Chapter One: Study Background

I learned about open education early in my Master of Arts in Learning and Technology program. I was on campus during my residency at Royal Roads University (RRU) and there was a talk given by David Porter, the executive director of BCcampus. He began with Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that everyone has the right to education and that education shall be free, and that “technical and professional education shall be made generally available” (United Nations, 1948). My interest was piqued. I am always interested to hear about the ways that we can use technology to bring education to people for whom it may otherwise not be available.

My engagement with the open education community began on a very small level—with a few members of my student cohort in our Master’s program. We looked through resources and discussed ways that we could use them in both our teaching and learning. Even though I was only slightly connected to the topic, I knew from that first week in residence that I wanted to explore some form of open education for my thesis. I read about projects like the open textbook library at the University of Minnesota, OpenStax College, and Project Kaleidoscope. I attended the 2012 Open Education conference in Vancouver, British Columbia where I listened to Gardner Campbell of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), and Cable Green of Creative Commons (CC) promotes openness in education. I was, and continue to be, fascinated with the possibilities of open education.

If there was one thing that stood out to me during Porter’s presentation at RRU, it was that the framing of the presentation mirrored ideals that I hold dear: ideas encompassing democratization, human rights, justice, and fairness. On reflection, I have come to believe that the presentation connected with me because it aligned with these concepts of social justice; I am certainly not the only person to have noticed the similar language used in the field of open education. Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012) noted that one of the assumptions around open scholarship was that the movement is rooted in these ethical pursuits, though it is difficult to tell which came first. Veletsianos and Kimmons stated that, “it is presently unclear whether these ideals are essential components of the open scholarship movement or are merely incidental to those who are pioneering the field” (p. 176).

The research I undertook in this study was to uncover the lived experiences of educators involved in the use of open textbooks. While it was a clear goal, what I found was neither simplistic nor straightforward. The word “educator” was chosen thoughtfully, and the term was broad enough to attract people who not only teach primarily students, but who were also research faculty at educational institutions. The result was rich textual description of a wide selection of educators. I selected Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to approach the investigation holistically with the belief that a person is both embedded and embodied within a wider world.

Open education is still a relatively new phenomenon and it holds great promise in bringing education to people who may have trouble accessing it. The repercussions of open education not being successful mean that a lot of effort and valuable resources would never be used to their full potential. Examining the experiences of those who have implemented open textbooks demonstrates the positive and negative issues that arise for some educators, and those experiences may be useful for people looking to implement open textbooks.

This thesis is structured to guide the reader through the research questions, definitions of specific terms, and a literature review. What follows in the thesis is a section on methods, where the strategy of inquiry is discussed in greater detail.

Limitations and delimitations

As Finlay (2009) noted, “we experience a thing that has already been interpreted.” The description and interpretation of open textbooks, both from my perspective and that of the participants, has already been subjected to our own experiences and biases. The nature of the phenomena means that only those who have both experiences in considering and using open textbooks, and the desire to speak about them, participated in the research interviews. Subjectivity is invariably embedded into the nature of interpretive phenomenological research. For example, I did reach out to one potential research interview participant who was no longer involved in open education and said she did not have an hour to discuss her experiences with me. As a consequence, the sample for this study was somewhat self-selecting and likely attracted only those who were very passionate about open textbooks. There was also a time constraint of only a few months to complete the study, and this constraint did not allow adequate time for follow-up interviews with participants to see whether they had shifted or revised their ideas about open textbooks over time. For analysis, I favored an ideographic, narrative element when exploring how individuals experienced open textbooks.

The sample size for this study was never intended to be large, due to its exploratory nature, and certainly not sufficiently large enough to allow generalizable findings. Although there are hundreds of people involved in the use of open textbooks, a survey would not have been able to capture the intimate details and rich descriptions of a longer interview. Finally, and in all cases, the participants spoke of their experiences as individuals, not as representatives of their institutions or organizations.

Research Question:

The Primary research question guiding this study was: What are the experiences of educators regarding the implementation of open textbooks as a part of their educational practice?

While considerable time, resources and investment efforts have gone into the creation of open educational resources, there may be a knowledge gap about the ways in which open resources are used. 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.

As will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter Three (Method and Strategy of Inquiry), this research study was conducted using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) for data collection and interpretation of interview data.

Definition of Terms

The following terms are used through this thesis. Some are specific to the use of open educational resources. Others are acronyms.

API   Application programming interface

CC Creative Commons

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is term that describes a set of technologies that were created to control the use of copyrighted materials

FWK Flat World Knowledge

IPA Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis

Open Educational Resources (OER) is a term that was first adopted at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on the impact of Open Courseware for Post-Secondary Education in Developing Countries funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. According to the definition OER are “digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research” (UNESCO, 2002).

Open Licenses include a set of licensing rights provided by Creative Commons (CC) Licenses (Creative Commons, 2012). CC licenses use traditional copyright to extend additional and specific rights to others in society who would benefit from making use of educational material such as books, video, animations or other resources (see 4Rs).

Open Textbooks are made freely available online for faculty and students to use, modify and reuse (ISKME, 2008). These textbooks are available with non-restrictive licenses and cover a wide range of disciplines (ISKME, 2008). Several file formats are often provided for open textbooks; typical formats are: HTML, Adobe PDF, and plain text (ISKME, 2008).

PLE  Personal learning network

UNESCO TheUnited Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

4Rs Framework Reuse, Revise, Remix Redistribute (Wiley, 2010).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *