Open Textbook Discussions – “Open Brings Options” (post 2)

Open textbook discussions – “Open brings options”

The discussions that took place in the Open Textbook workshops at the University of the West of England recently raised some interesting points (Blog 1). Of course they would – workshops were attended by teachers, library staff and learning technologists, and their breadth of perspective was enlightening. We had staff from 3 Universities in the region, adding to the richness of ideas. It would be fair to say that for the academic staff – biomedical sciences, geography, paramedic science – this was their first introduction to open education, whereas some of the other attendees had an advanced understanding and were themselves practitioners and researchers.

Open textbook workshop

David Ernst (photographed by Caroline Kuhn)

In North America, funding has been received for the most part to address student debt, but as David Ernst explained in the workshops, encouraging ‘faculty’ (academic staff) to ‘adopt’ (recommend) the book was just the entry point to understanding open educational resources (OER). The beneficial outcomes to students extended way beyond addressing some of their financial hardships, and research was beginning to show impact on learning outcomes, and were certainly validating the quality of the books which of course is an essential point to consider. Much of this work has been carried out by the Open Education Group based at Brigham Young University.

An interesting discussion followed (not verbatim):


  • The challenge is also encouraging students to read widely around the subject. In the college where I taught, they used to just buy from XXX but this doesn’t encourage academic rigour. One key text is great, but how do you encourage wider reading
  • There are subject differences at university. In later years of study, we rely on scientific papers.
    But you need the texts in the first year.
  • If we start to use open educational resources now, this will help prepare us for when the market gets even more prohibitive.


At the end of the workshop I asked, what was motivating people now?


  • In microbiology, I’m motivated by a broader book and free alternative to the core text.
  • Interested in creating something with students especially to help them become digitally literate.
  • Basic level quizzes look similar to print versions but we often have to buy-into publishers quizzes and interfaces. “Open brings options”. Always have textbook with them – here, on laptop, drop into teaching.
  • The university already provides some good anatomy and physiology resources. But this further supports mature learners who are working full-time. The book could link to some of our other existing digital resources.

The discussion at a couple of points kept returning to digital literacy. Will these approaches require new skills – for students and staff ? As suggested above, open textbooks could be a way in to developing this. Further suggestions were that library information skills modules would need to be embedded into all teaching as students capabilities to search and critique online resources was not good.


  • With information all over the place then what is the role of academics? Act as a filter?


What might be some further challenges?

The intricacies of the Creative Commons license appeared as a potential challenge – despite the simplicity of the license, there would be occasions when this might be difficult to understand and apply.


  • Can I take pictures of the books out if it is ND?
  • I’d like help around the creation of open textbooks.
  • How would you remix books with different licenses?

David acknowledged there would be challenges here but the essential point before embarking on any work would be to clarify the copyright questions up front.


Summary and action
So a huge thank you to David Ernst who left us all suitably inspired by the end of day one. I would suggest if anyone has copyright questions, your institutional library will be the place to go as there will be relevant expertise there. Also, seek out colleagues who are open educators, or have been involved in open education projects.


Vivien Rolfe

Open educator for over 10 years; advocate; open practitioner; OER creator; Director of OER projects and researcher. More here:

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