From Transparent to Invisible: Open Creations

Post by Lauri Aesoph, Manager, Open Education
A few years ago, I attended a presentation about open peer review. The lecturer, speaking on behalf of an open journal using this system, described how the open peer review process – typically closed in terms of who the reviewers are and what the reviews say – laid out for all to see with not only the name of the reviewer, but the critiques and how these remarks were incorporated into the article in question.

Used under a CC0 license.

Having managed peer reviews as an editor for a professional journal 20 years ago, I was stunned. And impressed. What a wonderful and outrageous idea, I thought.
Today, I oversee and write many of the guides and resources used and posted by the BC Open Textbook Project. Of course everything is released with a CC BY license. And it’s been gratifying to know that our Authoring Guide, for instance, has been adapted by several post-secondary institutions. But, I’m still frustrated.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to create and maintain all of the support materials that me and my team would like to share with the open community. Often I wish I could link from this guide to that one…oh, but I haven’t created it yet, I say. Dang!
Then it occurred to me: Why not share these resources publicly while they’re being created? Why not follow in the footsteps of the open peer review process and permit our colleagues to not only use the information we have gathered so far, but let the open community watch and learn how we create these guides as the work happens?
So this is what we’re going to do. As of today, BCcampus and the BC Open Textbook Project will share some of its “in progress” resources as they are developed. Specifically,

BC Open Textbook Adaptation Guide

BC Open Textbook Pressbooks Guide

I call these open creations. And if the work involves the revision of an existing work, it will be an open adaptation.
In the Pressbooks’ Front Matter of each fledgling guide, we will place a page entitled “Open Creation: In Progress” listing the items left to complete along with a “Last updated” stamp. These open creations and open adaptations will not only be released, in their final form, with a CC BY license but will be developed with a CC BY license. Observers are free to use any material in these guides as the work is underway. If we were anymore transparent, we’d be invisible.

Used under a CC0 license.

A New Future for Open Textbooks

I like to think big, and work small. By that I mean that I love details and organizing them into a cohesive body of operational logic. But I can also imagine the future and how a germ of an idea might sprout and grow into a great, big healthy concept.
I envision this open creation concept taking hold for open textbooks, the OER that our project has focused on. Unlike a wiki or other online OER, it can be difficult and time consuming to update and correct a textbook that has been released into a collection. Sometimes the lack of editable files is a barrier; for our collection (where we have chosen to keep each textbook static), a change means re-uploading all file types to our system and sending our print on demand provider a new PDF. This can be disruptive to faculty and students currently using the textbook if the change is more than a minor edit.
During the open textbook creation and adaptation phase of our project, I witnessed authors who were hesitant to let their textbook go and join the world of OER. There was always one more correction, one more snippet of info, one more image to add. The reluctance to reveal a less-than-perfect product has delayed more than one textbook project, a carryover from traditional publishing practices where once the final copy has been submitted, there was no going back. A printed book can feel so final.
But….what if one wrote their book in the open for all to see, warts and all. What could happen? Well, in an ideal world, it will be a teaching moment for wannabe authors; a reassurance that writing is not a mystical process, that you too can do this. Open creation might uncover collaborators and potential contributing authors for a writer who feels overwhelmed by the task. Textbooks in progress, using the open creation model, might save time for those who are considering writing on the same topic. It could comfort instructors, who wish there was an open textbook available in their discipline, to know that one is in the pipeline and that they can – if not have a hand in its rearing – at least can watch the little tyke grow.
And with the door flung open during the writing stage, interested readers can judge – maybe suggest – whether the material in this book will suit their future needs. Because, as instructors will tell you, selecting a textbook takes time so it would be lovely to have a jump on both this and the evaluation process. Maybe a practice will emerge where open creation observers will use the half completed works of their colleagues and begin creating a textbook of their own. None of this all-or-nothing mindset where you must create your own OER from scratch (adaptations aside); instead, you can use the semi-finished open creation of your fellow instructor down the road as a springboard for an open textbook that fits the course you teach, hand in glove. Kind of an open creation-open adaptation.
The open peer reviewers got it right when they decided to share the process and words of their evolving work. Writing a book can be a burdensome and isolating task, so why can’t authors do the same? Invite ideas, share the load, distribute the wealth – in advance. As my grandmother always said: “Many hands make light of work”.

Used under a CC0 license.

Responses to this blog

The fruits of BC’s focus on “open” by Sylvia Riessner (October 6, 2016)

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