Open textbooks: Making it yours. Making it useful.

To celebrate the successful addition of College Physics to our Pressbooks Library, we chatted with a few local contributors to learn about their experience creating new open educational resources for students and faculty in B.C.

Post by BCcampus’ editorial team

The B.C. Open Textbook Collection has been growing at a blistering pace as educators discover the value of customizable resources that fit their curriculum. With the addition of the College Physics open textbook to our Pressbooks library, we thought it’d be good to chat with local contributors to open educational resources (OER) and learn about their experiences adopting and converting textbooks for their classrooms.

BCcampus has developed an excellent and collaborative relationship with OpenStax, a non-profit organization based out of Rice University in Houston, Texas, focused on improving student access to education. One of the resources they’ve created is OpenStax textbooks: a library of peer-reviewed, openly licensed, and completely free textbooks available for adoption by educators around the world.

Lauri Aesoph, Manager of Open Education at BCcampus, who was on the OpenStax panel at the 14th Annual Open Education Conference in Anaheim, CA, just this past October says, “it’s been a pleasure working with OpenStax. They are great partners to have in an open environment, and we appreciate their willingness to collaborate with us.”

 Adopting open

“My department is very happy with the success we’ve had with the College Physics open textbook,” shared Takashi Sato from the Physics Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. “Adopting open textbooks allows you to get closer to the materials, giving another opportunity to have a look at what you’re teaching. If something isn’t exactly right, you have the ability to change it.” Building on the success of the College Physics open textbook, Dr. Sato was invited to contribute to the University Physics Volume 1, which is currently available in the OpenStax library.

Jennifer Barker, a professor in the biology department at Douglas College, was part of the team that adapted the OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology textbook to create Human Anatomy and Physiology II for her classroom. “When BCcampus made it available via Pressbooks – I jumped on it,” she said. “Pressbooks made it easy to edit: adding/editing text, changing diagrams, etc. It’s basically the equivalent to working on a Word document, and great for those of us who want to spend more time setting up things for our classroom versus setting up a textbook.”

The Physics and Astronomy team at Douglas College opted to switch to an open textbook a few years ago. “We weren’t happy with the textbooks we were using,” shared Douglas College Physics Chair, Jennifer Kirkey. “We felt the open textbook couldn’t be worse than the commercial version, and since it was supported by BCcampus, we saw it as an appropriate risk. Our focus was on the pedagogical benefits; the cost savings for students was a bonus.”

Overcoming challenges

Since the conversion process from one platform to another is fairly new, there were a few hiccups along the way. Dr. Sato shared that, “Due to the openness of the book, each chapter had to be written in a way that wouldn’t depend on a student having completed a previous chapter. Each module had to be self-contained, and this is a bit of a new way to present the topic.”

“One challenge was in how we were importing images,” said Dr. Barker. “They would look great in the digital format, but were tiny once printed. Sarah McKinnon was able to help us get everything laid out so that it looks good in digital and print.”

Ms. Aesoph offered, “We’re looking at ways to use technology to make the conversion easier. Up to this point, it has been a time-consuming process, and when we would bring the books in, the formulas didn’t always transfer well. We have recently resolved this issue, and are continuing to make improvements to make it easier for local educators to adopt and adapt more open textbooks.”

BCcampus has developed a selection of resources to assist local educators adopting and adapting open textbooks for their curriculum: a guide to Pressbooks; webinars; video tutorials and FAQs.

The future of open textbooks

“While I see open textbooks becoming the norm,” said Dr. Barker, “I think we need to work a bit to make them appear more professional. This has been a challenge for students and instructors – judging the quality of a textbook by how slick it looks.”

“We chose to purchase the gorgeous hardcover option from OpenStax to convince our colleagues that this is a real textbook,” said Ms. Kirkey. “Now that we’re doing a custom edition, we’re printing it in-house.”

Another benefit to producing customizable resources is the ability to create course-specific learning materials. Dr. Kirkey told us that, “The open model makes it possible to develop our own ancillary resources. For example, with good quality Creative Commons images, we can have removable labels, making it relatively easy to generate multiple choice questions for such a visual science.”

Tracking success

Across the province, we’ve helped 37 different institutions as they’ve adopted over 1600 open textbooks: using an open textbook to replace a primary textbook or educational resource that otherwise would have been purchased. This approach has saved the students somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4,977,791 – $5,485,469 million while offering an improved teaching experience for educators in B.C.

If you’re interested in learning more about OER or adopting a textbook for your institution, visit BCcampus OpenEd for more information.

Notable quotes:

“The OpenStax physics books are comprehensive. It’s a great help to be able to delete chapters when they’re not needed.” – Takashi Sato, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

“Something that appealed to me about the open textbooks is that we can go in depth on the areas we want, and cut or minimize the areas we don’t.” – Jennifer Barker, Douglas College

“The ability to modify the textbook is liberating and fabulous.” – Jennifer Kirkey, Physics Chair, Douglas College

“College Physics is one of the most popular open textbooks in B.C. and USA – and has become a very useful resource for first year students.” Lauri Aesoph, Manager, Open Education, BCcampus

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