Open Textbooks

IOE 13, Pedagogy

This post is in connection with David Wiley’s “Intro to Openness in Education” MOOC.

For the 5th module in class, we are looking into the development of Open Educational Resources and open textbooks.  I am fairly familiar with open textbooks because my state, Washington, launched an initiative a few years ago The Open Course Library to develop open textbooks for the 80 most highly enrolled classes in the state.  I thought that the project was fantastic for many of the purposes that we have explored in class.

Over my last 5 years of teaching, I have definitely seen my students attitude as well as my own toward textbooks change.  When I started, they were an assumed cost.  Textbooks were something that I had to purchase when I went to school and as such I felt that it was a right of passage that my students purchase them as well.  However, over time I have seen that the content from these books have become less relevant and current, and that I am instead building my curriculum from resources that I am finding on the internet.  Even when I require my students to buy a text-book, they do not, knowing that they can receive similar knowledge by looking through resources on the web.  Overall, I think that there is a general perception of this among students.  They know the power of web technology, and they refuse to believe that there isn’t a cheaper way for them to come across this content.

That’s where open textbooks come in.  By pulling OER content together into pre-packaged bundles that instructors and students can use in their courses, these textbook practically invite instructors to use them.  Students as well, are excited that they can get the same content for free or little cost (for printing).  I personally think that open textbooks and OER resources are ready to hit the big time, and many faculty would be excited about the prospect of using them in their classrooms, however we still have a few stumbling blocks.  I would like to explore some of these perceived stumbling blocks and possibly chart out some solutions to get past these.

One of the stumbling blocks to the adoption of open textbooks is the ability for instructors to review the materials before adoption.  In the traditional textbook model, instructors are able to order desk copies to use in their course.  They can then easily look through the content and learning activities in order to determine if the content will work for their course.  I haven’t seen an equivalent in the world of open textbooks, while OER Commons is a good place to view and sort open textbooks and other resources, its UI still makes it difficult for instructors to see how they might implement such resources in the classroom.  They often get overwhelmed with the amount of resources that are available and don’t see how they can be distilled down into their course — or they may be intimidated by the amount of development that would go into adapting the textbook/content for their course.  I am interested in the visual design of OpenTapestry and wonder if a similar UI could be applied more uniformly to these resources.

Another stumbling block that I see in the adoption of open textbooks is that there is little marketing to be done to let instructors know that these option exists.  This module of the course has really shown me that these resources are pretty comparable in terms of outcomes to traditional textbooks.  This news needs to be shared with districts and colleges around the world. It would help us increase the efficiency of our educational system. I feel that there are a lot of educators out there that want to create, and share their own content, but they may not necessarily know about these options.  I, for one, would love to develop an open textbook for an Intro to Film class (a class that I teach), however, I don’t know how I would start going about this and what I could do with the content once I was done.  It might be good to have a straightforward and unified platform on which we could develop these open textbooks.

What are your thoughts?  Are these valid concerns?  I am pretty new to this world, so if you are seeing things going in a different way than  the way that I am perceiving please let me know.