Open textbook workshop at The University of Sussex


Yesterday I attended my first open textbook workshop with practitioners from outside the project at a workshop led by Viv Rolfe at the University of Sussex.  We met in the Employability and Careers Centre in the Library, and the session was attended by academics, subject support specialists, librarians and subject specialist librarians, technologists, specialists in digital content and other service providers within the university.  This was a very interesting cross section and allowed for the sharing of insights from across the organisation.

At The University of Sussex there are few instances of compulsory book purchases.  You still see longer reading lists, although the library cares greater pains that most to make priorities clear.  For less advanced courses there is often a single textbook – but these often have to be bought for each course separately and the cost can add up quickly.

Here are the suggestions that were made for reform of how resources are shared:

  • Create and share our own teaching materials
  • Offer more prestige to non-traditional activities such as publishing in open access journals
  • Need to break the ‘rulebook’ of how things are usually done
  • Create sharing communities
  • There was quite a good level of awareness of open access and open licensing in this group.  The point was made that it’s no extra work to release things on an open licence – just an alternative form of dissemination  The 5rs of OER were also mentioned without prompt from the research team.

A portion of the session was devoted to discussion of evolving digital and curatorial skills.  Wikipedia was highlighted as an example of a technology originally criticised as unreliably open, but now widely used by both students and academics.

One area where openness was thought to be of interest was the impact agenda for teaching and the forthcoming TEF audit.  Producing open textbooks and monitoring their download/use was thought to offer a way of quantifying teaching impact.

When the discussion turned to the kinds of barriers to using open resources that people have encountered, the following were mentioned:

  • Publishing – difficult to know which platforms, licences and technologies to use (though it was also noted that it is getting easier)
  • Finding – discoverability is considered to be a significant issue
  • Policy – enablers are needed to explain to people what they can share, and how; how recognition for this can be offered; many policies are still driven primarily by profit motive

The point was made that a position statement in favour of open may be preferable to a policy (which is more formal and requires policing). (This is evidently something that worked at another UK university.)

One interesting issue came up within the discussion around different publishing models.  It was reported that the university press model is having something of a resurgence, buoyed by open licensing.  Some universities stipulate that any teaching materials created are copyright of the university.  This could be seen to impede open practices since this gives rise to a situation where one’s research is one’s own but as soon as it is taught it becomes the property of the university.

Another thing that occurred to me was that we don’t typically think about the cost of resources when putting together a curriculum or reading list.  The main criterion tends to be quality and relevance above all, and I suspect affordability doesn’t come high on the list of considerations.  Maybe this is an area we could explore in the future.

There was also a discussion of more general aspects of the digitalisation of educational resources, technologies used for reading/accessing them and the relevance for accessibility.  Attendees were advised about the reviewing process within the project and we are hopeful that some reviews will be contributed.   All in all, a very positive session which once again suggests there is a good level of institutional knowledge about openness within UK institutions.


Rob Farrow

Researcher with OER Hub. Cat butler. Homepage at http:///

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