How Faculty Can Advocate for Open Textbooks

When classes began at Northwest Community College last fall, students in Adrienne Watt’s online database course found a pleasant surprise waiting for them. Instead of having to order a costly textbook that could take up to a month to arrive in the mail, they received their required text online for free. They had Watt, who spent last summer pioneering an open textbook for the course, to thank for the change.

Adrienne Watt
Adrienne Watt

An experienced business and technology instructor, Watt was fed up with having to constantly adjust her course for students with old text editions or no text at all. Encouraged by BCcampus, she turned to openly-licensed online content and filled in the gaps to create her own book on database design.

“The ability to take a book and make it your own is pretty big,” she enthuses. “Instead of fitting your course to the book, you fit the book to what you want to teach.” An added bonus: At just $15 per copy to print the required text, more students can afford, and are willing, to take her course.

Watt compares the effort involved to the amount of time instructors spend revising their course material to supplement a traditional text that doesn’t cover everything. For experienced faculty with plenty of material in hand, she argues that adopting an open text makes it easier to manage the course as a whole. For some, it even adds a welcome creative dimension to teaching.

Adopt an open textbook

As the B.C. Open Textbook Project ramps up, post-secondary instructors have more opportunities to follow in Watt’s footsteps and promote changes in practice. The best way to start? Find out what’s available in the growing collection of openly licensed content.

BCcampus provides a list of repositories containing tools and textbooks from a variety of disciplines. Advanced search options on these sites help narrow results to match a specific course design or delivery need. There’s also a handy primer on the different types of open content licenses for open texts. Simply modify as much or as little as needed, and select the best format to distribute to students.

Promote best “open” practices

The Open Textbook Project is bringing faculty and other stakeholders together to identify courses and select textbook criteria. Once the proposals come in, more faculty volunteers will be needed to assess them.

As they gain experience with open textbooks, instructors play an even more important role in establishing best practices for development and quality assurance. The goal? To ensure that open textbooks are of high quality so that faculty will want to use, reuse, remix and add to the B.C. open textbook repository.

Sharing lessons learned is an important step. Watt found that using material from a variety of database sites means spending more time blending different styles of content and writing. Instructors need to allow time for continuity editing, and producing non-text elements such as diagrams and quizzes.

Spread the word

  • Attend workshops, seminars, meetings, and conferences on open textbooks and open content licenses, sponsored by BCcampus and other educational institutions.
  • Reach out to educational groups, clubs, societies, and academic departments at your institution.
  • Work with stakeholders at your institution, including students, to promote the best use of open texts.
  • Stay up to date with the latest open text news through subscribed e-mail forums and social media.