Open Textbook Project turns two

The B.C. Open Textbook Project turns two years old today. Birthdays are a good time for reflection, and as we look back over the past two years, we can see just how far we have come with the B.C. Open Textbook Project.

In the beginning

It was on October 16, 2012 at the annual OpenEd conference in Vancouver that then British Columbia Minister of Advanced Education, John Yap, announced the project, with support from BCcampus. The goal was to make higher education more accessible by reducing student cost through the use of openly licensed textbooks. Specifically, BCcampus was asked to create a collection of open textbooks aligned with the top 40 highest-enrolled subject areas in the province. A second phase was announced in the spring of 2014 to add 20 textbooks targeting trades and skills training.

We are very close to meeting the original goal. Of the top 40 subjects, we have found or created textbooks that align with 38 of them, with multiple textbooks for many of the areas available in our collection. The remaining two, Canadian History and Criminology, are being developed and will be released in 2015. In addition to the Canadian History and Criminology book, we have also created two other books from scratch for the first phase of the project: a second year English Literature textbook, and a regional Geography textbook.

Adaptation first

We went into this project wanting to create as few new books as possible and, instead, explore adapting existing open textbooks. There are hundreds of open textbooks released with Creative Commons licenses available and some really good material being produced by both large projects like OpenStax CollegeOpen SUNY, and the Global Text Project, as well as smaller groups of faculty who collaborate together to create their own textbooks. A major mantra of this project when it comes to resources is “don’t reinvent the wheel.” If someone has built it and released it with an open license, then we will look at adapting it. So far, we have adapted eight existing open textbooks based on the B.C. faculty reviews we received for those textbooks.

Outreach and engagement

Speaking of faculty reviews, this has been perhaps the largest and most well-received faculty engagement project at BCcampus. In two years, almost 70 faculty representing 22 institutions have reviewed open textbooks (and we are always looking for more). Peer reviews represent more than faculty engagement; they are published along side the textbooks and provide valuable feedback to other faculty who wish to adopt or adapt the textbook. 

Other outreach engagements over the past two years have included convening an Open Textbook steering committee, who provided valuable advocacy and advice as we got the project off the ground. We hosted two Open Textbook Summits, launched the B.C. Open Educational Resources (BCOER) librarians group, and conducted numerous presentations and workshops, both virtual and face-to-face, at institutions and events across the province.

Along the way, we have conducted several innovative side projects to test out new ways of collaborative content production. For example, we hosted three content sprints: intensive multi-day workshops focused on developing content and resources in a short timeframe. In May we conducted the first sprint with the BCOER librarians group. That was followed in June by a textbook sprint where we created a first-year regional geography book in four days, and a testbank sprint in July which resulted in the creation of a 975 question test bank for first year Psychology instructors who adopt any open textbook.

We have also been working closely with the Centre for Accessible Post-secondary Education Resources (CAPER-BC) to ensure that the content in the open textbooks we create and adapt is accessible.


We’ve also been hard at work developing different tools to create and adapt open textbooks. From the start, we wanted to take a “web first” approach to creating textbooks in order to take advantage of the open web, and early in the project we began actively participating in the development of open source tools. Brad Payne, our lead technical analyst, has taken the initiative by developing Pressbooks Textbooks, a plugin for the open source WordPress plugin Pressbooks that adds in some open textbook specific features. In addition to his technical leadership and contributions, Brad has also spearheaded the development of a community of developers around Pressbooks Textbooks, making all of our code publicly available via Github. Much of his code has been incorporated back into the Pressbooks platform by their development team.

The choice to use Pressbooks as our platform has rippled off into other open educational resource projects; Lumen Learning has recently taken Pressbooks Textbook and modified it to create their own Candela platform for OER content creation.

The people

One of the most visible ways in which the project has expanded is with the number of people currently working on it. We have brought in two new project managers, Amanda Coolidge and Lauri Aesoph, to assist with the adoption and development of open textbooks.

Student savings

Our biggest achievement has been to make education more accessible to students by lowering the cost of textbooks (the original goal of the project). From the beginning, we have tried to track adoptions of open textbooks in B.C., and therefore the savings for students. As you can see from the infographic below, over 2,200 students have benefited from the open textbook program and have saved over $350,000 in textbook costs.

The next year

Year three promises to be even bigger as momentum continues to build around the project. Already we have firm adoption commitments from faculty into 2015. We have more textbooks to release, and have begun developing open resources in trades and skills training. We have started a project to convert more of the material in our collection into remixable formats on the Pressbooks Textbooks platform, and we are working on sustainability projects to ensure that what gets created as a result of the B.C. Open Textbook Project can live on into the future.

We are also working on the development of ancillary resources to support the open textbooks in our collection as there is very clear feedback from faculty that these resources are important when they consider adopting textbooks. And, along with our partners at CAPER-BC, we will be launching an open textbook accessibility toolkit.

Our focus will also turn to assisting both Alberta and Saskatchewan with their open projects, and we hope to play a key role in enabling adoptions and adaptations of open textbooks throughout Western Canada. Recently, we learned of our first out-of-province adoption at the University of Saskatchewan.

Finally, we have just launched a Faculty Fellows program, and are actively working on research projects to quantify the efficacy of open textbooks, as well as further examine both student and faculty attitudes around open textbooks in our region. This information will be aggregated with the research coming out of the OER Research Hub in the U.K. and will add a Canadian perspective to their international research agenda. Oh, and did I mention a third Open Textbook Summit May 28 & 29 in Vancouver?

It has been a massive two years for open textbooks in British Columbia, and it shows no signs of slowing in the next year. But before we get started on year three, we’re going to stop for a minute, kick back, enjoy some cake, and thank everyone who has helped support and nurture this project over the past 2 years. It is making a difference to the people who matter the most – our students.