The False Mirror, Renée Magritte, 1898-1967
Based on ‘The False Mirror’, Renée Magritte, 1898-1967

As I announced in an earlier post, I’m planning to explore the idea of writing and publishing an open textbook, on the topic of teaching in a digital age. I set out the reasons why  in another earlier post.

Today I want to set out what my vision is for this open textbook. I want to do this now, before I start, as a sort of checklist or rubric against which to judge the final product. However, before I go any further, I want to point out that this is a personal vision for what I want to do. There are innumerable alternative visions one could quite legitimately have for an open textbook that would be quite different from mine. So here goes:

The vision

  • the book is about different approaches to teaching in a digital age, with practical guidance
  • the book is aimed mainly at faculty and instructors in colleges and universities, but designed in a way that will also appeal to many in the k-12 sector, and also to senior administrators
  • it will draw on a wide body of research and experience in the use of technology for teaching in post-secondary education and my own experiences in teaching online
  • I will try to get selected colleagues and experts in the field to participate/help, if they will accept my overall editing role
  • the drafts will be ‘tested’ openly before a final, formal peer review of the whole book
  • the first complete version of the book will be ready by December 2014
  • the book itself will be a model for open textbook publishing, incorporating many of the design principles of ‘good teaching’ – such as active and social learning, use of video and audio, crowd-sourcing, remixing and adaptation – within the open text format, as far as I can stretch it with existing technologies and services
  •  it will be preferably free, but certainly at as low a cost as possible to those who want to read it, and easily accessible in whole or in parts. The goal is zero or low cost within financial sustainability (i.e. all necessary costs are recovered in some way, except my time, which will be free – but tracked!)
  • the book will be dynamic, changing over time as the world around it changes; this means finding a way to keep the text going even after I have gone

I will treat it as an R&D project, where I track and evaluate obstacles, solutions, actual costs, partners/helpers/resources, resulting in a short guide of what to do and what not to do when writing an open textbook, all shared on an ongoing basis through this blog.

Your input/comments welcomed

How does this compare with your vision (or understanding) of an open text-book? What have I missed? Is there something in the vision I should drop right now!


In about a couple of weeks, I’ll produce my first draft of a rough proposal for the content of the book, which will give readers of this blog more to chew on than ‘an airy-fairy, worse than Mary’ vision statement, as one of my British friends would say.


  1. Tony –

    the vision matches my thoughts of open, but I would also highlight the hyperlinked aspect, meaning that the book takes you places… to different resources, to possibly distinct streams of information that are also dynamic. This in my view fulfills your last point about dynamic in a broader way. Not only the text is updated, but the streams of other channels that connect with the book might change constantly. This seems to me as the organic aspect of such endeavor, which could bring enormous value.

    Question: how would this be different than a wiki?


    • Thanks, Stella – yes, definitely hyperlinked, but then I need to think about how to maintain currency.

      The difference between an open textbook and a wiki is something I’m going to have to work out. I suspect it’s going to be determined by things such as structure and editing capabilities.

      Thanks for the comments – these are just the kind of questions I will be exploring.

  2. Tony, I really like what you have written here, however, it less about vision than goals, what is your vision? In the best of all worlds, what would you like to accomplish here? Is there an impact or change you are seeking to promote?

  3. This sounds like a terrific idea, and you are certainly well placed to initiate and oversee such a project.

    My first thought was that the use of the term “textbook” could limit what it becomes (as metaphors often do). But then, after reading Stella’s comment above regarding a wiki, I think the use of a familiar term might be helpful. We use wikis and textbooks in very different ways and contexts. The word “textbook” suggests what it does, or what it affords, as much as it tells us what we are expected do with it. As they say, don’t think about the future of the book, think about the future of reading — and writing, and publishing. But we need a bridge to the future if we want to get there as well as describe it, and metaphors can serve as that bridge.

    A useful open textbook would sit somewhere between a public tweet and the internet — not too small, not too big; just right! But just right for what? The scenario planning would have to include possible users/contributors and uses in different (and changing) contexts.

    One way to ensure that an open textbook is used is to invite early adapters from the target markets (teachers, tertiary academics, students) to assist in the project by way of contribution, suggestions, advice, etc. (as you are doing here). Whatever the outcome turns out to be, the process of getting there (which would, itself, be worth documenting) is likely to be a worthwhile experience for all who are involved. No doubt, someone will think of the #MOOCMOOC equivalent of the #OpenTextBook — the meta #BookOfOpenTextbooks, or the #OpenBookCookBook (or the #OBCB).

    In your Feb. 2 post, you mentioned an Open Textbook Summit on April 16th and 17th at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre in Vancouver. It would be great if others could take part remotely, even if it’s by way of archived material, linked blog posts and a live twitter chat (storified afterward, of course!). The record of the proceedings of such events also provides opportunities to test different formats and technologies. Iteration is cheaper and safer than the big bang approach. Small pieces, loosely joined. Make no large plans (Daniel Burnham, revised).

  4. An open textbook is a great idea. I have taught grade 11-12 mathematics and science on-line for several years now, developing materials on the fly and lamenting the dearth of free, open, flexible and truly reusable resources. I have adopted one open textbook in this period, although I frequently review many.

    Your vision matches mine.

    My recommendation would be to keep the data, design and technology separated as much as possible. Stick to HTML5 and maintain the textbook in a code repository that allows collaboration and forking (such as github, google code).

  5. I am intrigued by your goal of making this open eTextbook an exemplar of what can and should be done. I tried to do this with my own most recent digital book, “The Coming ePublishing Revolution in Higher Education” which is available only in the iBookstore (see: because I chose to create it with iBooks Author and give it a non-zero price ($0.99).
    These choices were a good fit for my goals. I wanted to show how rich and interactive an eTextbook could be rather than just talk about it in the abstract. I wanted readers to make some small commitment to actually read the book and consider its arguments so decided against free. Finally, the iBookstore enables revision not unlike software. My eTextbook is in version 1.2 and 1.3 is currently being hammered out. These will all be free upgrades.
    I am eager to learn how you will approach these early decisions.

    • Wonderful, Frank – I will definitely take a look at your book and look forward to learning from it. This conversation itself is an example of the benefits of open-ness – for none of my previous books did I get this kind of help before I had even started writing!

  6. Hi Tony,
    Like the others I also think this is a great idea. I agree with Rob Staby, and believe that the issues and questions raised by the other may well fall into place once you have articulated the vision. As Rob asks: what would you like to accomplish here? Is there an impact or change you are seeking to promote?
    Would love to be involved!

  7. At the outset hello from a online learning enthusiast and now a researcher. “Kudos for the OPEN BOOK”. I would love to get involved. The following is also suggested:
    1. Case study of digital learning which depicts EVOLUTION from novice, intermediate digital teaching to advanced digital teaching.
    2. It can also include “Change in Mindset” for content providers and success stories of some content providers and thinkers like”YOU”
    My background: Masters in Technical Education, tried one course successfully for post graduate students in NITTTR ( National Institute of Technical Teacher Training and Research), a Faculty Trainers, involved in Quality Improvement programs for Faculty, wikieducator user expo award winner march 2012…. a LIFELONG LEARNER in SPIRIT and ACTION
    I would love to be involved in full spirit of advocacy of Open Education


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