Collaborating to Improve Access: Kortext & OpenStax

Since 2013, Kortext have worked with institutions and publishers around the world to amass a collection of e-textbooks and resources for learners.  Kortext also provides a range of learning analytics to help lecturers, librarians and administrative staff gain insight into learning trends and help to understand how students are using these materials. Kortext are now the UK’s leading personal learning platform and digital content provider, working with over 1000 publishers worldwide to offer more than 500,000 titles.

In August 2017, Kortext announced a partnership with OpenStax to make their STEM e-textbooks (open educational resources (OER)) available via their online library, making them more accessible to learners in the UK. By focusing on OpenStax’s STEM offerings in particular, the partnership hopes to contribute to the reduction of the growing STEM skills gap identified by the UK government and is working towards making OpenStax’s wide variety of STEM etextbooks freely available on the Kortext platform.

I was fortunate to talk briefly with David Langridge, Global Alliances Director from Kortext, about the partnership between Kortext and his opinion on OER whilst at Bett 2018 to find out more.  

Kortext Services 

Kortext’s services are focused primarily at the Higher Education sector but are available for learning institutions at any age of development, including CPD and Lifelong Learning. David explained the process:

“ We currently have two processes. The first, Institutions can sit down with our publisher team and pick out key titles or core etextbooks that lecturers will need for their cohort. Then, we make them available to the students from our platform via a Kortext account that is fully integratable to most univerisities VLEs. Our second process is more of a learner-centred approach. Giving students the opportunity to purchase ebooks that are on their reading list directly from our store.

Being a content aggregator means that we can also ingest other materials, such as OER content, lecture notes and presentations – we find that this fully cements our universal bookshelf as a central resource for students. Along with our online app we also encourage students to download Kortext onto each of their devices, allowing them the freedom to study online and offline, anywhere and anytime. By using our analytics dashboards lecturers and institutions can track and analyse this new way of learning”.

Kortext analytics are being utilised by universities to better further students’ success and engagement. They are also able to give the extra insight into where improvements to a text or supplemental material could be required.

This hybrid model that Kortext presents creates a viable channel for the distribution of both open materials and published content, especially with the added value of an engaging experience with interactive tools and associated analytics.

Partnering with OpenStax

In addition to OpenStax offering a range of STEM open textbooks that have easily been incorporated into Kortext’s platform, David also noted a rising number of users looking for open educational resources (OER); “there’s an increasing demand to look at open source material … [and] before the partnership we were being requested by a number of different … institutions to look at OpenStax.”   

David acknowledged that sourcing good OER content remains a “challenge” but if universities are validating such content by requestsing it, e.g. as happened with Openstax, then this can help mitigate concerns over the standard of resources. OpenStax textbooks are also produced using methods similar to those of proprietary publishers and undergo extensive peer review. “It comes down to the quality of the content at the end of the day … and the way the material is presented”, David stated. Ultimately, educators know what type of resource is suitable for their purpose and students. To date feedback on OpenStax had been “very good” both due to the “accessible” nature of the books and the range of STEM subjects covered.

Next Steps

Most current e-textbooks are PDFs, but David reports an accelerating transition towards EPUB 3 format by the academic publishers. Kortext’s functionality is developing in partnership to support the enhanced functionality that EPUB 3 enables and to give better insights into how the books are being used:

“… it allows the students to then start to get more interactive … you have the ability to embed simulations, videos, and quizzes within the material, so you can start to assess not only what the student is accessing but also how each student prefers to  learn by looking at what medium of resources has been used.“

More specifically, regarding OpenStax and open textbooks, we also discussed the issue of “local standards” and needing to align materials to specific curricula. As David noted, although the content of OpenStax textbooks enable them to be used in a multiplicity of different contexts (particularly as STEM subjects require an understanding of specific concepts no matter what the curriculum), they are currently aligned to US scope and sequence. Whilst the open license enables educators to take the resources they need, creating a book specific to the UK curriculum could take a large amount of individual educator time and resource. The case for the creation of UK curriculum aligned open resources is arguably a strong one and was also supported by secondary and FE educators that the UK Open Textbook team spoke with during ASE, 2018.  

As OER continue to improve in quality and availability, partnerships such as Kortext and OpenStax play an important role in speeding up this process and widening access to open textbooks.

Further Reading 

This interview was conducted by Beck Pitt during January 2018 and this case study co-authored with Rob Farrow and the Kortext team  

Image credits: Free the Textbook via opensource.com is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0, Open Book by Dave Dugdale (Learning Video) is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 and bettshow 2018 is by Beck Pitt and licensed CC BY 2.0.

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