Open Educational Resources (OER)

4. What are Open Educational Resources?

4.2. Open Textbooks

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Open textbooks are usually the most important OER in the minds of students as these have the potential to reduce or eliminate textbook costs while still providing a quality learning resource.  

Authors can publish a textbook on the web as an open textbook usually by adding a Creative Commons license (we will explore these licenses in a subsequent module) that enables the user to freely download, print, and edit the textbook without expressed consent of the author.  Open textbooks also provide instructors flexibility in how they create learning resources as they can take all or just part of an open textbook and combine these parts to make a new textbook that better fits the need of their course and their students. 

And can print an open textbook if you like to use paper.   And yes... grants and institutional programs are available that compensate authors for writing open textbooks. Textbook authors can and do earn a substantial income for writing and reviewing open textbooks.

Open textbooks are Open Educational Resources (OER) if they adhere to the five Rs of open education.

  1. Retain – The resource comes with no Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions attached to the content.  The book is yours to keep, whether you’re the author, instructor, or student.
  2. Reuse – You are free to use the learning resources in a variety of ways without expressly requesting permission of the author or copyright holder.
  3. Revise – You can adapt, edit, adjust, or modify the content to suit specific purposes and make the learning resources more relevant to your students. 
  4. Remix – You or your students can combine a number of different resources to create something new.  Add a chapter from one open textbook with an image from another to create a new textbook that meets the needs of your curriculum and your students.
  5. Redistribute – You are free to share with others so they can reuse, remix, improve upon, correct, review, or otherwise enjoy the work.

BCcampus Open Textbook Project.  BCcampus.  CC-BY

Open Textbook Summit 2014 Day 1, BCcampus, From Flikr.  CC-BY-SA

Like any learning resource from any source, it is the responsibility of the user to determine quality before providing the resource to students.  The writing of many open textbooks is funded by government, institutions, or recognized non-profit and for-profit organizations; are written by accomplished academics; and are peer reviewed. 

A quick internet search will provide links to a host of available open textbooks.  Here are some recognized sites to start with:

  • Merlot - An OER project from the California State University system that started in 1997.  The collection now has over 2,500 open textbooks and a collection of other OERs including entire courses, open textbooks, small instructional modules, and more.
  • Openstax - OpenStax is nonprofit and based at Rice University with the mission to improve student access to education. Its first openly licensed college textbook was published in 2012, and the library has since scaled to more than 25 books for college courses used by hundreds of thousands of students.
  • BCcampus OpenEd - The B.C. Open Textbook Project is funded by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, and BCcampus is tasked with managing it. A goal of the Project is to provide flexible and affordable access to higher education resources in B.C. by making openly-licensed textbooks available in the highest-enrolled academic subject areas. A second phase in 2014 was to add at least 20 textbooks targeting trades and skills training.