Open Textbooks

Reflecting on the 2017 Open Textbook Network Summit & Institute

Reflecting on the 2017 Open Textbook Network Summit & Institute

Last week I joined over a hundred OER-friendly librarians, technologists, and instructional designers in Minneapolis for the annual Open Textbook Network Summit and Institute (OTNSI) at the University of Minnesota. UH Mānoa is a member institution of the Open Textbook Network, and this was our first time taking part in the face-to-face activities of the network. The OTN has grown to include over 600 higher education institutions through individual and consortial memberships, representing what I believe to be the largest U.S.-based coalition of OER advocates. While textbook affordability projects other than pure OER adoption are part of many groups’ strategic plans, the majority of attendees seem ready to push for 100% OER, bypassing lesser options such as rentals and “inclusive access” programs.

The lean OTN team of Dave Ernst, Sarah Cohen, and Karen Lauritsen delivered a four-day program, the first two days being an institute for newer members to understand what is already working for current members in terms of being able to land major adoptions, publish remixed or original OER, and generally be more effective when introducing the awesomeness of OER to new stakeholders. I was able to meet a handful of OTN members at last year’s OpenEd conference, and I had an idea of who the more active, vocal members were based on their participation on the OTN mailing list. As always, it was wonderful to put faces to so many names and connect with folks doing similar work in other places.

Lots happened during the week, but here are some takeaways that are worth diving into a bit.

Tailoring OER Messages for Different Audiences

This will come as no surprise to many of us, but effective messaging absolutely needs to take the audience into account. It’s easy to fall back onto the more obvious big-picture talking points around the benefits of open, but the same slide deck simply will not work with every audience. During the institute, Dave and Sarah explained their process for running the faculty OER workshop that has yielded hundreds of reviews of OERs and laid the foundation for adoptions across the nation. The faculty workshop includes some data-focused slides, a personal appeal from the presenter, and what ends up being a call for faculty to consider the ever-powerful social justice argument for supporting open education.

Consensus seems to be that administrators and decision makers respond well to hard numbers showing to-date and projected cost savings, total student enrollments affected, and other indicators of improved student success or improvement associated with the use of OER. I consider cost savings associated with OER to be the lever, the foot in the door that allows us to talk about empowering both instructors and students to take control of the learning experience. I’d love to talk to everyone about OER-enabled pedagogy, but these conversations with stakeholders should appeal to goals they have already established, not new ones that need to be added to their plate. OER have the potential to save students thousands of dollars over the course of their earning a degree, and we can do this without affecting departmental budgets — this will be an important point I hope will resonate with those in upper administration.

The Threat of “Inclusive Access” Programs

I mentioned earlier that many campuses are including more than just OER in their textbook affordability initiatives, and publishers have been eager to push digital-first textbook agreements dubbed “inclusive access” programs. These programs are similar to textbook rentals we’ve seen more of over the last few years, but they can also come with highly restrictive terms such as requiring students to opt out (as opposed to having them opt in) of buying the course materials and by offering print versions to students only when they have also paid for the digital copy — which can mean that some students actually pay more with “inclusive access” than they would otherwise pay when older version, used copies, and other buying options are present.

Beyond the obvious issues with these programs, they don’t begin to approach the potential of what OER can offer us. One OTN member suggested that inclusive access programs were just small steps towards OER adoption, but my stance is that when you choose to move towards OER you are on an entirely different path than with closed publisher content. If faculty are to put time and energy into something that will benefit their students, I want all of that energy captured and put towards going fully open. Why would we settle for discounted closed textbooks when OER are available and provide perpetual access to localized, customizable learning materials.

OTN as a Community of Practice

Community in the open source world has long been an interest of mine, and it is something that is difficult to create. I am of the mind that community can’t actually be created, but it can be facilitated by locating a common domain and stimulating existing groups of people working on similar issues to share their best practices (see the Wegner-Trayners for more). Librarians made up the majority of attending members at the OTNSI, and though I am not a librarian I do consider them to be “my people”. Librarians often possess a unique combination of personality traits that means they value structure and organization of information but are also socially aware — this is important when connecting with faculty. Introducing OER to faculty can seem like we are throwing caution to the wind, but those who are interested in OER can find excellent advocates in librarians.

This OTNSI was less focused on technology than I had hoped, but there were a handful of instructional designers and educational technologists in the room who are working with OER. We discussed the course refresh process as a prime opportunity to introduce OER to faculty, especially for the high-enrollment courses and those with instructors who delight in the possibility of customizing their course. Pressbooks was the only open source OER-publishing tool mentioned, but some institutions are using closed source tools that are either under threat of being bought up by larger companies or already have been — and their future is arguably less certain than the open source tools that power UH’s OER initiative.

Not to stray too far from the idea of community, the OTNSI allowed me to expand my network of OER advocates who are not only working on the same issues, but are willing to share their successes and struggles to help carry the group ahead.

Thanks for putting it together, OTN!

Posted by Billy Meinke in Conference, Open Textbooks
An Open Physics Database for Students Learning with OER

An Open Physics Database for Students Learning with OER

Two main components are crucial for one's success as a physics student: access to proper studying resources, and developing problem solving skills. Beginning in 2015, the UH Mānoa Department of Physics and Astronomy has used the OpenStax College Physics OER textbook for their introductory physics courses, which is freely available online under a Creative Commons license. This eliminates the cost of purchasing a text book, and allows access to course materials for everyone; a print textbook also available to those who wish to purchase it.

About the Database

Particularly in physics, solving problems by working through to the solution is a key process of learning. We are building a physics database (pdb) of practice and assessment problems to pair with the Openstax College Physics textbook. The pdb will be open source, with the goal of providing a quality and free resource to students and faculty that others can extend or build on. Ideally, the problems in pdb will be randomized and mutable so that they are unique in methods of solution and time. This will help foster critical thinking, and reasoning in physics.
One of the main aspects of physics that is truly exciting is how mathematics is used to accurately describe the reality around us. It was Newton who first described gravity with a thought experiment. He considered firing a cannon from a very tall building, and eventually if fired with enough force, the cannon ball was sent into orbit around the Earth. Indeed, it is this falling motion in gravity that holds the planets and our solar system together. The planets are literally falling around one another! Problems in pdb will be algebraic and complementary to the content structure of the OpenStax College Physics text. Students will learn Newton's laws of motion, kinematics, work and energy relations, uniform circular motion, linear momentum and collisions, statics and torque, rotational motion and angular momentum.

Concepts in Physics

To give an example of the knowledge areas the pdb will focus on, here is a classic example of conservation of angular momentum. The concept is demonstrated by an ice skater who controls their speed by extending or pulling in their arms. When the skater pulls in his or her arms, their moment of inertia is decreased.

Thus, in order for angular momentum L to be conserved, if a skater changes shape by extending or lowering their arms, their rotational speed must decrease or increase, respectively.

ΔL = 0

The two videos below demonstrate this phenomenon. Conservation of angular momentum is applied to solving many physics problems. Examples include those involving orbiting planets, gravitation, motion of atoms and subatomic particles.

Chris, a graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii Manoa, demonstrates conservation of angular momentum.

Mechanical engineering junior at the University of Hawaii Manoa, Ana, demonstrates conservation of angular momentum.

Our goal is to create the physics database of problems to serve as a free resource for students and teachers that are using the Openstax College Physics book. OER can greatly offset costs for students, and we hope to provide a quality problem solving component to match.

Project Leads of the Physics Database of Problems

Dr. Mark Slovak

Mark H. Slovak is an observational astronomer in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, specializing in cataclysmic variables. Involved with STEM/OER initiatives for several decades, he has been recognized for his outstanding undergraduate teaching in both physics and astronomy. An early adopter of OER e-texts for physics (and astronomy), he is currently engaged in efforts to provide additional ancillary OER materials, including a non-proprietary database of physics problems and exercises. He can be reached at mslovak_at-hawaii-dot-edu

Christina Nelson

Christina graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a B.S. in Physics and a minor in computer science in the Spring of 2017. Motivated by a deep passion to learn and discover what nature is telling us through physics, she plans to continue her academic career in graduate school at McGill University, Montreal. Her main interests are experimental particle physics, the fundamental constituents of matter and their interaction, the very early Universe after the Big Bang; quantum mechanics, how matter on the smallest scale relates to matter on the largest, the role of a conscious observer; and computer science applications to physics analysis such as Monte Carlo simulations, machine learning, and algorithm optimization.

For more about this project, see their project page: College Physics

Posted by Christina Nelson in OER, Open Textbooks, Student, UH Manoa
An OER Production Workflow for Faculty

An OER Production Workflow for Faculty

One of my goals when coming on board to lead the Outreach College OER initiative was to put tools in the hands of faculty. The faculty we work with at UH come from all walks of life and bring unique experiences to the table when looking at adopting OER textbooks. Comfort levels and savvy with edtech tools will vary, but that shouldn’t keep anyone from understanding the workflow that collaborators use when creating OER.

Back in January I wrote about OER workflows that visually represented the steps in the production workflow, but none seemed to be a perfect fit. Using these OER-specific workflows alongside tradition online course and journal production workflows led me to what we have here.

This diagram is my attempt to provide a visual for understanding the major steps in the production of OER.

A draft of this workflow was sent out via mailing lists and social media channels with a request for feedback on its design. More than a dozen folks left comments on the Google Doc, and I’ve done my best to incorporate the feedback that adds overall value to the workflow.

There were some enquiries about our mention of an OER specialist and a librarian that would be part of the process supporting OER adoptions. In the UH system, we are identifying two representatives from each campus as points of contact, so that we can more easily share successes and support our colleagues at all campuses. Ideally, this would mean that each campus would have an instructional designer and a librarian, both familiar with OER. These two-person teams would support OER adoptions and creations at their campus and be able to signal if they needed additional support from other UH campuses. Having a common roadmap like this for our OER projects will mean that we can lend a hand in specific ways to help each other along.

Now while I can’t guarantee that everyone who works with us on OER will leave with a deep understanding of instructional theory or design, I do hope that shedding light on the process will encourage more faculty to open up their own processes and practices. Teaching is an art, and this workflow doesn’t include pedagogical questions or structures like I know it could. But there will be other versions of this down the line, and as we use this workflow with more and more faculty, we hope to see extensions of the tool elsewhere.

Shaka icon

A big Mahalo to everyone who chimed in with feedback!

And if you found the workflow useful to you, drop us a line at and let us know.

PS The workflow will print nicely onto 11″x17″ paper for handouts

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER, Open Textbooks
Discovering OER Production Workflows

Discovering OER Production Workflows

We’re building steam to carry our OER efforts into 2017 by getting into the nitty gritty of the production cycle, how open learning content is actually adopted and modified for use. Textbook production workflows are a useful place to start when you’re seeking a model of OER production that will work for your community. But there are some nuances about developing OER, such as designing for reuse and leveraging outside volunteer efforts that may place greater demands on a project and change the processes for creating content. This post will review some interesting examples of OER production workflows and how their ideas may support the UH system as we move into the production cycle for our first open textbooks.

Messy desk space

Image by Jeff Sheldon / CC0

Considerations for OER

The production cycle for an OER course often varies from that of an OER textbook, largely because textbooks don’t always have pedagogical or delivery dependencies that could require more of the project (beware of scope creep!). An OER textbook is a knowledge base for the course, and may or may not include activities or assessments, but is “alive” for continuous improvement as a foundation for a course or workshop. Developing an assignment or assessment bank, for example, means including another OER product that may need its own workflow or extension/inclusion in the primary workflow for a textbook alone. Properly scoping the OER project is essential, regardless of how developed the workflow might be.

OERu’s Workflow

I have a lot of appreciation for the OERu’s mention of Raymond’s  release early, release often approach to developing OER. Content improves as more eyes are put on it, and it’s important to realize how many other individuals might be working on an OER similar to yours. What could you learn from them? What could they do for you?  This relates to BC Campus idea of having OER projects live in Open Creations mode, where they publish after each piece of remaining production work, and advertise tasks still to be done. I’m not sure how many takers they’ve had, but the point is that there’s an invitation for collaboration. Their OPEN sign is lit up.

OERu points out the modularity of their approach, breaking the OER production cycle into 5 parts:

  • Select
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Deliver
  • Revise

There are expectations of following a series of milestones in each step or phase in the cycle, finishing with a delivery and feedback loop. In theory, the course feedback would inform anyone who wished to improve or update the course for themselves or for the existing course.

OERu Workflow

OERu OER workflow / / CC BY-SA

It reminds me of the ADDIE model for instructional content development, which is still a popular method despite being used to support behaviorist instructional strategies. In OERu’s cycle, OER receive peer review during their initial development, and then as part of each delivery of the course. This model can likely be used as a starting point for a unique OER production workflow, as it has useful descriptions of each step without other distracting details.


This framework was part of a 2011 presentation by Gabi Witthaus, (University of Leicester), Julian Prior (University
of Bath), Sam O’Neill (University of Derby), Alejandro
Armellini (University of Leicester) that explained the process for the University of Leicester’s (and others in their network) of OER production and development. The CORRE model is “a framework for transforming teaching materials into OER” which assumes that those who implement the model will have a substantial amount of known materials available to support the building of an OER. They emphasize four phases:

  • Content
  • Openness
  • Reuse & Repurpose
  • Evidence

CORRE framework for OER development

This framework gets into the specifics of OER production such as screening and clearing rights of OER, and preparing the OER for release in multiple formats. Colors indicate the specific collaborator/roles charged with delivering or helping complete part of a phase. Further on in the slide deck (linked in the image above) there is mention of a modified CORRE model by the University of Bath. Just like each person’s ideal version of the same OER – the way they would deliver it –  is different, I expect that institutions will have their own ideal version of a common production workflow . This one may be less off-the-shelf ready for application than OERu’s, depending on the staff and expertise available.

Additional Conceptual Frameworks

As part of the very-comprehensive OER Workshop self-learning wiki course, David Porter mentioned these two models. The first emphasizes the license on the OER as the key indicator of how others can share and/or modify the resource. The legal rights associated with OER are what give it wings, but not all CC licenses work the same way and can be edited or remixed with other OER.

OER workflow / / CC BY-SA 3.0

Another cycle mentioned on the wiki is one that assumes you are working with a pool of relevant OER, for which the rights have been cleared. The COMPOSE phase of this cycle encapsulates steps (again) similar to ADDIE, but as a loop and with the front end Analysis step rolled into the FIND step. An expectation here is that the desired knowledge or information has been clearly identified as the “something” a teacher or learner wants.

OER Development Cycle / / CC BY-SA 3.0

David did this work ahead of the successful BC Campus Open Textbook Project, so we can assume these above two models are along the path towards productive work with OER. They may be most useful when describing OER production in a zoomed out way, but do well to cover the basics when it comes to explaining how OER are created and reused.

Technical Diagram*

An output of the JISC #UKOER program, Lisa Rogers (Heriot-Watt University) shared a technical diagram for OER production, with useful indicators of decision points and transitions beginning with an OER content audit. Their detailed diagram includes five phases through which an OER being developed might move:

  • Creation
  • Quality Control
  • Technical
  • IPR Negotiation
  • Cataloguing

OER Workflow Diagram by Lisa Rogers – Heriot-Watt University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.5 UK: Scotland License

Provided there is the legal expertise available, this diagram would support the important rights-clearing steps associated with releasing and combining OER. What’s missing is the detail of the Technical Work step, which probably deserves a diagram of its own.

*Note: This diagram resource recently (today) disappeared from the Heriot-Watt University website, but an important Snapshot was saved by the Wayback Machine. Huzzah!

What’s actually going to support us?

My search for workflows was inspired by Rebus’ Hugh McGuire and his post on the forum inviting others to build on his draft project description. Signaling for others to contribute to a project is a nice gesture, but less useful unless discrete parts of the development process are identified. Thus, it makes sense to have a workflow to use for planning and mapping out milestones, not only for those formally involved with the project but also those volunteering from the outer community. Others need to know how they can pitch in.

Finding a workflow that works in our OER circle will involve answering some questions about the resources we have, end points we’d like to reach, and how each institution in the UH system can share steps in the production cycle. I’m hopeful for constructive dialog that will help refine workflows that work for us, and have already sent out a call for participation with our first open textbook creation project.

Happy holidays, everyone!

See you in the New Year.

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER, Open Textbooks