Reviewing and Adapting Open Textbooks – pedagogical and practical considerations

Presenters: Christina Hendricks, Jessie Key

Christina Hendricks

Reviewing a textbook is a common way that faculty can get involved in supporting open textbooks. Dr. Hendricks recounts her role in taking part in the building of a book as an early reviewer, while the book was still being written. Her background as a philosophy professor was welcome in framing the ethics of the subject matter. Being a known (not blind) reviewer was a welcome part of the process, as she was able to get to know the writers, and give valuable feedback that was readily accepted and welcomed. The book continues to grow in a collaborative way.

Why would someone do it? There is little to no financial incentive or professional recognition. With a traditional publisher, sales are an indicator of success. With open texts, adoption is harder to measure. BCcampus only hears about adoption if teachers self-report.

So why would faculty adopt an open textbook? The answer sounds like a cliche answer: it’s a social justice issue; it helps and supports learners.

Jessie Key

Dr. Jessie Key describes reviewing an existing textbook. As an already written text, there is a list of criteria that BCcampus puts forward to review against. These 12 criteria are put into a rubric that guides the review process.

It as a great feeling to know that the author is grateful for the constructive feedback. The book doesn’t just “sit on a website.” 

Dr. Key adapted an introductory chemistry textbook, and was originally interested in looking at the reviews it had already received, which weren’t as favourable as they could have been. The textbook in its current form wasn’t ready for post secondary students in BC. The components of the text that needed revision were substantial, and new sections needed to be written: “If this textbook were a boat, it wouldn’t float on the water.”

The goal of bringing this textbook up to the standard needed was a huge one. Many chapters needed writing, as well as the table of contents and glossary. In order to make it happen, Jessie kept the general formatting of the original book, and “chunked” his modifications into pieces that were manageable. He also used three to four commercial textbooks as a comparison.

The Pressbooks implementation was very helpful, and aided in the process. However, one challenge was in converting the equations. Many of the chapters were math-heavy. The LaTex programming language was used to build the equations in the book. A freeware program called GrindEQ was used to convert word equations into LaTex. 

Creating diagrams and figures were necessary where existing ones couldn’t be found as openly licensed assets. Many resources were found on Wikimedia Commons, as well as the Chemwiki. As a more robust tool, video tutorials were added to the textbook. These videos were already created by Dr. Key, so he was able to add them to the text. These were placed as embedded videos in e HTML version, and in the book reader formats, a QR code sends the student to the video on the web.

Copy editors were able to find many errors in the document, even correcting and suggesting revisions to the original open source components. The result was a much better product.

“This boat now floats, but it still might need a few patches and upgrades.”

The best part of publishing in the open format is that the book can still continue to evolve and become better and better. 

The benefits to reviewing and adapting open textbooks are many. It is definitely hard work, but it is ultimately rewarding, and contributes to the community.