Looking for #OpenTextbooks or other #OER (Open Educational Resources) in Psychology? I created this brief video overview of the many, many options available in my discipline:
Looking for #OpenTextbooks or other #OER (Open Educational Resources) in Psychology? I created this brief video overview of the many, many options available in my discipline:
Earlier this year, Linda Frederiksen (Head of Access Services, Washington State University Vancouver) reached out to me (along with several others) and posed this question. She has since done a wonderful job of synthesizing these suggestions into a chapter titled “Ten Tips for Authoring Success,” itself part of a new guide for Authoring Open Textbooks, edited by Melissa Falldin and Karen Lauritsen from the Open Textbook Network.
I encourage you to read all of the ten tips provided by brilliant colleagues such as Amanda Coolidge, Lauri Aesoph, Dianna Fisher, Quill West, Amy Hofer, Mike Caulfield, and others. Here is what I wrote:
To your question, “What Is The One Thing Every New Open Textbook Author Should Know?”, I would say that although constructing an open textbook is easier when you think about it in terms of a conventional textbook structure (e.g., sub sections within chapters that may also be grouped into sections), know that the most exciting elements of OER have to do with the greatest weaknesses of conventional textbooks. With an open textbook you have the ability to update content frequently, so write with this in mind (e.g., do not keep referring to one particular study as this may be replaced over time). Think about how you might take advantage of the digital platform by embedding interactive simulations, videos, and online activities. Consider how you can invite students into the process of OER creation, even if through personal application questions or small exercises. And finally, do not wait for your open textbook to be in some mythical “perfect” state before releasing it to the community. Pilot it, collect student feedback, and revise. Consider this an iterative process that you own. And if you are feeling a bit bolder, develop the textbook itself in the open, permitting and even inviting feedback from colleagues as you develop each sub-section. It may seem daunting to open yourself up to that level of scrutiny, but the resource will be far stronger for it. If you think about it, this is what the process of opening education is all about.
As is now well documented and understood, unrelenting increases in the prices of university textbooks (typically between 3 and 4 times the rate of inflation) have not been matched by increases in student spending. Whereas the U.S. College Board and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada respectively advise students to budget US$1300 and CA$1000 per year for textbooks and other course materials, data collected by the National Association of College Stores (NACS) show that actual student spending on course materials has dropped to less than half that amount. The result is an increasingly strong relationship between the affordability of course materials and course performance, with a majority of post-secondary students across the continent (from Florida to British Columbia to Massachusetts) having to forgo purchasing required textbooks, and a growing number of others adopting alternative, sub-optimal (and sometimes illegal) methods to obtain required course materials.
Plummeting sales of new hardbound print copies of commercial textbooks (accompanied by precipitous drops in revenue and share price) have, in turn, accelerated the pivot of commercial textbook publishers towards digital delivery models. With no printing or distribution costs, the attractiveness of permanently extinguishing the used book market (where a single copy may be resold six times during the lifecycle of each edition), and the ability to guarantee high and predictable revenue via institutional licensing contracts, it is little wonder (although rather amusing) that the large commercial publishers have sought to repaint themselves as the saviours of those suffering at the hands of their own business model.
In its latest incarnation, digital delivery has been cleverly branded as “inclusive access,” a model wherein every student pays a mandatory course materials fee that represents an arbitrary discount off the (arbitrary) price of a new hardcover textbook (often more than the average student currently spends). In exchange, the students lease digital-only access to their required textbooks within the publisher’s digital delivery platform. In some (but not all) cases, students are given the option to opt-out of this system, usually under restrictive terms that are not always obvious to them, such as by locating, completing, and submitting a form within 10 days. Of course, for students who prefer to work with a print copy (and possibly resell it later to recover some of its cost), the ability to opt out is especially important. Yet, as you might surmise, the publishers have a vested interest in keeping the number of students who may opt-out to a minimum. This is why at institutions like Post University the opt-out terms are more than restrictive; they are punitive, as students who manage to opt-out in time are are informed that “they will not be eligible for an extension on course assignments while they await arrival of their course materials” (which they must purchase elsewhere). Just what you picture when you think of the word “inclusive,” right?
In Canada, the “inclusive access” model has been pioneered by Algonquin College, where the marketing slogan is “100% of the students with 100% of their resources 100% of the time.” This sounds really great until you begin to tally the compromises that are being made on the side of student agency, academic freedom, and textbook format. For example, even if you sidestep the fact that students, far from being “digital natives,” still overwhelmingly prefer print textbooks, you should realize that the argument that “e-Texts are portable and can be used anywhere” is only an advantage if you ignore digital redlining or are confident that every student will perpetually own a portable device that can host an eText. Nonetheless, given the growing interest on the part of university administrators in tackling the problem of exorbitant textbook costs, inclusive access (especially when accompanied with the sweetener of a pilot semester with free textbooks) can come across as a quick (if not terribly easy) fix, one that can reasonably be expected to yield improvements in mean student outcomes (access being the essential ingredient).
Of course, “inclusive access” is not the only viable approach to tackling textbook unaffordability, as steadily growing adoptions of open textbooks and other open educational resources (OER) have mirrored (and possibly accelerated) the commercial publishers’ pivot away from print. Funded by groups as diverse as universities, governments, philanthropic organizations, and professional societies, OERs are resources that empower users with the freedoms to reuse, retain, redistribute, and even revise or remix. They are available in a variety of digital formats (free of cost and free from digital rights management) as well as in print format (at the cost of printing). Crucially, OER broadens access in a way that is actually inclusive. Whereas the commercial publishers’ approach to “inclusive access” continues to pass the burden of cost on to academia’s most vulnerable constituents in order to serve shareholders, the OER approach enhances access and agency in a manner that serves social justice and inspires pedagogical innovation.
According to the NACS, 32% of faculty currently assign OER. The corresponding estimate from the Independent College Bookstore Association is roughly half that amount, at 15%. But even if you prefer to trust the more conservative estimates, it is noteworthy that the commercial publisher Cengage itself predicts that the use of OER as primary course material will triple within five years, a forecast that is reflected by the 33% of faculty (surveyed by the NACS) who believe OER will replace commercial textbooks in general education courses.
What is more, a growing body of research attests to the positive impact of OER adoption on educational outcomes that include exam performance, course enrolment, course persistence, and program completion. In fact, the OER efficacy literature is so compelling that the commercial publishers have begun to attempt to co-opt it. See, for example, this 2016 brochure from Pearson Education that deceptively cites four OER efficacy studies in support of their digital delivery platform (see below for a preview). Of course, this is a deliberate effort to muddy the waters, something that has been compounded by the publishers seeking to import open textbooks (including those that carry a NonCommercial open license) into their paywalled platforms. The strategy thus appears to be “if you can’t beat ‘em, co-opt ‘em.”
But of course faculty are free to assign OER directly (e.g., through open textbook repositories such as those in British Columbia, Ontario, or Minnesota), without their institution forcing its students to lease e-textbooks every semester. Without supporting openwashing. So while there remain courses for which OER are not yet available and open textbooks which are not yet supported with ancillary resources, institutions ought to think very carefully before signing agreements that restrict faculty choice to the textbooks available within a given platform and that impose an opt-out model on students while granting only temporary digital access.
Remember that the true power of open comes not from a resource being free of cost but rather from the freedoms to reuse, retain, redistribute, revise, and remix content. These freedoms empower both students and faculty while widening access and supporting the democratization of education. On the other hand, “inclusive access” programs trade away both free and freedom in exchange for an arbitrary discount and restricted access (not to mention increased surveillance). A sly attempt at defining-by-naming, “inclusive access” programs strip away agency and represent a major step towards the corporatization of higher education. The contrast could hardly be greater.
Consider the following personas:
First, picture a faculty member who has just learned about the existence of open educational resources. Imagine that this faculty member then also learns about how many students (including by extension their own) are unable to afford required course materials. Assuming they are able to locate a relevant, good-enough quality, and openly-licensed resource, they may adopt OER in order to dampen the relationship between affordability and performance, motivated by concerns for student access and success. They may learn lessons from this first foray that—if not overly negative—may lead them to make incremental changes to their practice in all of their courses, such as how they assign required readings. Given a positive experience with this first adoption they may go on to adopt OER in as many of their courses as they can locate relevant, good-enough quality, openly-licensed materials for. They may even act as an advocate for OER within their department or discipline.
Now picture a different faculty member, one who is not especially aware of issues pertaining to student access, but who is motivated to create authentic learning experiences for their students. This faculty member may learn about open pedagogy and feel inspired to redesign a single course assignment to help their students contribute to an OER. They may begin with a type of assignment they have learned about, for which there is a path to follow, a model to exhibit, a rubric to adapt. They may learn lessons during this initial experience that—if not overly negative—lead them to make incremental changes to their practice in all courses, such as in the kinds of support they provide students. Given a positive experience with this first instance they may go on to adopt open pedagogy in as many of their courses as they have freedom to do so. They may even act as an advocate for open pedagogy within their department or discipline.
Each of these personas illustrates practices that reflect specific motivations, shaped by both experience and constraints. But of course they are not mutually exclusive. The former faculty member may enter the world of OEP though the gate of OER and later adopt open pedagogy while the latter may enter through the gate of open pedagogy and later adopt OER. Yes, one can easily serve as a gateway to another. Yet neither gate should be described as a gateway drug. You see, openness is about more agency, not less. More agency for faculty, who may adapt educational resources to better suit their context, and more agency for students, who may be empowered through meaningful, renewable assignments.
But beyond being inaccurate, the drug metaphor also sends the wrong message. After all, we as open advocates are not in the business of handing out free samples, limited-term pilots, sponsorships, or kickbacks in the hopes that the faculty we work with will grow dependent on these trappings. We don’t control the periodic release of new product into the ecosystem, concocting artificial scarcity in order to manufacture demand. We don’t pass on the burden of cost to our most vulnerable constituents. We don’t report to shareholders and profit is not our motive. So if you are an advocate for open, please be careful with the metaphors you employ. We are not trying to infect people with a virus, this is not a crusade, and this is certainly not about drinking any Kool Aid. Openness supports democratization over corporatization and recovers previously-ceded ground in the battle for academic freedom. It is not a drug. It is rehabilitation.
At #OER17 (where the theme was the “Politics of Open”) there were several excellent, vigorous, and thoughtful discussions about borders, boundaries, and the future of the open movement. Between racist legislation that inhibits that free movement of people and xenophobic attempts to withdraw from the global community I can fully understand how definitions are often written or co-opted as instruments of exclusion.
After David Wiley first wrote about open pedagogy and I began dabbling with it, I immediately began to notice examples of practice that reflected what I saw as the spirit of openness (if I may use that phrase) but that did not meet David’s formal definition of open pedagogy. For example, when my students write (and submit for publication) op-ed pieces, they are not taking advantage of open licenses. They are, however, performing public scholarship in a way that they find meaningful, that provides a resource for their communities, and that helps them develop and refine important skills along the way (e.g., constructing a evidence-based argument, communicating complex ideas in a clear & concise fashion, etc.).
As I have said repeatedly, I firmly believe that the open movement needs to be a big tent and as welcoming as possible. This is why I support the application of any open license that the creator feels comfortable with (including the much-derided NC clause). I warmly welcome those interested in open textbooks that look, smell, and taste like those published by the Pearsons of this world. If they want to plug and play and change nothing about their pedagogy, I will gladly support them. And I will celebrate the impact of their decision on student access and learning. If others are entirely uninterested in OER but fascinated and inspired by OEP such as renewable assignments, I am also happy. Like my friend Robin DeRosa, I personally believe this is where the magic lies. However, I don’t think that being judgmental about a different approach is an effective (or internally consistent) approach for advocates of openness. The evolution of my own position from reviewer to adopter to adapter to creator to researcher to advocate is enough to stop me from erecting a minimum threshold of openness for entry in our community.
Like David notes in his recent post, however, I am concerned about using the term “open” so broadly and in so many ways that it becomes essentially meaningless. At the same time, I don’t think the term “openwashing” (fabulous, pointed, and helpful as it is) is the right one to use here, especially when you are describing the work of people who are working with the spirit of openness. Rather, I think we are talking about open diluting (credit for this term goes to the brilliant Daria Cybulska of Wikimedia UK). This is why I agree that it is good practice for people to be clear what they mean when they use the term “open.” At the same time I absolutely recognize that even though we may operationally define “open” differently, we share a common foundation that values access, agency, transparency, and quality.
In a couple of weeks I will be in Cape Town, presenting at the 2017 OE Global Conference. This blog post is a preview of some of the ideas I will discuss during my talk (which shares the title of this blog post). A longer version of this post is currently under review in Open Praxis.
The open education movement has made and continues to make great strides, with the creation, adaptation, and adoption of OER slowly but surely becoming mainstream practice. However, as the adolescent OE movement enters a growth spurt that may see its use as primary courseware triple within five years, some noticeable paradoxes have emerged that hint at an identity crisis within the OE movement and, in particular, within OER advocacy.
Open education advocates customarily define OER as “beyond free,” based on the permissions to reuse, revise, remix, retain, and redistribute these resources. However, in practice, OER advocacy often centres on the unaffordability of commercial textbooks and the cost savings associated with the adoption of open textbooks (i.e. merely “free”). On the one hand, this appears appropriate, even pragmatic, given the significance of the burden of student loan debt in North America and the impact of escalating textbook costs on students’ educational choices and outcomes. Moreover, textbooks are a familiar entity to academics, and, unlike with tuition fees and costs of living, faculty control adoption decisions and consequently the cost of required course materials. At the same time, this narrow focus on cost savings is immediately less relevant in countries where faculty are less reliant on expensive textbooks. In fact, it may not even be pragmatic in North America, as recent research shows that the cost of resources is among the least-considered factors for U.S. faculty when assigning required course materials. Moreover, although a cost-savings framing appeals most directly to student groups, as pointed out it is faculty who control adoption decisions. Finally, framing OER in terms of zero cost (one among many implications of open licensing) may unintentionally constrain the use of the permissions that come along with OER and disengage faculty from the opportunity to move away from bending their courses onto the structure of a textbook. Indeed, faculty who reuse, redistribute, and retain OER (themselves a minority) continue to greatly outnumber those who revise and remix OER, a pattern that may be perpetuated through the best of intentions of OER advocates. As Weller and his colleagues put it:
if cost savings were the only goal, then OERs are not the only answer. Materials could be made free, or subsidized, which are not openly licensed. The intention behind the OER approach is that it has other benefits also, in that educators adapt their material, and it is also an efficient way to achieve the goal of cost savings, because others will adapt the material with the intention of improving its quality, relevance or currency. (pp. 84-85)
OER advocates often highlight the advantages of the internet and digital technologies, especially as they enable the marginal cost of reproduction and distribution of educational resources to approach zero. However, the OER movement itself continues to grapple with questions from a pre-digital past, such as the responsibility of updated editions of open textbooks and the development of ancillary materials such as question banks. Although OER funders may (rightly) consider these matters stumbling blocks which, if not addressed, would inhibit uptake, employing the language of the commercial textbook industry runs the risk of dragging along a traditional mindset based on the top-down delivery of static and (falsely) scarce information. This begs a broader question: If open educational practices are a game changer, why are OER advocates playing by the rules of the commercial textbook industry?
Framing OER as free, digital versions of expensive print textbooks also risks playing directly into the hands of commercial textbook publishers who are in the midst of a pivot away from a business model based on selling “new editions” of print textbooks every three years to one based on leasing 180-day access to digital content delivery platforms. As post-secondary administrators begin to more seriously consider the social and fiscal consequences of high textbook costs, it will be tempting for them to capitulate to aggressive sales pitches from publishing coalitions that exchange faculty choice and student agency for slightly discounted digital textbooks. In order to avoid the most effective arguments of OER advocates being further co-opted by commercial publishers (e.g., see this product brochure from Pearson Education for their digital platform that cites data on the impact of OER adoption on student outcomes) and especially to realize the full potential of OER, the goal posts must be placed further than simply cheaper textbooks. As Robin DeRosa, an open educator who clearly favours revolution over evolution, puts it, “Fundamentally, I don’t want to be part of a movement that is focused on replacing static, over-priced textbooks with static, free textbooks.”
The tensions between cost savings and textbooks on the one hand and the affordances of open licenses and digital technologies on the other are manifested by contrasting emphases on OER vs. open educational practices (OEP). The latter is a broader, superordinate category that encompasses the adoption of OER and even open course design and development, but which places pedagogy (and therefore students) at its core. OEP most often manifests in the form of course assignments in which students update or adapt OER (e.g., with local examples or statistics), create OER (e.g., instructional videos or even test questions), or otherwise perform scaffolded public scholarship (e.g., writing op-ed pieces or annotating readings on the open web). Crucially, adopting OEP requires more of a shift of mindset than does adopting OER, more critical reflection about the roles of the instructor and the student when education continues to be based on content consumption rather than critical digital literacy despite information (and misinformation) being abundant. As David Wiley writes in his blog (albeit with the byline “pragmatism over zeal”), “when faculty ask themselves ‘what else can I do because of these permissions?’, we’ve come within striking distance of realizing the full power of open.”
Happily, advocating for OEP avoids the problem of inadvertently striking a judgmental tone when describing non-OER users (who may have excellent reasons supporting their choice) because discussions about innovation are not driven by guilt or avoidance. Rather, OEP articulates a vision of education that is aspirational and driven by an approach motivation. Within this broader vision, significant cost savings to students are the least significant benefit of OER.
The psychologist Erik Erikson articulated an eight-stage theory of psychosocial development that centered on an adolescent crisis between identity and role confusion (1956). During this stage, which persists through the college years, the adolescent begins to struggle with questions about who they really are and what they hope to achieve.
Although Erikson developed his theory to better understand lifespan development within individuals and not social movements, it is difficult to ignore the parallels between the tensions of an adolescent OE movement and the adolescent identity crisis that he described. Specifically, I believe that the frictions described above between “merely free” and “beyond free,” resources and practices, and evolution and revolution are each symptomatic of a psychosocial crisis within the OE movement that pits pragmatism against idealism.
Although OER advocates may understand and even experience both impulses, their goals and strategies often reflect one or the other. For example, whereas idealists push for for radical change that questions the status quo, pragmatists seek to build incrementally on the status quo. Whereas idealists might work through collaborative networks such as faculty learning communities, pragmatists might work to create grant programs for individual faculty to create, adapt, or adopt OER. And whereas idealists emphasize student-centered, personalized solutions that foreground process and agency, pragmatists emphasize instructor-centered turnkey solutions that foreground content and efficiency.
Outlined like this, it is easy to recognize the merits of both strategies. Indeed, idealists would do well to recognize that open textbook adoption tangibly benefits students in material and educational terms that are not insignificant. On the other hand, pragmatists might recognize that the idealistic approach is appealing to those for whom the construct of a traditional textbook is a dinosaur best served by a meteor strike (and can therefore can be pragmatic).
Given that Erikson believed that the individual could not be understood in terms that were separate from his or her social context (1959), I believe the key to resolving this crisis lies with an integrated approach that is sensitive to the diversity across and within the audiences whom we seek to serve.
For faculty who enjoy experimenting and innovating, open textbook adoption does feel like a meagre position to advocate. These are instructors who care deeply about authentic and open pedagogy, who may take full advantage of the permissions to revise and remix, and who understand that adopting OEP is really just about good pedagogy and in that sense is not at all radical.
On the other hand,
there are faculty who currently adopt high-priced, static textbooks but care enough about their students to feel guilty about this decision (principled agents in a principal-agent dilemma). In at least some of these cases, the ensuing guilt leads them to bend the course to map onto the textbook, which, while not an example of great pedagogy, could be construed as an empathic response that ameliorates both their guilt and their students’ resentment. This is . . . where the social justice case for open textbooks may resonate particularly well.
According to Weller and his colleagues, there are three categories of OER users:
1) The OER active are
engaged with issues around open education, are aware of open licenses, and are often advocates for OERs . . . An example of this type of user might be the community college teacher who adopts an openly licensed textbook, adapts it and contributes to open textbooks. (pp. 80-81)
2) OER as facilitator
may have some awareness of OER, or open licenses, but they have a pragmatic approach toward them. OERs are of secondary interest to their primary task, which is usually teaching . . . Their interest is in innovation in their own area, and therefore OERs are only of interest to the extent that they facilitate innovation or efficiency in this. An example would be a teacher who uses Khan Academy, TED talks and some OER in their teaching. (p. 82)
3) Finally, OER consumers
will use OER amongst a mix of other media and often not differentiate between them. Awareness of licences is low and not a priority. OERs are a “nice to have” option but not essential, and users are often largely consuming rather than creating and sharing. An example might be students studying at university who use iTunes U materials to supplement their taught material. For this type of user, the main features of OERs are their free use, reliability and quality. (p. 85)
This taxonomy serves as a useful guide to OER advocates seeking to diversify or tailor their outreach strategy. For instance, OER consumers may be most interested in open textbooks and related ancillary resources that can be deployed with little or no effort. For this group, unfettered access for their students is highly desirable, with cost savings a nice bonus. On the other hand, the OER active group will be more sensitive to the impact of cost savings while also keen to learn more about the permissions to revise and remix OER. Finally, those in the OER as facilitator group will be excited by the potential to involve students in the creation or adaptation of OER via renewable assignments. Of course, this is far from an exhaustive list of strategic possibilities and only aims to illustrate the mechanics of an integrative approach.
Despite its merits, it would be naïve to believe that adopting an integrative approach would eradicate all tension within the OE movement. Idealists may continue to insist on the application of CC licenses that meet the definition of “free cultural works.” Pragmatists, on the other hand, will acknowledge that OER creators may have reasonable grounds for including a Noncommercial (NC) or even a NoDerivatives (ND) clause, even though an Attribution-only license (CC-BY) facilitates the maximum impact of OER. Pragmatists may also want to first ensure basic access for all whereas idealists may think it arrogant to insist that students first need access to required resources before partnering in pedagogical innovation. But while these tensions will not disappear, I believe it essential that we recognize both drives and have a deliberate, nuanced conversation about how best to harness both idealism and pragmatism in service of the goals of the OE movement.
In Erikson’s lifespan theory, the stages that follow adolescence pit intimacy against isolation (young adulthood), generativity against stagnation (middle adulthood), and, finally, integrity against despair (later adulthood). If these at all suggest a trajectory for the OE movement beyond its current adolescence, its advocates should aim for the next phase to involve a lot more collaboration among faculty and students, both across institutions and cohorts. This shift will require tools that support radically transparent collaboration (e.g., see the Rebus Community for Open Textbook Creation) but especially a break from traditional (opaque, territorial, top-down) approaches to curriculum design and development. As the proverb says, “if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Greater collaboration and a true democratization of the process of OER development will in turn engender a move away from philanthropic, government, and other unsustainable funding models in favour of a grassroots-based, community-driven, self-sustaining approach that resembles a bazaar in its connectivity and generativity far more than it does a cathedral.
Achieving this, while neither easy nor assured, is a necessary step for the OE movement on its path to becoming more critical, more self-aware, and more inclusive of a diversity of voices. In other words, a movement characterized by integrity, not despair.
I am often asked about how I got involved with the open textbook movement. My red pill moment was when I first heard the term “OER” uttered by David Wiley in May 2013 at an annual workshop held at Thompson Rivers University for faculty in their Open Learning division. This is when I began to see the Matrix for what it was—an artificial, parasitic, publisher-driven system in which faculty are unwitting carriers. Continue reading
“I don’t want to be part of a movement that is focused on replacing static, over-priced textbooks with static, free textbooks.” I hope Robin DeRosa’s thoughtful post about open textbooks provokes some reflection on the tone and goals of the open textbook movement and its advocates. It begs the question of whether we are waging the wrong war here, at least in part. Continue reading