Open Textbook Workshops at UWE (post 1)

Last week on Thursday 20th July and Friday 21st July we ran the first four Open Textbook workshops as part of our Hewlett-funded project (#UKOpenTextbooks; @UKOpenTextbooks).

The slide deck is available here – David Ernst via SlideShare

Open textbook workshop

Workshop swag

It was an utterly delight to work with David Ernst from the Open Textbook Library which is based at the University of Minnesota. He’s been running these workshops for a number of years to raise awareness of the growing corpus of open textbooks available in the Library, and to encourage ‘adoption’ of the books (take up by academics and teachers).

I say “work with” loosely, as David staunchly did all of the work, and delivered the sessions four times to staff from the University of the West of England, University of Bristol and Bath Spa University. Attendees were academic staff, librarians and learning technologists, and they all enlightened the sessions with their own perspectives and ideas.

What are open textbooks?

David’s slides are available via SlideShare, and open is signified by the use of Creative Commons licenses which are the essential component of the ‘open’ publishing model to facilitate sharing of the books. The model enables books to be made available to students – cost free in the digital forms (or a low cost print version). I was surprised that so many were available with around 400 core college / university-level books catalogued on the Open Textbook Library. Many are from the collection and include basic maths, physics, biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology and many more – their objective is to provide books for the 25 most commonly studied subjects in the US.

The open textbooks are aimed at College / University-level – and I would think in the UK be ideal for Foundation degrees and provide a core book for studies for 1st year students, and a useful resource thereafter. They are available in a range of formats so would ideally suit those on ‘in work’ training programmes, apprenticeships, distance learners, or any student who may not be able to access campus libraries for physical copies.

Why are open textbooks so important?

David described the main driver for funding in the US and Canada which has been to address student debt – of course, very topical I the UK too right now. He played videos of student testimonies where students were holding down part time jobs, had “max’d out” on loans, were book sharing with their friends. As David said, “what more can these young people do”?

Through foundation and government funding, open textbook production and sharing communities are providing access to good quality core texts that are supporting students in their studies. As David says, we aren’t going to solve the entire student debt crisis in that way, but if you hear the student testimonies of finding even a few $100 for books, this really is a significant amount of money.

In my own small piece of UK research on student perceptions of textbooks in 2015, my own students admitted they think textbook prices are exorbitant and the majority turned down buying a book because of the cost. In all of the US testimonies and UK student survey responses, none of them suggested books were a waste of time – all recognised the importance of their textbooks.

The good news is we can do something about this.

Adopting and adapting open textbooks

David ends the presentation encouraging people to have a look at the books and see if there is one that could support our subject areas, or even chapters that might be relevant. All of the books reviewed by the community, and these are a useful additional guide to help decide whether the book is right for your teaching or your context.

Adopt then adapt? Of course the book won’t be perfect straight way and are largely written for the US and Canada, (although in science, many of the books we do recommend are from the US!) The nature of the license (if it is a share alike SA) means you can adapt – alter – remix the book and produce a new version. This is not within the scope of our Open Textbook project this time round, but we’d certainly be interested in hearing people’s views on this, or what support they might need to do this.

Summary and action
So a huge thank you to David Ernst who left us all suitably inspired. Do go and spread the word about open textbooks and follow activity via Twitter.


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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