yet this sprint format can create a first draft and open us
to potential, because all open textbooks really are first drafts waiting
for improvement. The sprint format is a point of departure for the
reconciliation of the student and teacher relation. This format can be
adopted for course projects to improve textbooks. Open education
resources reveal possibilities for liberating geographic education from
the pedagogic burdens that conventional textbooks place on how we
think about geography as a discipline, our students as people, ourselves
as educators and the foundations of a truly democratic society.
190 Open Education
Review, Revise, Adopt. Rinse and Repeat
Rajiv S. Jhangiani
My red pill moment was when I first heard the term “OER” uttered by
David Wiley in May 2013 at an annual workshop held at Thompson
Rivers University for faculty in their Open Learning division. This is
when I began to see the Matrix for what it was — an artificial, parasitic,
publisher-driven system in which faculty are unwitting carriers. I am
ashamed to say that it never occurred to me to look beyond the unsolicited
glossy hardcovers that appeared in my mailbox every week. Or to reach
out to my university librarians, instead of relying solely on the affable
representatives who periodically knocked on my office door asking if I
had a spare moment, offering greater automation and promising better
outcomes (and when that would not work, inquiring about sponsorship
opportunities). The complicity of higher education with the interests of
for-profit publishing houses is truly staggering. It is a partnership that
successfully preys on heavy faculty workloads while peddling the false
notion that higher education is about delivering scarce (and therefore
valuable) content. A textbook case of a principal-agent problem.
A summer break from teaching allowed David’s message to
incubate. So when the open textbook team at BCcampus put out a call
for faculty to review the open textbooks they had harvested from other
repositories, I expressed an interest in reviewing two open textbooks,
one of which (Principles of Social Psychology by Charles Stangor) was in
their repository, and another (Research Methods in Psychology by Paul C.
Price) that was not, but which I brought to their attention.
Over that summer I evaluated both open textbooks using a rubric
from College Open Textbooks that (perhaps fittingly) had itself been
twice adapted, initially by Saylor Academy and subsequently by
BCcampus (see
criteria). Happily, both textbooks passed muster and fell well within
what I considered to be one standard deviation from a traditional
publisher’s offering (my internal threshold for adoption).
Emboldened by my generally positive evaluation, I took the leap and
formally adopted the open textbook for the one section of the Research
Methods in Psychology course that I was scheduled to teach during the
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
Fall semester. However, a number of deficiencies remained related to
context (e.g., US vs. Canadian research ethics policies), currency and
the absence of navigational tools such as a table of contents or glossary.
Which meant work. Moreover, there was no available suite of ancillary
resources (a question bank paramount among these). Which required
an ongoing commitment.
With three weeks remaining before the first day of class, I performed
a little triage to determine the most urgently required revisions, using
my own review and those of other faculty to guide this process. The
availability of the open textbook as a Microsoft Word file meant that I
would be able to make the necessary edits within a familiar platform.
And so I did, using every one of those twenty-one days to make only
the most critical additions and changes to the content. Along the way, I
taught myself about Creative Commons licensing and added a cover and
a table of contents to make the 377-page document more presentable,
before uploading the newly revised textbook (in two digital formats) to
the University’s learning management system and my personal website.
And so the adoption proceeded, with the 35 students in my Research
Methods course that Fall making for rather happy guinea pigs, having
saved $135 USD apiece (the cost of the incumbent textbook). Although
some had to be taught how to use the navigational features of a digital
textbook, the students overwhelmingly reported positive experiences
with the book, ranging from the ability to print pages as necessary to
being able to read the book on all of their digital devices. One unexpected
collateral benefit of this was the stronger rapport that resulted from my
choice to save my students’ money and improve their access, something
which paid dividends throughout the semester and even in my end-of-
semester evaluations.
One student wrote to me in an email at the end of the semester:
Being a mature student on a tight budget, not having to pay $120 for
a textbook is a big deal. That’s one of the many reasons I really enjoyed
the free textbook for Research Methods. Having many years of school left
it would be nice that more teachers and schools could use these kinds of
books to help take off some of the financial strain that students like me face.
Funnily enough, I did not think to inform the folks at the BC OTP about
my adaptation and adoption or to share the modified files until the end
of the semester. Awareness of my efforts at BCcampus led to a press
192 Open Education
release from the Ministry of Advanced Education and a post on the
university blog, attention that served as quite a contrast to my twenty-
one-day salute to social justice. But while concerns about student access
provided me with the motivation, several factors enabled my work:
1. The benefit of a non-teaching semester and no institutional
requirement to perform research provided the necessary time.
2. The small size of my then-institution meant that mine was the only
section of Research Methods offered that semester. This in turn meant
that that the choice of textbook was mine alone and did not belong
to a committee that might have raised questions about textbook
standardization or prattled on about their preference of the smell and
touch of a physical book.
3. First reviewing the open textbook served as a foot-in-the-door to the
revision process, providing me with the necessary familiarity with
the book’s strengths and weaknesses.
4. My experience teaching this course at other institutions provided
familiarity with different institutional expectations and allowed me
to evaluate whether any critical material was missing or required
5. I was able to modify the textbook using familiar technology (Microsoft
Word), even if this technology imposed its own technical constraints.
6. My competency-based approach to teaching Research Methods
made it easier for me to adopt the book in the absence of any ancillary
resources, an outlying position within a discipline for which reliance
on publisher-supplied question banks and test generation software
is the norm.
In the two years since this minor revision was completed, my
commitment to open textbooks has deepened. In the Summer of 2014,
I organized and facilitated the “Great Psychology Testbank Sprint” in
which twenty psychology faculty members from seven BC institutions
and with complementary areas of expertise came together for two
days and created an 870-question test bank to accompany an open
textbook for Introductory Psychology (See
I have since also completed major adaptations of the Principles of
Social Psychology (2014) and Research Methods in Psychology (2015) open
textbooks. Unlike my earlier experience, both of these adaptations were
completed under the auspices of the OTP using the PressBooks platform
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
and with the assistance of a collaborator (Hammond Tarry from Capilano
University and I-Chant Chiang from Quest University). Importantly,
both Hammond and I-Chant were partners who complemented my
content expertise and shared my commitment to good pedagogy and
the principles of open.
I am particularly proud of these recent revisions as they take fuller
advantage of the open licenses. In the case of the Social Psychology
textbook we addressed the reusability paradox by producing the first
international edition, deliberately using examples and statistics from
a wide variety of cultural contexts. And in the case of the Research
Methods textbook we embedded audiovisual media (video clips, QR
codes, hyperlinks to interactive tutorials) and wove throughout the
text discussions of recent and emerging developments within the field,
including discussions of Psychology’s “reproducibility crisis” and
the resultant shift towards open science practices that are gradually
transforming psychological science into a more transparent, rigorous,
collaborative and cumulative enterprise. Rather like an open textbook.
Several common themes emerge across our experiences creating open
textbooks. Foremost is our shared interest in creating and adapting
course materials that reflect the dynamic nature of our disciplines.
Traditional textbooks are, at best, pedagogically impoverished, context-
neutral content in an age where internet connectivity affords access to
rich multimedia and dynamic, contextualized knowledge. Consider
then the typical introductory course textbook chosen by a committee,
the one that no one loved but, crucially, that no one despised. The one
whose imperfections the faculty have learned to live with. Then imagine
instead being able to omit, augment or revise sections as desired. Or
embed and scaffold course assignments within and across chapters.
Imagine being able to update it immediately in response to breaking
developments in your field, embedding video clips, interactive
simulations and other rich media. To bring in local examples, current
public debates or references to immediate cultural touchstones. In short,
imagine having the freedom to modify the instructional materials to suit
your course and your context and your students rather than having it
be the other way around. All of these imaginary frontiers have been
194 Open Education
underexplored — worse, surrendered — territory in discussions of
professional and social responsibility.
A second common theme is our recognition of the importance of
access, broadly construed. Textbook costs continue to rise, having
increased 1041% since 1977 and 82% since 2002 (US PIRG, 2014). These
increases have been greeted by relatively little change in the amount
that students actually spend on textbooks, on average about $600 USD
(Caulfield, 2015). How is that possible? Nearly 65% of students opt out of
buying a required course textbook (even though 94% of these recognize
doing so hurts their performance), 49% take fewer courses, 45% do not
register for a course, and 27% drop a course, all due to concerns over
cost (Florida Virtual Campus, 2012). Those who do obtain a copy of the
required textbook often do so by buying used copies, renting, sharing
with classmates, using a reserve copy, photocopying and illegally
downloading. These student choices are forced and stressful, yet largely
invisible to faculty.
Of course issues of access go well beyond affordability. Open
textbooks grant access that is immediate (no student loan delay),
permanent (no need to resell), flexible (across formats and devices),
and compatible with assistive learning technologies. Conventional
textbooks dictate pedagogical decisions that limit opportunities for
people with different learning preferences. In creating and adopting
open textbooks, educators and learners have an ability to tailor the
text to their own unique needs and pedagogical concerns. The open
textbook approach offers a means to tackle issues of academic honesty.
The growth of essay-writing services has generated policies on and the
policing of plagiarism. This absorbs time, effort and money which in
turn has led professors to either drop or substantially change the writing
components of courses. The open textbook presents an alternative
paradigm in that it can be added to. Getting students to consider and
articulate contrasting approaches can generate original thinking that
can contribute to textbooks and to their own learning community. It is
one thing to say that students learn how to write by writing essays; it
is another to be able to demonstrate the quality of writing and analysis
that a course generates by pointing to student-created textbook content.
A third theme is finding a counterbalance to the lack of academic
incentives to create an open textbook. The authors of this chapter each
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
note challenges regarding workload, time and lack of disciplinary
recognition of open textbooks — which impact obtaining employment
and tenure. The role of external factors in overcoming these challenges
cannot be underestimated. In one way or another, all of the open
textbooks described here have benefitted from governmental,
institutional and foundational support. Without agencies like BCcampus
and the OERu, without a political mandate and funding allocation,
and without foundations like the Hewlett Foundation, the external
factors mentioned by the authors are often enough to stymie creation,
adaptation and distribution of OERs.
A fourth common theme is the importance of collaboration. The basis
of participating in OER is understanding your work is part of a chain
of collaborations. Indeed, an open textbook may be best conceptualized
as an invitation to co-create rather than an object to consume. The
importance of collaboration was emphasized in the case of Arthur
Green’s book sprint with a diversity of geographers, the case of John
Belshaw’s approach to collaboratively building a history textbook and
the cases of Rajiv Jhangiani’s psychology test bank sprint and approach
to choosing collaborators for revising open textbooks. Beyond the
benefits collaboration has for creation, having many collaborators leads
to more adoptions and more positive impacts for students. If we as
authors do not collaborate, our contributions — already weakened by
the limits of individual expertise — will likely be lost.
The separate and distinct trajectories each of us followed in this
contribution reflect our respective teaching philosophies. Comparing
these approaches to the creation of open textbooks reveals the many
layers at which creation occurs and the multitude of purposes served by
these educational tools. Yet, despite our different approaches to writing
an open textbook, we found many common components of success.
For example, we found that making OER allowed us to fulfil our need
for course materials that can be dynamically adapted to our unique
teaching contexts and pedagogies. We found that, while textbook
cost is a common and formidable barrier, working on open textbooks
unleashes a creativity that exposes many less-evident but critical
barriers to teaching and learning with conventional textbooks. We each
196 Open Education
encountered challenges to getting professional recognition for our work
on OER, as our disciplines have similar limitations to recognizing open
textbooks. Strategies for overcoming biases against these innovations
had to be devised. We identified that at the heart of each of our open
textbook processes is collaboration and an understanding that academic
freedom is not enclosing our knowledge in proprietary packages but
opening our work to the commons. Indeed, part of the commons and of
showing people that OER is subject to quality control is the peer review
of other open education materials. Finally, we recognized that public
and private funding that supports OER was a key trigger for solving
logistical constraints for our own production of OER. These investments
continue to be critical and are direct paths to making education more
accessible. We arrived, then, at the same conclusions. The promise of the
open textbook model, even when focused solely on improving access,
is enormous. But when the approach to open textbook development
reflects dynamism, respects agency and relishes collaboration it becomes
a truly liberating form of pedagogy.
9. Three Approaches to Open Textbook Development
BCcampus (2016), Open Textbook Stats,
Caulfield, C. (2015), Asking What Students Spend on Textbooks is the Wrong
Question, Hapgood,
Bliss, TJ (2015), Z as in Zero: Increasing College Access and Success Through Zero-
textbook-cost Degrees, Work in Progress: The Hewlett Foundation Blog, http://
Creative Commons (2015), State of the Commons, https://stateof.creativecommons.
Florida Virtual Campus (2012), 2012 Florida Student Textbook Survey, Tallahassee:
Freire, P. (2000), Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
Harris, P. (2010), Band of Brothers Author Accused of Fabrication for Eisenhower
Biography, The Guardian,
Hilton III, J. (2016), Open Educational Resources and College Textbook Choices:
A Review of Research on Efficacy and Perceptions, Educational Technology
Research and Development, 64(573),
Licklider, J. C. R. and Taylor, R. W. (1968), The Computer as a Communication
US PIRG (2014), Survey Shows Students Opting out of Buying High-cost Textbooks,
... There are also studies that suggest students are more engaged with their learning when their instructors switch to teaching with OER Jaggars, Rivera, & Akani, 2019). Although the benefits to use OER are becoming clearer, instructors still face barriers that make it difficult to identify the process and the support required for a successful OER implementation (Jhangiani, et al., 2016). ...
... Instructors who teach with OER likely need to prepare for their courses differently than when teaching with traditional resources (Petrides, et al., 2011). Instructors may spend more time preparing to teach a course using OER than with a textbook because they need to look for appropriate resources, edit the OER, or possibly create a new OER (Jhangiani et al., 2016). Consequently, instructors may need support from librarians and other campus personnel to accomplish those tasks (Misra, 2012). ...
Full-text available
Advocates who argue for the use of open educational resources (OER) promote the cost benefits in comparison to traditional course materials, reducing the expense of higher education for students. If institutions and their libraries are going to invest resources to assist their faculty in OER adoption, then we must understand how OER utilization could affect college instructors. OER are fundamentally different than traditional resources, in licensing and composition, therefore instructors will likely have to go beyond their usual boundaries of practice to implement OER. This small, qualitative study examines the impact of OER adoption on college instructors by investigating if OER can act as a boundary object, by analyzing if boundary crossing phenomena is present in implementation processes of instructors. By knowing this, institutions of higher education and their libraries could better allocate their resources to support faculty OER adoption.
... Like traditional textbooks, open textbooks are written by academics and disciplinary experts and are subject to a range of quality assurance methods. They are typically digital, although they can include versions that can be printed on demand and distributed to students who are constrained in terms of Internet connectivity and digital access (Bethel, 2020;Frydenberg & Matkin, 2007;Jhangiani et al., 2016). ...
Full-text available
One of the challenges experienced in South African higher education (HE) is a lack of access to affordable, appropriate textbooks and other teaching materials that can be legally shared on online forums and the Internet. There are also increasing calls to address transformation and social justice globally and in South African HE through curriculum transformation. This article draws on the research of the Digital Open Textbooks for Development initiative at the University of Cape Town (UCT). It presents the journeys of four open textbook authors at UCT in relation to the social injustices they witness in their classrooms. It also makes use of Margaret Archer’s social realist approach to explore dynamics related to open textbook authors’ agency and ultimate concerns, as well as how their internal conversations shape their practices and approaches to open textbooks. Open textbooks are framed as a set of practices that play out in varying cycles of time and hold promise in terms of addressing the need for greater access and inclusivity in HE.
... It is undeniable that, without either release time and/or funding for, for example, additional personnel, it is extremely diffi cult for scholars to invest their expertise and eff ort into the creation of OER materials, a diffi culty that has been emphasized in numerous publications (e.g. Carey & Hanley, 2008;Jhangiani et al., 2016;McGowan, 2019;McMartin, 2008;Thoms & Thoms, 2014;Tuomi, 2013). ...
Full-text available
In this chapter, we examine the application of the multiliteracies pedagogy Learning by Design (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015; Kalantzis et al., 2005, 2016) to the design of open educational resources (OER) for the teaching of Spanish as a heritage (HL) and second language (L2). We first discuss the tenets of the framework, and the reasons why it is appropriate to guide the development of OER materials. We then compare two differing instructional initiatives. The first focuses on HL learners at a Hispanic-serving institution, and the second one, on L2 students at a basic language program at an R1 institution. Based on these two experiences, we address issues related to the design and development of materials such as the following: (1) the identification of students’ needs (considering personal and institutional expectations and outcomes); (2) the development of materials (the determination of thematic and linguistic content); and (3) the implementation process at both institutions. Finally, we summarize the institutional and pedagogical factors that characterized both experiences.
... Crowdsourcing has also proven effective in soliciting and compiling content from teaching staff in the fields of information literacy (White-Farnham & Caffrey Gardner, 2014), the humanities (Dunn & Hedges, 2013), and in science, technology, education, and maths (Porcello & Hsi, 2013). It has also been used for the collaborative creation of rich e-learning content (Tarasowa, Khalili, & Auer, 2015) and in the compilation of open textbooks (Jhangiani, Green, & Belshaw, 2016). ...
Full-text available
This paper reports on a distinctive one-year online open crowdsourcing initiative which originated in the Republic of Ireland with a view to compiling an A-Z directory of educational technology tools for teaching and learning. Through analysis of multiple sources of data, the paper presents an intrinsic case study which outlines the design and implementation of the initiative and offers critical insights into engagement and participation in the project. The study found that participants from across the spectrum of educational sectors contributed to this project from a range of geographical locations, with significantly greater numbers engaging with the directory of educational technology tools that resulted from the crowdsourcing activity. It concludes that the creative project design, combined with a novel crowdsourcing methodology encompassing elements of collaboration, competition, and gamification, were strong motivational factors for participation. The case study provides a valuable context for considering the wider potential of this particular crowdsourcing format (and crowdsourcing applications in general) for teaching and learning purposes. Implications for practice or policy: • In-depth description and analysis of the project structure and crowdsourcing methodology used within this study will be of interest to educationalists who may wish to adopt or adapt this particular crowdsourcing model. • Practitioners who are interested in utilising crowdsourcing can increase participant engagement through encompassing elements of competition and gamification.
Although retrospective project reports are common in the materials development literature, accounts of textbook writing sessions are rare; so too are accounts of open textbook production. Open textbooks are learning resources that are free to use and oftentimes adapt by virtue of their copyright permissions. The authors used concurrent verbalization and interviews to document writing episodes while preparing their first book, an open textbook devised for corequisite technical writing courses. Corequisite designs pair content courses with explicit skill-building modules as a means to support underprepared learners in higher education in the United States. Qualitative content analysis of the data revealed how teaching and other praxis influenced the open textbook’s composition: in the authors’ applications of technical writing principles, pedagogical reasoning skills, and nonteaching work. The findings may encourage open textbook writers to exploit their established composing practices and knowledge bases to proceed with textbook production. In addition, the article highlights the usefulness of concurrent verbalization to textbook research and identifies the various materials development opportunities open textbook projects provide. It also contributes to the underresearched area of textbook production by exposing the complexities of open textbook development and how two novice authors negotiated them during writing episodes.
Full-text available
Textbooks are a vital component in many higher education contexts. Increasing textbook prices, coupled with general rising costs of higher education have led some instructors to experiment with substituting open educational resources (OER) for commercial textbooks as their primary class curriculum. This article synthesizes the results of 16 studies that examine either (1) the influence of OER on student learning outcomes in higher education settings or (2) the perceptions of college students and instructors of OER. Results across multiple studies indicate that students generally achieve the same learning outcomes when OER are utilized and simultaneously save significant amounts of money. Studies across a variety of settings indicate that both students and faculty are generally positive regarding OER.
This paper was also reprinted in: In Memoriam: J. C. R. Licklider 1915-1990 Research Report 61 Digital Equipment Corporation Systems Research Center August 1990 The Computer as a Communication Device
Asking What Students Spend on Textbooks is the Wrong Question
  • C Caulfield
Caulfield, C. (2015), Asking What Students Spend on Textbooks is the Wrong Question, Hapgood,
Z as in Zero: Increasing College Access and Success Through Zerotextbook-cost Degrees
  • T J Bliss
Bliss, TJ (2015), Z as in Zero: Increasing College Access and Success Through Zerotextbook-cost Degrees, Work in Progress: The Hewlett Foundation Blog, http://
Band of Brothers Author Accused of Fabrication for Eisenhower Biography
  • P Harris
Harris, P. (2010), Band of Brothers Author Accused of Fabrication for Eisenhower Biography, The Guardian, stephen-ambrose-eisenhower-biography-scandal
The Computer as a Communication Device, http://www.utexas Survey Shows Students Opting out of Buying High-cost Textbooks
  • J C R Licklider
  • R W Taylor
Licklider, J. C. R. and Taylor, R. W. (1968), The Computer as a Communication Device, lider-taylor-1.pdf US PIRG (2014), Survey Shows Students Opting out of Buying High-cost Textbooks,