Training Future Teachers with OpenStax in the UK

This post was originally published on on May 1, 2018. 

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Higher education is expensive. College fees, accommodations, and travel costs impose mounting pressures on today’s students. The increasing cost of many of today’s university textbooks can sometimes be the straw that breaks the camel’s back! At the University of Sunderland (UoS), we are doing our best to make expensive course textbooks a thing of the past.

My name is Andy Fraser, and I’m a senior lecturer in the Science, Mathematics, and Education department at UoS. In this article I am going to explain how we are using OpenStax to provide world-class subject knowledge to our trainees at no cost to them. As a firm believer in the benefit of using free, open resources, I’m one of the early adopters of OpenStax texts as a part of OpenStax UK, which was launched earlier in 2017 in partnership with UK Open Textbooks.


We are doing our best to make expensive course textbooks a thing of the past.

— Andy Fraser

Located in northeast England, UoS is one of the largest higher education institute (HEI) providers of initial teacher training in the UK. The UK is currently experiencing significant shortages in the recruitment of science and mathematics teachers. In an attempt to address this ongoing shortage, UoS has significantly increased its recruitment of trainee science teachers, doubling recruitment over the past two years.

The majority of schools in the UK expect science teachers to teach chemistry, physics, and biology up to Key Stage 4 (age 16), but the majority of graduates entering teaching have specialized in one particular science (physics, chemistry, biology, or an engineering field) during their undergraduate career. As part of their training, teachers must therefore develop a wider scientific subject knowledge base.

Over the past two years, staff at UoS have redesigned the way in which trainee teachers access training materials associated with developing their scientific subject knowledge. The motivation behind this redesign was two-fold: First, trainee teachers spend much of their time training in schools off-campus, so they need remote access to learning materials in one central environment. Second, the proliferation of high-quality, web-based learning tools has presented the prospect of a learning and training platform which can integrate materials from multiple sources to accommodate the learning styles of all. The importance of both ease-of-access and flexibility made OpenStax the best solution to address the new key design requirements for training teachers in the sciences. Through integrating OpenStax content with materials from Khan Academy and PhET, we were able to create the comprehensive base we needed to give trainee teachers a broad subject knowledge in science and math.

Centralized access

One of the most important goals for UoS has been giving students integrated access to their learning tools in one central learning environment. This strategic choice has been instrumental in allowing busy trainees to access all assignments, study tasks, student feedback, and monitoring by tutors in one place. We ultimately chose to integrate all course material in Canvas Pages within the Canvas learning management system (LMS), which allows a trainee to move among the learning resources efficiently and unambiguously. The fact that OpenStax content is flexible and online-based was essential in meeting this criteria; the ability to link fragments of OpenStax content into the Canvas pages developed by UoS was one of the deciding factors in adopting OpenStax.

Integrating OpenStax with other OER

We also wanted the ability to integrate multiple sources of high-quality content to equip trainees with the broad subject knowledge that they need. We found that the structure and comprehensive content of OpenStax science and math books were highly complementary to Khan Academy materials and PhET simulations. We were able to thread content from OpenStax’s University Physics, College Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy, Calculus, and Algebra and Trigonometry books with Khan Academy and PhET resources. We were then able to integrate content from all three sources into the Canvas LMS. By integrating these resources, students are given in-depth theoretical background to their learning, alongside the ability to investigate complex and often abstract concepts through inquiry-based learning.

Access across devices and locations

Another key design aim for UoS is for students to have simple access to learning materials from within their learning modules both on- and off-campus, which required UoS to adopt an IT framework for our learning tools that works well across all devices. The responsive design of OpenStax and our other open materials helped the content fit well into this framework. This approach has given students access to learning while in the university, at home, and on the go through mobile devices, which is driving improved engagement in their learning and better learning outcomes.

Example: Our integrated learning tools in action

I’ve talked about some of UoS’s academic and design priorities in choosing OpenStax and our other open materials, but it helps to see an example of the final product – how we’ve integrated learning materials from multiple sources into a central, accessible learning module within Canvas Pages. In the kinematics learning module featured below, students access OpenStax, Khan Academy, and PhET simulations from a single Canvas Page in a way that draws together the strengths and learning points of all individual sources.

Real-world problems

OpenStax provides comprehensive question sets aligned with course material. By placing questions within our Canvas Pages, we are able to provide trainees with focused guidance on key learning principles from their content.

Access to deeper and more complex learning using the full OpenStax College Physics chapter

Here, students are linked directly to detailed information and learning examples from the OpenStax chapter on kinematics through a Canvas Page link. The user is seamlessly accessing this material along with materials from Khan Academy and PhET at the same access point.


OpenStax College Physics Chapter on kinematics

Additional learning resources

OpenStax video illustrations and concept trailers are a really powerful aspect of OpenStax’s content. This screenshot shows access to these resources along with links to other teaching and learning materials, such as science curriculum specifications, in the same location. Again, clarity and ease of access are maximized.

Additional Learning Videos within Canvas pages

Integration of Khan and PhET learning tools

We generate a top-level navigation map in our learning environment, providing students with a reference linking the learning program for this kinematics module with the location of specific learning resources provided by OpenStax and Khan Academy.


The OpenStax books have allowed UoS to develop high-quality open learning resources to meet the needs of its students. Furthermore, integration of OpenStax into the UoS Canvas learning environment has increased the effectiveness of these learning materials by allowing them to be used easily alongside leading inquiry-based learning tools such as PhET and Khan Academy.

The open nature of the OpenStax books is allowing UoS to rapidly adjust and develop its teaching and learning products to give students access to free resources at home, on the go, or within UoS, thereby increasing the time students spend tackling difficult and complex scientific principles. Since we’ve implemented these resources, our teacher trainees have had better access to the materials they need when they need them, and we’re seeing improved learning outcomes. We’re pleased with the results so far and will continue to work to provide the best possible resources to train tomorrow’s teachers.



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