An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers, and members of the public. They are available for free as online versions, and as low-cost printed versions, should students or faculty opt for these. Open textbooks are a way to significantly reduce student textbook costs while giving instructors the flexibility to reformat and customize their course material. They are an affordable, flexible alternative to traditionally-published textbooks.
Some open textbooks contain supplemental or ancillary materials (e.g., test banks, quizzes, PowerPoint slides, videos). Textbooks that include one or more ancillary resources in the BC Open Textbooks collection are marked with an Ancillary Resources flag.
Open Educational Resources
Open textbooks are one type of open educational resources (OER). Examples of other OER can include multimedia such as videos or audio, courseware, readings, or syllabi. OER are defined as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others” (Hewlett Foundation).
Creative Commons or Open Licenses
Authors of an open textbook, or other open educational resource, still owns and retains copyright for their work. The difference is they have chosen to release their work using an open license which gives non-exclusive, worldwide, indefinite permissions for others to use her or his work without contacting the author. Creative Commons is the organization that has created the licenses, and legal way, for you to do this.
Dr. David Wiley, of Lumen Learning and Brigham Young University, developed a simple way to explain and remember the permissions granted by an open or Creative Commons license. He calls this the 5Rs framework. The BC Open Textbook Project uses this framework as a guideline when adding new materials and improving existing resources in their collection. The 5Rs say that users have the right, with openly licensed works, to do the following.
- Retain – That is, no digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, the content is yours to keep, whether you’re the author, instructor, or student.
- Reuse – You are free to use materials in a wide variety of ways without expressly asking permission of the copyright holder.
- Revise – As an educator, you can adapt, adjust, or modify the content to suit your specific purposes and make the materials more relevant to your students. This means making open textbooks and other OER available in a variety of different formats, including source files, when possible.
- Remix – You or your students can pull together a number of different open educational resources to create something new.
- Redistribute – You are free to share with others so that they can reuse, remix, improve upon, correct, review, or otherwise enjoy your work.
Why Open Textbooks
Traditionally-published textbooks are produced under closed copyright, meaning they cannot be shared, re-used or re-purposed. They are usually costly (hundreds of dollars each) with new editions published frequently, making textbooks only a year or two old out of date. Even if they are published digitally at half the cost, these traditional books are still expensive and often come with digital rights management (DRM) that means they only appear for a short period of time (4-6 months) on a student’s e-reader.
Open textbooks are similar to traditional texts, but more flexible. The open licensing of these textbooks allows for collaborations on and improvements to textbooks from contributors around the world. The ability to make minor changes or updates to a textbook or create an abridged version of the book, without requiring students to purchase an entire book, is a bonus. The pedagogical advantage is the opportunity for instructors to make changes, or adapt, the textbook to match their classroom instruction needs and style. For information on how to make changes to an open textbook, see the BC Open Textbook Adaptation Guide.