The Primary research question guiding this study asked about the experiences of educators in implementing open textbooks as a part of their educational practice. A secondary research question, or sub-question, was concerned with examining the potential barriers that educators and institutions faced when trying to implement open textbooks.
Moustakas (1994) described a modified view of the Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method that I chose to employ in analyzing the data; however, I was required to modify the process to keep with Smith’s (2004) IPA method that did not advocate the use of bracketing, or epoche. Therefore, beginning the analysis with my own experience was not intended to bracket off my experience, but instead to understand my own lived experience. Even the act of being aware that something exists creates an interpretation of the phenomena. Instead of bracketing, some phenomenological researchers advocate that rather than set aside their experiences, they should be brought to the foreground and made explicit (Finlay, 2009).
My own experiences with open textbooks are somewhat limited as a researcher. I first became aware of the existence of open textbooks at the same time as the existence of other open educational resources—the presentation by Porter to my RRU class, which was mentioned in the introduction. My next exposure to open was through the 2012 Open Education conference in Vancouver. The session I remembered was called, “Open Academics Textbook Catalogue” by Allen and Ernst. They addressed two questions that were barriers to open adoption: where to find open textbooks and how to know that the textbooks are sufficiently high quality (Allen & Ernst, 2012). During the conference break, I spoke with a member of my Masters program cohort about open textbooks. She teaches in the medical field and was really excited about the possibility of using open textbooks for her students since the textbooks they for the Anatomy course used were usually over $250.
Once I had heard about open textbooks, they seemed like something that was relatively easy to implement in an educational program. I also brought the idea back to my work at The Safety Codes Council of Alberta where I am the Training Development Coordinator. The nature of the vocational and compliance training of safety codes officers means that there is very little that is published under an open license. While I was able to integrate graphics and videos that were available under a CC-BY license, I was not able to find much for open textbooks.
Table 2: Themes in Literature and Emergent Themes in Interview Process
|Themes found in the OER/open textbooks literature||Interview questions||Themes emerging from interview process|
|OER theory and concepts||Where did you first hear about open textbooks?||People became interested in open textbooks through a variety of paths|
|OER training and/or professional development||Have you ever attended a workshop on open textbooks?||Self-directed, self-taught, free-range learning|
|Culture of openness||What motivated you to use open textbooks?||Academic culture, alleviating hardships on students|
|Personal philosophy as an instructor or teacher||How does your teaching philosophy intersect with using open textbooks?||The open community and the role in open education the educator sees for himself or herself.|
|Practices in open textbooks: Licenses, rules||Did you revise or remix the open textbook you decided to implement?
|Community and support in open education||When you were looking through open textbooks deciding which ones to use, what was the deciding factor for you?||The open community and the role in open education the educator sees for himself or herself.|
|Depth of knowledge in OER (what it is, how to use it)||How would you describe your experience in implementing open textbooks?
|Selection and interest in open education||What do you think of the quality of open textbooks?
When you were looking through open textbooks deciding which ones to use, what was the deciding factor for you?
|Quality, selection, and implementation of open textbooks|
|Barriers to adoption and support for OER/open textbooks||What sort of support is needed to make open textbooks sustainable to you for teaching and learning?
|Quality, selection, and implementation of open textbooks|
Emergent themes from the review of the data:
- People became interested in open textbooks through a variety of paths
- OER and other online learning practices
- The open community and the role in open education that the educator sees for themselves
- Concern for students
- Academic culture: support and barriers for implementing open textbooks
- Copyright knowledge
- Quality, selection and implementation of open textbooks
In the analysis, I opted for passages of greater length in order to allow the context to emerge rather than focusing solely on categorizing the analysis. The table in Appendix D shows the frequency analysis and co-occurrence of codes, while Figure 6 demonstrates the frequency that each participant mentioned a theme that was grouped into a code.
Figure 6. Code Occurrence
People became interested in open textbooks through a variety of paths
In order to understand the lived experience each of the participants had with open education, I needed to uncover their introduction to the concept of open textbooks. When asked, each participant had a varied path to introduction, and they did not always mention open textbooks specifically—many were introduced to open educational resources, open education, or copyright licensing first.
Responses from the participants are coded for anonymity in the transcript excerpts that appear as label at the end of each excerpt in the discussion that follows.
The majority of participants had learned about open education from a workshop or a conference—or some other kind of facet-to-face contact. Most often, engaging speakers such as Cable Green, David Wiley, Quill West and Gardner Campbell came up. One notable exception from this was participant M2, who possessed knowledge of the concept of open that stretched back to the beginnings of the open-source community and open licensing that predated some contemporary ideas of openness.
Participant M2 said,
Well very early in my career, the whole distance education model is based on a philosophy of open learning and openness it’s really founded on widening access to learning opportunities and then since this predates the developments in Creative Commons licensing and other forms of open licensing which were really… I mean the first open licenses were about the early 1980s which would have been the GNU documentation license.(M2)
Others participants had briefly heard of open textbooks but had not looked into them until something pushed them to do so. Participant M1 said,
I’m a part of the articulation committee for Psychology, so I know that came across our listerv so that maybe be when I first learned about it. Again that was only after David’s [Wiley] talk that I seriously started thinking about it and committed to it. (M1)
Participant F1 had a positive and innovative experience with implementing open textbooks, and a part of that was the supportive academic culture in which she worked. She taught at a small college in western Nebraska and her introduction to open education was through Project Kaleidoscope (Project Kaleidoscope, 2014).
So Kaleidoscope when I was a full-time director of transitional studies and my administrator said. ‘hey there’s this grant project what do you think?’ And at the time I had just put a proposal into my administrators. I think it was about putting …this canned curriculum but it was just really, for lack of a better term, just this really gorgeous packaging. And yet, it was very expensive and my administration said, ‘you know we just can’t afford this unless we increase student fees there’s no way we can do this.’ (F1)
And further, F1 commented,
So, developing that awareness too, kind of was born out of what we did with the open resources project with Kaleidoscope because we were moving digitally. Those were all important lessons to learn. So I started planning in the development phase May 2011. That was when we all got together and we first met David Wiley and we met Cable Green and we met some folks from Flat World. It was a different time; it was before the pay wall that they have now. We just met some really exciting and inspiring people. (F1)
Participant F1 was an enthusiastic interview participant. She expressed pleasure in being a part of a community of people who practice open education. She noted, “We all just became these groupies for all the people we admired in the community.” (F1)
The strongest contradictory experience from participant F1 was from participant F2 who discovered open textbooks through an online search rather than a workshop.
I was just looking for online readings, but in the process of looking for readings online I found an online textbook in cross cultural psych and certainly our students have problems affording their textbooks so we started using that as a textbook and certainly I was very happy with it and it sort of evolved from there.(F2)
Here was also one of the first indications in the interviews that sometimes, when describing educational resources, it was not clear whether the material in question was openly-licensed (which allows for revision and redistribution of the materials) or whether the material was freely available online. Neither Creative Commons licensing, nor any other sort of licensing, was mentioned by F2 in regard to her original free textbook. F2 clarified that her first experience with a free resource was more of an online collection of readings. After a few years of using this resource, the Vice Chancellor of her college brought in a representative from Flat World Knowledge. F2’s experience in implementing open textbooks was driven by direction from the administrators at her institution to the faculty. F2 experienced the barriers that Baker et al. (2008) found in their research: difficulty in finding high-quality OER, and difficultly in finding material that targeted community college level material.
There was a close connection between online learning (or e-learning) and open educational resources. F3 was at a conference on e-learning when she was introduced to Creative Commons licensing through Cable Green.
He is a very–I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him speak, but he is incredibly engaging as a speaker. And, he has a really wonderful talk about Open Ed Resources, and I was sold.(F3)
However, not all participants discovered open textbooks by way of workshop or seminar. Some discovered them in the middle of developing resources for their college.
We had some folks that were writing with sort of worksheets and materials and some folks who were researching an open assessment system because we were trying to move away from the publisher-based assessment system. And, then, we had another group of folks that were working with open textbooks specifically. CK-12 was one of them. And, so, we started to hear things about CK-12, and OpenStax, and some of the other open textbook groups that were out there. So, it was probably I would say three years, four years ago that we, that kind of came on our radar.(F4)
Although F4 had some connection with open education leaders like David Wiley and Cable Green, she stressed that a lot of the engagement in open textbooks has been through the team of people that she works with. She said,
…I would say as far as our own department, it’s just been kind of our thing that we’ve been putting on. (F4)
She was not the only one who mentioned a different path from a guest public speaker. In some cases, the presentations on open textbooks came from colleagues. F5 had her interest piqued by colleagues and used her curiosity to look further into open textbooks.
…someone on campus in the Economics Department gave a workshop on an open textbook that he was using. And I thought it was interesting, so I looked into it. And I joined a group called, and I forget actually what they’re called, but it’s a group that’s looking at open textbooks. It’s just kind of an email link, and there’s a discussion board, and all this sort of thing. And, so, I’ve just been getting more involved in the open textbook community.(F5)
The findings in this theme demonstrated the many ways in which educators heard about open education as well as what piqued their interest in order to participate themselves. Grants and workshops, meetings and conversations with colleagues created incentives and a sense of community that allowed educators the space to explore open textbooks. Many of the participants echoed Downes (2011) sentiments from the literature review, that open textbooks and other OER would make available resources to those who may otherwise find the barriers prohibitive. This theme ties into the next one discussed, because from their description about the introduction to online learning it became apparent that for many educators, the focus was on material that was freely available, not necessarily open—and not always a textbook.
OER and Other Online Learning
Often participants veered into other types of OER when discussing open textbooks. The most common types mentioned were open assessment and ancillary materials for the textbooks, such as PowerPoint slides (or open-source equivalents). Followed closely was mention of video content. Sometimes however, the participant began by talking about material that was not OER, but rather a source that was freely available online, but not necessarily under a Creative Commons license, or that allowed for any of the 4Rs.
When M6 discussed open textbooks, he began with a discussion of Flat World Knowledge but moved on to other resources like the Education Portal and Microsoft training modules that are available online but not OER. There was no clear distinction drawn between the use of an open textbook, some other type of OER, or material that was available on the Internet. He described some business and technology classes that he participated in and said that many of the print resources were already out of date as soon as they were available. He stated, “And, so, I found that I can find a lot of information out there that I can use in place of those books that are free.” (M6)
F4 distinguished between other online initiatives like the MOOC and OER, saying that recently the MOOC had overshadowed other elements of open education. The same concept appeared in a review of the literature. F4 said,
So, I do a lot of presentations about MOOCs and I make a point to say, “Look, MOOC is open, but not in the sense of OER.” And people need to understand that there’s a real difference between the two and what their goals are, and all of that. (F4)
In the same way, MOOCs or OER sometimes blend together in a conversation about open textbooks, causing a conflation that makes examining these phenomena as separate components challenging. Similarly, teaching online became a focal point for some conversations. M5 in particular kept returning to the challenges he faced in his college that made online learning appealing—including geographical barriers to students getting to class. When asked about what support would be helpful in implementing open textbooks, he said:
Personally for me it is a big challenge and I am personally challenged to become an excellent online teacher. And I teach live. So I just teach live courses at a distance that I record and then I use a learning management system so the courses are paperless and try to design a process or a way of teaching that support my students.(M5)
On the other hand, M2 argued that a resource like Flat World Knowledge was never an OER at all. And stated the importance in understanding the difference between open education and resources that are freely available. M2 stated,
This is where it’s in my view very important to go and actually have a look at the foundations of open source software movement because which really in many ways have informed early developments of open content. The open source software movement pre-dates what was happening in the open content world and we make a clear distinction between free resources we use and this is a perfectly legitimate use of free in English—it’s just interesting in English we don’t distinguish between the noun and the verb Free can mean two things: no cost and it also refers to liberty as in freedom and so the value for us which is more important is the freedom to be able to adapt modify, reuse and even sell open educational resources. We are not in any way opposed to anybody making money out of open education or free content In fact, if we were to restrict commercial activity around open educational resources in my view that would be a contravention of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in that one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is the right to earn a living. As an educator I don’t want to restrict the rights of anybody around the world to earn a living. So this comes back to the whole Flat World initiative, so we make a very clear distinction between why we call free cultural works approved licenses, and non-free licenses. So any license which restricts the ability to make derivative works, so in other words the freedom to adapt and modify and any license which restricts the ability to earn a living in other words a non commercial restriction, in our view in non-free and not open and the FlatWord Knowledge project started by with a CC-BY NC-SA license so in our definition that was not an open project. (M2)
Also notable was the way that geographic location seemed to change the perspectives on open textbooks. Despite the international reach of OER, not all the elements that worked in Canada or the United States worked in the United Kingdom.
The textbook itself as a category is a less important part of student learning and the student experience in the UK than it is in the US or Canada. My understanding is that if you take a course in the US you have to buy the textbook for each unit of learning and it is often more than one and they can be very very expensive. In the UK the learning tends to be more focused on the lectures and the notes that the lecturers give. They may give references to the journal article we could look up in the library, but not actually very many cases where it is absolutely expected that the student will buy the textbook. (M4)
And later when asked about his first memories in hearing about open textbooks, M4 stated:
I remember thinking that it was clearly something that was meeting an identified need in the US or Canada that potentially presented unique problems in terms of sourcing materials from various places and editing them to make sure that they for a cohesive whole. I also remember thinking that this didn’t seem to be a problem that actually had much of an impact in the UK and Europe so I tended not to go to those kind of open e-book sessions. (M4)
Looking at open textbooks from the perspective of a person in the United Kingdom reminded me that not all aspects of OER are going to be applicable to all people. Despite the global reach of open there are some specific needs or practices that vary by region.
This theme demonstrated that the conversation around open education has for some, not gone beyond being able to find resources that are freely available. It is probably unnecessary for all educators to become experts on open education, but it does highlight the need for support workers like librarians or non-departmental bodies that can assist in mining and retaining OER so that resources are easy to find and easy to implement.
The open community and the role in open education the educator sees for himself or herself.
It was interesting to me that out of eleven participants, few had become interested in the actual open textbook material, but rather, inspiration came by attending seminars and sessions that discussed the philosophy of open as much as it did the benefits to students. Many of the participants echoed sentiments expressed by Downes (2011) about open learning materials giving access to those who may not otherwise have access.
Educators’ own participation in creating open textbooks varied. Some participants saw themselves more as creators than users of open materials. F4 stated,
I’m more of a creator than a re-user. If I were going to look for stuff, mostly what I look for is images and things. So, I’ll go to Flickr and do a Creative Commons restricted search, or I’ll go to Google and do a restricted search. That’s mostly what I look for is images for presentations and things like that (F4).
A few participants worked to change people’s minds in their university about the use of OER, while others did not see that as something they had the ability to do. M5 used report writing to inform others of his experiences with open textbooks. M5 said,
I circulated it potentially to try and drive a bit of interest by faculty. You’re looking for the early adopters. We’ll discuss it at our business cluster meeting, which is like the big department. There will be about six or seven of us at that meeting including a couple of part time instructors. So they’ll definitely be informed of it. If you’ve going to adopt a textbook I think you’d be willing to look at these textbooks. If you are going to adopt a textbook the chances are you are going to look at half a dozen anyway. I wouldn’t preclude looking at an online textbook even if I had never used one as long as there is an option to get this textbook that is at least decent or that this stuff wasn’t smoke and mirrors. (M5).
F1 stressed the role of human interaction and the value that connecting individuals brings to implementing open textbooks. It appeared to be important to her that open education was a community. F1 stated,
That was so important to get that human connection between what we were doing, and that it was really a movement. That this was something that we needed to get behind and we needed to become do-ers of and proactive implementers of, not just users. We needed to do more. (F1)
She also spoke about the fears that many instructors have of technology—fears that could be getting in the way of looking to open textbooks or other OER. Because of her passion about making connections in open education, F1 actually switched her career from teaching full-time to working with an organization that helps others implement open textbooks and other OER. Well, I mean I’m a philanthropist by nature. If I were a millionaire, I’d give all my money away to people that needed it. So, [laugh] I mean I’m just sort of a person and it’s in my personality to want to give, and give, and give to others. And I feel like, as an instructor, if there are ways that I can alleviate initial barriers for students to gain access, to me it’s all about access. They can’t learn if they don’t have the materials that they need to learn. (F4)
Not all of the participants identified themselves as philanthropists or people pursuing open textbooks out of altruism, but all of them spoke of their own role within the open community with a sense of embodiment and purpose. M2 spoke of his time working in open education as solidifying his belief in the importance of openness as a concept—both as education and in his use of open software and working with other companies or organizations. M2 stated,
Well if anything I have probably hardened my view on openness having fought many battles. In progressing the open model you know, I’ve possibly become hardened in many respects, I mean so far you will have noticed, I will not participate in any research project that doesn’t use open licenses. I refuse to serve on any editorial board that is not open licensed so from that perspective. I’ve mostly hardened and I think that is the result of having fought some hard political battles. You become astute in terms of which things work in open, which things don’t but it’s always as open as anybody who wants to learn and participate in open is welcome to join us and we help in any way we can. (M2)
Unlike the literature of open textbooks that focused on the ways in which students benefit by saving money, participant M3 felt that the value inherent in OER was way beyond saving the students money. M3 said,
Perhaps I wasn’t explicit enough in saying that saving money for students for me is not the top reason for using open educational resources. If it cost them more money I would still want to use open educational resources and those who have tried to make a case for open educational resources on the basis of saving money I think are destined to fail because as you know we’re not in this business for money for our own money or anybody else’s money. We’re here on principle so I am doing this because I believe it’s best for students and I believe it is best for society to be more open in general. (M3)
This theme made apparent that people interested in open education saw specific roles in which they are able to participate. Some saw themselves as content creators and were able develop material from scratch, while others were looking for material that already existed which they could use for their classes. The sense of community in open education seemed to pull people into roles where they could support open education by helping to make others aware that it existed and provide guidance on how open practices could be implemented. Open education was more than a way to use resources for some participants—it became an identity for them.
Concern for Students
It was very common for participants to identify that they were motivated to move to open textbooks in order to save students money. F5 provided an example:
The textbooks we have, they’re good, but they’re so expensive. And, as an instructor, I’m really conscious of the costs to my students, especially because we live in a rural area and the economics of our area is not that great. (F5).
And later, F5 stated:
But, I’m finding about half of my students pick the free online book and half of them pick the paper book. I asked them, for one of their assignments, which book they picked and why? And, invariably, the answer for why I pick a paper book was because it’s easier to read on paper. (F5)
Many of the themes identified in the literature review were congruent with study participants’ statements, including the importance of saving the students money and the concerns over a preference for printed material over digital. This finding speaks to the importance of providing the students with options. As Allen (2010) noted in the Student PIRGS report, the best materials are device-neutral and allow students to decide for themselves how they want to read a textbook. M6 emphasized the point about choice,
But, free versus $260 to our demographic is a big deal. I’d say about 70% of our population, our college population is on financial aid. And 20% of our entire population lives under the poverty level. So, $260 is a lot of money. (M6)
However, cost to a student enrolled in a course was not the only factor educators considered. The ease of access to open textbooks also made them easy to review, which from F2’s perspective was an asset for the community of learners that she teaches.
Oh, another advantage that we found with the open books was that students could preview the book to see what kind of course they were looking at before the semester began. We hire a lot, over 100 adjunct instructors each year. They can also look at the book to see if this is something they are going to want to teach from. Transfer committees who are deciding whether to tie credit for this class or not can look at the textbook that was used and don’t have to wonder does somebody in our department have this one their shelf so we can see if the level of this book is appropriate and covered the right topics.(F2)
With the goal of illustrating how a student perceived the use of an open textbook, M1 read to me an email he had received from a Psychology student:
Being a mature student on a tight budget, not having to pay $120 for a textbook is a big deal. That’s one of the many reasons I really enjoyed the free textbook on research methods. Having many years of school left it would be nice that more teachers and schools could use these kind of books to help take off some of the financial strain that students like me face. (Student letter quoted by M1)
So that’s a very representative quote I think. I mean he’s a mature student but the younger students certainly felt the same way. I think one of the more gratifying things was on the first day of class when I met with them and went over the syllabus and everyone is wondering–they’ve been to the book store and can’t find the textbook there. And it’s like: textbook is on the course website? What do you mean? No, no, it’s open and it is for free and so on. Really? There was this wonder in their eyes it was fabulous to see. Very positive feedback. That quote would be quite representative. (M1)
It is worth noting that M1 seemed very delighted at this student’s response to open textbooks, and the positive affirmation that using open textbooks was the right thing to do. He spoke in terms of morality during the interview acknowledging that by doing so, he felt he had further solidified in himself the importance of using open textbooks and other OERs.
The concern for students demonstrated that many instructors were in touch with the needs of their students, especially in low-income areas. Also, the participants interviewed were sensitive to the ways that students preferred to receive the materials.
Academic Culture: support and barriers for implementing open textbooks
One of the themes that every participant discussed was academic culture and the role it played in adopting open textbooks. In some ways that meant not limiting the use of OER to only textbooks, and using other components of OER, or a desire for ancillary material.
Participant F1 had a very positive experience working with a team of people to provide open educational materials:
I’ll never forget how I felt that day I felt that I was just vibrating with excitement about what open materials could mean for my students. And so that was really the beginning of this major shift in my whole paradigm of how I felt about education and teaching. So we spent that summer—we had this ridiculous timeline, we had 6 weeks to really learn about open educational resources, mine the resources, put courses together. We didn’t have a whole lot of help, we just hadn’t learned a bunch of lessons yet. We worked with collaborators across those other institutions with Skype and phone and we put these courses together. We actually built them initially in Sakai (Wheeler, 2004) so we used open source software in our learning management system which was really painful because we all really resisted. It was just tough to go there. (F1)
Although she initially resisted the use of open material, F1 later embraced the idea. The hesitancy came because it was such a drastic shift from the way she had previously been working. Her conversion into open education was somewhat extreme as she now works on an open initiative to help others implement OER.
Three of the participants alluded to strong moral imperatives in open education and recognized a scale in interest with OER. F1 said,
I definitely see where faculty kind of fall and some of them are fringe like me, and some take a slower or more skeptical approach. That’s healthy—we have to have that balance otherwise the crazy people like me jumping off the ledge and having so much fun—we’ve got to balance each other. (F1)
F1 felt she was very much of the fringe in terms of her work with open education. Both she and F3 were in roles where they supported others in the use of finding and implementing open textbooks. F3 stated,
[F3 describing the words of a colleague] We are knowledge. And some of them are like, “I know what OER is, but I hate it, and I’m never going to do it, never in my career.” [laugh] Um, and then there’s the people who are like, “Eh, I’m a little interested, but I don’t have time for it.” And then there’s the people who are like, “I kind of am interested and I want to know more.” But, um, at the other end of the scale are the total zealots. (F3)
M3 on the other hand, opted to implement an open textbook in the class he taught and then communicated the importance of open education through blogging and attending conferences. When he met resistance to the idea of implementing open textbooks, he looked at it as an opportunity to change someone’s mind. M3 said,
I think maybe inadvertently when I encounter that sort of an opinion or that sort of perspective it maybe inadvertently strengthens my own attitudes on the other end. (smiling) simple because every time I have to take the argument and make a persuasive case for open textbooks then naturally my opinions gravitate to the extreme as well. (M3)
Several participants noted a relationship between their academic culture and the ability or inability to implement open materials. Eight of the participants were from colleges, and many of them stated they had a small group to work with in order to select textbooks. Sometimes working with these groups created friction. After retiring, F2 stayed in communication with her university, and she could easily recollect what working as a group to select an open textbook was like. F2 stated,
It would have been nice to have people not fighting you every step of the way. I don’t know how to overcome that, that’s just university politics again and they were going to fight you and they did. If I can share a story with you I told you that I was doing a little bit of editing on this OpenStax book while I haven’t told them I’m doing that because that would just be like the death knell to the whole adoption of that book and truthfully what I have seen in that book so far I wouldn’t ask them to adopt it anyway. Anyway I told one of my friends who in turn passed it on to the head of the introductory text committee, and she sent out an email saying oh [F2] sent us a link to another free open book that we can take a look at. Her dean, who is our former discipline chair, as well as a bunch of other people jumped in saying WHY IS SHE STILL INVOLVED IN THIS and we shouldn’t be listening to her. I wasn’t even recommending anything I was just passing on the information that there is such a book and like I said I would not recommend the book unless it changes drastically from the chapter that I saw. I would not recommend the book for them. But they are under a mandate from the chancellor to include open textbooks in their review process. (F2)
Two of the participants mentioned engaging with a librarian for open textbooks, and one participant had experience as a librarian, and others mentioned instructional designers or eLearning specialists as important to OER adoption processes.
I know, I, it’s hard for me to see the negative side of OER other than the time it takes to do it [laugh] and the investment the institution has to make in it. But, I’m a little biased if you can’t tell. (F3)
All of the participants stressed the importance of buy-in from educators in the move to use open textbooks. No one felt as though it would work to force teachers to use open materials. Additionally, all of the people interviewed felt that they had the support of their administrators in implementing open textbooks. As M3 succinctly put it, “they seem to have drunk the Kool-Aid as well.”
Copyright is complicated. Participants liked Creative Commons because of the ease-of-use it provides for them in determining how they are able to use or modify the content. M5 noted,
I like the way it [Creative Commons] is branded. I can look around the world and know what this license means. It means something to me just like Ford Motor company means something to me. (M5)
M5 was the most candid about his use of educational materials prior to using open textbooks or other OER.
Well you’d bury things that may be copyright on an internal portal and you hope that they never show up and do a comprehensive audit on your portal because you’ve copied all these magazine articles and shoved them up there and not really sure of exactly what the rules are. I don’t think one teacher in a hundred knows those rules. I think most of us would play the game and beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. I know the rules changed recently and I attended a briefing and they sound like they are a lot better for us, but I notice that there are not too many colleagues at the briefing. (M5)
F1 expressed similar sentiments about the way Creative Commons simplified licensing but added that it has also made it easier for instructors to find OER.
Creative Commons has done so much more to make it easy to understand too. So the three levels of licensing is really great. Being able to use Google search, the advance search, the Creative Commons search is one of those huge wins for being able to mine the breadth of OER that is out there and continuing to grow. (F1)
However, while she enjoyed the simplicity of the licensing, she recognized that using OER meant a big shift in how some people find and use materials.
It was just understanding copyright, understanding Creative Commons licensing as much as I adore Creative Commons licensing it is a whole shift in how we look at materials from copyright to then. Oh so some materials I can just use and jut attribute, but other materials I can use but just not in a commercial base. (F1)
M6 came to the interview after a meeting with his college’s new e-learning advisor, which he called good timing. He described what had been discussed in the meeting and how it could be helpful to his colleagues.
Uh, well, he talked about copyrights, and how to know, and how to get help if we aren’t sure whether it’s copyrighted or not. And, um, and he also talked about, um, well, for most of the faculty there were part-time employees. And, so, I think a lot of them maybe didn’t even know it was an option, so just letting the faculty know that there were things like that out there, um, was part of the conversation. And, then, he showed us a few of the sites, um, like Khan, and MIT Open Course, just so you could get a feel for what they look like. And, then, we talked about how you might use them.(M6)
There are many conversations to have about copyright and access. While it may seem remarkable to some that instructors are using materials without being sure that they have the permissions to, many of the educators are part-time faculty working at multiple places and using content that was provided for them. And many full-time instructors feel pressed for time to update their courses. M4 spoke about copyright in the United Kingdom and the ways in which he has communicated the rules of copyright.
It can be, I mean licensing is a conversation that if you chose to you can have the conversation with lawyers and they can make it go on forever and be really confident about. I mean it can be actually we’ve tended to simplify it quite a lot and it goes something like did you make the content yourself? If you didn’t make the content yourself have you got the explicit permission of the person that actually made it to let you use it and if the answer of either of those questions is no than you probably shouldn’t be using it. I mean there’s kind of always exceptions you look at something like author works, public domain stuff and there’s also the argument about the current abhorrent state of affairs in which our cultural heritage is actually copyrighted all the stuff in our head, all the references to popular culture that we make all the time we probably shouldn’t actually be making because people own them. I was actually talking to Jim Groom, that these are the things that I actually grew up with the books and the music and all the rest of it and if I can’t actually use that then it’s something I’ve added value to that I can’t take anything out of. (M4)
The theme of copyright seems to indicate that there is a low-level of understanding about using materials for educational purposes, and this may affect the way many people perceive or choose to use open textbooks.
Quality, selection and implementation of open textbooks
I think one of the big barriers has been that a large number of the open textbook projects haven’t actually planned for implementation,” said M2. The participants brought up similar concerns to those identified in the literature review about the quality of open education. Most had experienced initial concern about the quality that they said were latter assuaged.
As F3 mentioned, many educators in her experience were also associating overall appearance of the open textbook with the quality of the materials. She would often send the best-looking resources to instructors.
I know that, when I’m working with faculty and I send them an OpenStax college book, because those look so pretty [laugh] and they look like a textbook you’re comfortable with, it’s a lot easier to convince somebody to adopt that. But, I also know that there are some super amazing, quality open resources out there that look like web pages that were made in 1996. And they’re not bad resources. They’re just not as easy to read. So, it’s one of the things that we have to deal with, as a community of open users, is making things kind of fit what we expect a resource to look like now. (F3)
In her work as a librarian, F3 wanted to find space for people to use whatever resources fit them. F3 said,
I want everybody to be—I kind of want to live in this perfect world in education where everybody’s teaching with what makes them happy. But, I will say that I get really frustrated with the comment that open resources aren’t quality resources. I don’t think that’s true anymore. I think in the beginning it was harder. But, I think when you’re translating quality to prettiness, that’s not really quality. (F2)
However, the concerns about quality were not totally unfounded. F2 did experience issues with implementation that were tied to quality. F2 stated,
Obviously there are lots of problems with free books. One problem with this particular free book is that Flat World decided to change their business model and it is no longer be free. Fortunately by that time we already had a downloaded revised customized copy of the book so we went ahead and we’re still using it. The other problem is you’ve got to create a lot of your own materials and there’s lots of other problems too that I could go into. But from the student perspective I think it was a success. (F2)
Participant M2 drew on his years of experience in watching open-source and open education evolve to describe the way he viewed the present approaches to open textbooks. M2 said,
It’s about oh let’s create an open textbook. Build it and they will come sort of notion but nobody has planned for implementation. The only project I have seen that is actually thinking this through more carefully now is the Campus Open Textbook initiative. I think they are planning carefully for implementation. The way I would run an open textbook project, as Campus is doing well, ok yeah we’ll support you in developing an open textbook on condition that you are going to teach it. Simple as that.(M2)