When the BC Open Textbook Project began in 2012, the idea of open textbooks was still new in British Columbia. Below is a list of the frequently asked questions we received from faculty, staff, and institutions, and our answers to those queries back then.
- What is an open textbook?
- What makes open textbooks different from a traditional textbook?
- Quality: are open textbooks worth it? Is the quality equal to that of traditionally-published textbooks?
- Who creates open textbooks in the B.C. project?
- Will students with disabilities be able to use the textbooks?
- Are instructors/professors at B.C. post-secondary institutions going to be forced to use the open textbooks?
- What impact will Open Textbooks have on revenue from campus bookstores?
- Is BCcampus getting any extra funding from government for this initiative? If not how will any costs be covered?
- You mention on the BCcampus website that this project is modeled after the recent California legislation. Does this mean that the provincial government has passed legislation for this to happen? Can you explain what the California legislation does?
- Are there open education initiatives elsewhere in Canada?
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 opt for these.
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usually costly (hundreds of dollars each) with new editions published frequently, making texts only a year or two old out of date. Even if they are published digitally at half the cost, they are still expensive and come with digital rights management that means they only appear for a short period of time (4-6 months) on a student’s e-reader.
The open licensing of open textbooks allows for collaborations on and improvements to textbooks from contributors around the world. In contrast to traditional textbooks, openly licensed textbooks give faculty the ability to adapt any portion of a textbook without requiring students to purchase an entire book only to use a small portion, or to make the content of the textbook more pedagogically appropriate for their specific educational context.
Quality: are open textbooks worth it? Is the quality equal to that of traditionally-published textbooks?
In a word: yes. Open textbooks:
- are created by educators;
- are reviewed by educators;
- contribute to successful learning outcomes.
On October 18, 2012, BCcampus hosted an OER Forum and asked leaders in open licensing and open education to speak to B.C. educators and administrators about these topics.
David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology at Brigham Young University, was one of the presenters (you can see his entire presentation here http://open.bccampus.ca/summary/). He gave several examples of successful K-12 and post-secondary open educational projects, including:
- Utah Open Textbook project (http://utahopentextbooks.org). Teachers adapt CK12 textbooks to their own use over the summer. They are distributed to students for their use to keep (i.e. they can highlight, make notes in margins, etc). Cost is US $4.99 per book printed and delivered (as opposed to US$80 previously). Result: 5.9% gain in standardized test scores.
- Open High School of Utah (http://openhighschoolcourses.org). Completely online with mandated use of OER. Serves 400 students in grades 9-12. Textbooks were aligned with state curricula. Teachers were alloted part of their time to reviewing/revising their texts – continuous quality improvement – something you can’t do with a copyrighted text book. Huge gains in student proficiency in all subjects.
- Project Kaleidoscope (http://www.project-kaleidoscope.org): a consortium of eight community colleges and four-year schools from California to New York. In this cross-institutional project – each institution contributed faculty time. The faculty aggregated OER-based textbooks to replace existing copyrighted texts that were then adopted by all participating schools. Last year open textbooks were adopted for 11 courses. Result: increased percentage (14 % gain) of students who completed classes at grade C or better. This is attributed to better accessibility: rather than waiting to buy an expensive text, or not buying it at all, students had access to all material from the first day of cla
The textbooks are created (or, where possible, re-created from existing open educational resources) by BC post-secondary faculty, reviewed by B.C. faculty and made available under a Creative Commons license.
Making the textbooks available and accessible to learners with disabilities will be a key consideration in their creation. We are in consultation with CAPER-BC and will be releasing an accessibility toolkit in the spring of 2015.
Are instructors/professors at B.C. post-secondary institutions going to be forced to use the open textbooks?
No. We understand and respect academic freedom, and there are no plans to mandate the use of the open textbooks as a result of the B.C. Open Textbook project. Many educators consider open textbooks to be consistent with faculty’s duty to students, and many have signed the Faculty Statement on Open Textbooks created by the Student Public Interest Research Group.
Why are we creating these free resources for everyone to use when the private college down the road could get free textbooks created with public funds?
First, we are creating these texts for the benefit of students as well as educational institutions. We expect B.C. students will use them in a public post-secondary setting, but in reality everyone in the world will be able to download the open textbooks. They will be licensed with a Creative Commons license.
On the internet, in the digital age, “sharing” content means copying and distributing – it’s limitless and free to disseminate content. Once resources are shared online, they can be shared amongst millions of people without loss of the original. We have an unprecedented capacity to educate as never before, and without sharing there is no education. Educational sharing means adapting and personalizing to adapt to learner’s needs – connecting prior knowledge and relating past experience.*
Education is much more than the textbooks and other artefacts used to educate students. The quality of instruction, the entire post-secondary experience, the learning environment all contribute to education. Post-secondary institutions do not “compete” on the content of their textbooks or courses – rather an institution provides unique educational experiences. That is what makes a student choose one institution over another (plus other factors like location, cost, etc.).
By using “our” open textbooks, private institutions will lend credibility to the public system. If they re-mix and adapt the texts, they are required under the license to share alike, also using a Creative Commons license. We say: let them in. All are welcome in the Commons.
We don’t expect this project to have much impact on bookstore sales, given the scope of the project (40 courses compared to hundreds or thousands in some institutions). We welcome input to this project from all stakeholders, including campus bookstores, and will be actively seeking collaboration from a wide cross section of the B.C. post-secondary system.
Is BCcampus getting any extra funding from government for this initiative? If not how will any costs be covered?
BCcampus has traditionally managed the Online Program Development Fund (OPDF) for the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology. The annual fund has been on average $750K – $1M. This fund has supported the development of online courseware, lab materials, online tools, video and other resources over the past 10 years. It is our expectation that OPDF funds will be re-profiled to focus on the open textbook program.
You mention on the BCcampus website that this project is modeled after the recent California legislation. Does this mean that the provincial government has passed legislation for this to happen? Can you explain what the California legislation does?
Unlike California, the B.C. provincial government has not passed legislation. Our approach is modeled on the key elements of the California legislation that we believe could also work in a British Columbia context. The things we liked about the California legislation that we have tried to emulate are:
- Free access to textbooks in the most highly enrolled first and second year post-secondary courses.
- Government funding to create a library of free textbooks for students and faculty.
- Open-licensed, to ensure faculty can utilize their skills to remix, revise and repurpose these textbooks for their students.
- Call for proposals process for faculty, publishers, and others to develop open digital textbooks and related courseware.
- All materials to be reviewed for quality
Open Education is continuing to grow across Canada. For contact information specific to your province please see our Open Textbooks – Canada section.