Open textbooks are a subset of open educational resources (OER) and reside in the public domain — where copyrights have been waived by the copyright holder or copyright has expired — or have been released by the copyright holder under an open-copyright licence. The B.C. Open Textbook Collection, Canada’s first major repository of these OER, is available for all to use.

Open textbooks are available digitally, accessed online or through shareable formats, to be freely used by anyone: students, instructors, librarians, and members of the public. In general, they can be modified, printed, shared, retained, remixed, and reused. If the work has been released with a Creative Commons – or other open-copyright – licence, the user must adhere to that licence’s legal requirements.

Understanding open textbooks

In the fall of 2012, the Ministry of Advanced Education (now known as the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training) invested $1 million to fund open textbooks for the most highly enrolled first- and second-year academic subjects, followed by another million-dollar investment in 2013 to develop additional textbooks for students advancing their education within trades, technology, and skills training.

Open textbooks were introduced to make higher education more accessible by reducing costs to students and mitigating the financial burden of post-secondary education. Since that initial round of funding, open textbooks have helped the students of British Columbia save millions of dollars, through thousands of adoptions at participating institutions.

Dollars and sense

Once the open textbook collection was launched and made available, it wasn’t long until the additional benefits of open textbooks were realized. Instructors began to customize the textbooks to meet the learning outcomes of their courses; some chose to work with their students to find, include, and modify open textbooks for their courses, creating a collaborative experience in an effective learning environment that delivered value to the instructors as well as the students.

With traditional textbooks, instructors must choose between delivering the curriculum they feel is right for their students and delivering a lesson that mirrors the commercial textbooks. Through open textbooks, instructors can mix and modify their textbooks to emphasize the lessons they want to deliver, with ancillary resources available to improve the learning experience.

In addition to the benefits of customization and modification, open textbooks are available in a variety of formats, such as print (pdf), web, and e-reader files (mobi and epub). Some of the open textbooks include audio files and many are accessible through mobile devices.

To find, use, or modify open textbooks in your classroom, please check out the B.C. Open Textbook Collection.