Questions answered about British Columbia’s digital open textbook plan
Gilmore, D. (2012) B.C. to lead Canada in offering students free, open textbooks, British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology, October 16
Klassen, T. (2012) BCCampus to co-ordinate provincial open textbook project, BCcampus, October 16
Klassen, T. (2012) Questions and answers on open textbooks Part 1, BCcampus, October 29
Klassen, T. (2012) Questions and answers on open textbooks Part 2, BCcampus, October 31
What is being proposed?
On October 16, John Yap, British Columbia’s Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and technology, announced that his government will work with post-secondary institutions in implementing an open textbook policy in anticipation they could be in use at B.C. institutions as early as 2013-14, supporting students taking a variety of courses in areas like arts, sciences, humanities and business.
An open textbook is typically published under an open licence and can be read online or downloaded at no cost. Because the open textbooks are digital and open, they can be modified and adapted by instructors to fit different classes. It is estimated that the use of free, digital tetbooks could save students between $900 and $1,500 per academic year.
BCcampus, a publicly funded organization that uses information technology to connect the expertise, programs, and resources of all B.C. post-secondary institutions under a collaborative service delivery framework, will be the executive agency for the project.
How will this work?
The two blog posts about this project by Tori Klassen provides more details, but I also had the privilege of interviewing David Porter, the Director of BCcampus, as I had my own questions. Here they are, with David’s comments:
TB: Can you say a little more about how you see these open textbooks being created? Are some already available that could just be adopted? Will others have to be created? If so, how will this be done?
DP: There are three paths forward that will each require faculty input. The first would be the adoption of existing open textbooks from freely available sources. In some cases these open textbooks are available from institutions, for example Rice University’s openstaxcollege.org, or from foundation-supported collections such as Saylor.org. There are also open textbooks available from a new style of publisher that builds open textbooks and supplemental resources aimed at adoption by faculty and instructors with special options for students. Flatworldknowledge.com is one example of this sort of publishing entity.
The second potential process would be adaptation of existing open textbooks to support localized instances of courses to match course outcomes in specific programs. I think we all know that instructors tend to know their students best and would want to insure that materials are customized to meet those needs. The beauty of the open resource model is the boundless opportunity presented to instructors to customize and add value to existing open resources.
The third path would involve creating a new open textbook resource where none exists, contributing to the pool of available open textbooks and becoming an active player in the development of new materials for students.
TB: If new texts are being created, will they incorporate web features, such as video-clips, student activities, hyperlinks to other web materials, etc. or will they be mainly a digital version of a printed textbook?
DP: Exactly the scenario I would envision is the substance of your question. With the adoption, adaptation and development potential in the open space, this may be the perfect time to bring together other forms of open resources such as simulations, lab materials, video materials and other web materials into the mix as we build a larger open architecture for learning. There may be multimedia learning objects in the BCcampus in SOLR repository (http://solr.bccampus.ca) that could be incorporated into open texts. We already have a 10-year repository of OER from which to draw material. In addition, many print textbook publishers provide sets of study questions and multimedia learning resources online and we intend to replicate that practice where it’s pedagogically appropriate. And, while textbooks may be only one form of open resource, they are still a major component of the academic ecosystem. The open textbook program in British Columbia provides us a launch pad in which to consider a more integrated approach to bringing all open educational resources into play.
TB: It’s one thing to create the textbooks; it’s another to get faculty to agree to recommend them to students. What incentives will there be to encourage faculty to adopt these open textbooks in their courses?
DP: Clearly faculty and instructors are key players in making operational any open resource model within classrooms. I would suggest that students have a big voice here, too. In particular, if a peer-reviewed open textbook resource is evaluated to be as good as a conventional publisher resource, why not use it, given the customization and flexibility benefits available both to students and instructors by open licensed materials?
That said, we do expect to be providing stipends for faculty and instructors to review open textbooks and to consider them for adoption or adaptation. We need to engage with articulation committees as well. The flip side is that we have already had deans and instructors signal their support for the idea and their willingness to test out some of the proposed open materials or to recommend others that they’ve identified.
The funding that will be available to us in British Columbia will be used to support all of the components of building an open resource program, including awareness building and training, implementing review mechanisms and adopt-adapt-develop processes, along with tools and infrastructure to author, manage and distribute open materials.
TB: Have you been talking to publishers about this plan? If so, what has been their response?
DP: We have been proactively approached by a number of publishers and publishing entities to talk about the open textbook program. In some cases, these have been publishers with existing open materials they would like BC educators to consider. In other cases they are textbook publishers that are seeking to better understand how they could become involved in any development processes that may be undertaken using a call for proposals. There are also publishers who have technology and infrastructure services that could be important to us. We were a pioneer user of Pearson Education’s Equella digital repository software to create BC’s first open education repository, http://solr.bccampus.ca. We are currently using http://pressbooks.com as an environment in which to develop five pilot open textbooks for an information-technology program. This particular open textbook pilot program pre-dates the bigger open textbook announcement, and was requested by northern institutions in BC.
On the whole I would say that publishers are intrigued by what is happening and want to better understand how they might play a role. It’s our intention to keep the public, including publishers, fully informed about our progress through our web site http://open.bccampus.ca.
TB: What protections or benefits will there be for authors or subject matter experts who participate in the creation or adaptation of these open textbooks? I’m presuming they will have a Creative Commons license, but is there anything beyond that, such as royalties or other benefits? If not, why would they do it?
DP: Authors or subject matter experts who participate in the creation or adaptation of open textbooks will be compensated for their efforts. We have used agreements with institutions in the past to fund development including release time and other stipends for developers. We expect to use the Creative Commons license model that allows authors and developers to extend reuse rights for works they author or develop.
TB: Is BCcampus getting any extra funding from government for this initiative? If not how will any costs be covered?
DP: BCcampus has traditionally managed the Online Program Development Fund (OPDF) for the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology. The annual fund has been on average $750K – 1M. This fund has supported the development of online courseware, lab materials, online tools, video and other resources over the past 10 years. It is our expectation that OPDF funds will be re-profiled to focus on the open textbook program.
TB: You mention on the BCcampus website that this project is modeled after the recent California legislation. Does this mean that the provincial government has passed legislation for this to happen? Can you explain what the California legislation does?
DP: The BC provincial government has not passed legislation similar to the California legislation. Our approach is a focused program modeled on the key elements of the California legislation that we believe could also work in a British Columbia context. The things we liked about the California legislation that we will try to emulate include:
- Free access to textbooks in the most highly enrolled first and second year post-secondary courses
- Government funding to create a library of free textbooks for students and faculty
- Open, to ensure faculty can utilize their skills to remix, revise and repurpose these textbooks for their students
- Courses and textbooks overseen by the establishment of the “California Open Education Resources Council” (COERC). We’ll establish a similar group.
- California Open Source Digital Library to house the open source textbooks and courseware. We’ll use our own digital library currently in place.
- Call for proposals process for faculty, publishers, and others to develop open digital textbooks and related courseware.
- Creative Commons licensing structure for open textbooks and resources
- All materials to be reviewed for quality.
First, I would like to thank David Porter for providing such a clear explanation of how this project will work. This should be read though in conjunction with Tori Klassen’s two posts, which provide more detailed information on the concept as well as the proposed project.
If you have further questions, or wish to submit a proposal for an open textbook, please contact David Porter directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next, I would like to say how important this project could be in driving down some of the costs of post-secondary education. It will be interesting especially to see how faculty and instructors, as well as textbook publishers, respond to this initiative.
Lastly, in spite of the fragmented provincial system in Canada, I really hope that other provinces will join this initiative – economies of scale and the quality of the open textbooks could both be enhanced from a national approach. This is a project that is worth doing well and across the country – and perhaps even internationally.