Staffordshire University Open Textbook Workshops

Viv and I headed up to Stoke-on-Trent recently to conduct two open textbook workshops with staff from Staffordshire University. We had a great mix of participants from librarians, senior lecturers to senior management, with fantastic discussions on all aspects of openness and the potential of open textbooks.

Some key points from both workshops:

In general, students were perceived by staff to purchase hard copy books infrequently with books adding an additional financial burden in addition to fees. The portability and accessibility of online materials was highlighted with one librarian noting that “if [students]… can’t carry it on their phone then they won’t read the right thing.” However, as one senior lecturer noted this didn’t extend to a preference for e-books but rather for articles and shorter length materials which were more readable on mobile devices.

Some students found libraries intimidating, especially if they hadn’t previously had much exposure to books. Differing levels of familiarity with books presented a barrier with some students not knowing how to use a physical book, e.g. an index.  Some participants reported that their students didn’t seem to see the relevance of the library with students not thinking of the library as a place to go between lecturers whilst others found that individual student circumstances made visiting the library difficult. Some students were reported as wanting the quickest possible reading solution (e.g. a summary or graphic novel version) rather than engage with the original work itself.

The library reported that 234K e-books/databases are currently available with virtual reading lists and the ability to reserve and auto-renew online. However, students are not necessarily choosing to use the facilities available.

There were some great examples of staff responses to these challenges. One librarian reported that a lecturer had co-created a book for students but this was not currently available via the Library. One senior lecturer participant advised that they blogged so that their material was up-to-date and students could reference this easily.

Discussions raised a number of ways forward to help students:

There was general agreement in both sessions that raising the profile of reading, the library and books in general is needed. A variety of ideas were discussed to help address this including creating a physical space to promote books/reading and the role of induction in ensuring students become familiar with reading/books and how the library can help throughout students’ studies. In addition, thinking about student expectations regarding technology and how students are studying (e.g. en route to university) were also highlighted as important considerations.

It was noted that reading lists can often vary drastically in their length (comprising of pages of books to none) with some resources described as “essential” or “required.” These terms can be interpreted in a variety of ways by students and therefore more clarity is needed on expectations and what terminology means (e.g. if a book is ‘essential’ reading, do I need to buy it?). It was also suggested that, so students can anticipate the cost of reading materials, that some kind of standardisation regarding the number of “required” or “essential” books for each course should be introduced across all subjects.

Participants from both the morning and afternoon workshops were excited about the possibilities of open textbooks and other OER. There was a high level of familiarity with open licensing, particularly from librarians during the workshops. Questions included best practice re: attribution of remixed books, the quality of books once a core text had been remixed and how best to bulk upload and add open textbooks to the VLE/LMS and the library catalogue. Standardised guidelines for remixed material and how best to reference were considered of key importance by both librarians and academic staff, in addition to material being available in multiple formats so that they are accessible.

One senior lecturer was keen to raise awareness of open textbooks within her department and noted that there could be a good opportunity to use OER within new modules that were currently being developed. Whilst we were previewing open textbooks during the session, material from Introductory Statistics was identified as potentially providing a no-cost replacement for materials currently being used to give students a basic grounding in the subject as part of another course.  How best to recognise use and development of open materials and practices was also discussed within the context of professional development.

Both Viv and I left Staffs feeling energised and excited from the workshops – thank you so much to everyone who participated!

Photo credits: Featured image of Beck Pitt by Viv Rolfe via Twitter and Stoke-on-Trent University Quarter: Panorama by Futurilla is licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

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