Join the CAUL Open Educational Resources Collective

This post was written by Chloe Czerwiec, Senior Librarian (Copyright) at the University of Western Australia. Chloe is a member of the CAUL OER Collective Pilot project team.

We’re calling it early – 2022 will be the year of the OER! With the various CAUL project teams busy beavering away behind the scenes, 2022 will bring some amazing opportunities to learn about, advocate for, and be involved in creating OERs.    

One such opportunity is the CAUL OER Collective. 

The OER Collective will provide an opportunity for participating CAUL Member institutions to publish open textbooks without investing in a platform, and to build institutional capability. It will also provide opportunities for collaborative, cross-institutional development of open textbooks. 

Watch this short video for a concise overview of the Collective model:

Detailed information about the Collective model is also available on the CAUL website.

Break it down for me – what are the benefits?

We’re glad you asked. By joining the initial “Connect” tier of the Collective (at a cost of $2,500 per year), participating institutions will have:

  • space to publish up to two open textbooks on the shared Pressbooks platform per year
  • access to training, guides and templates
  • access to two communities of practice – one for library staff, and one for academic authors
  • the opportunity for academic authors at their institution to apply for DIY Textbook Author Grants.

Call for participation is now open

The Collective was originally due to launch in January, but – COVID (need we say more). The Collective will now be launching in March, which means there is still time to for CAUL Member institutions to sign up. To express interest, please email Dr Kate Davis, Director, Strategy & Analytics, by Friday 28 January

Need more information?

The paper Introducing the CAUL Open Educational Resources Collective provides a detailed outline of the Collective model, with a focus on the initial Connect tier.

Textbooks: The future is open

This post was written by Fiona Tyson, Kaiwhakahaere Taonga Tuku Iho | Manager, Cultural Heritage & Macmillan Brown Library, University of Canterbury. Fiona is also a member of the OER Collective Pilot project team. Fiona can be contacted at or on Twitter @Libfifi.

In recent years, the textbook publishing market has been changing in response to demand for e-textbooks and declining sales to students. The advent of COVID-related lockdowns intensified the emergence of new textbook publishing models for tertiary libraries (Gray & O’Shea, 2021; Van Malderen, 2021), usually aimed at one of two outcomes:

  • Limit academic library provision of textbook access (through expensive limited user licenses and download limits) – presumably to leverage individual textbook sales.
  • Provide cohort access to prescribed textbooks through expensive institutional subscription models based on enrolments.

As academic library professionals in Aotearoa New Zealand, we came together to share our experiences and talk about open educational resources (OERs) as alternatives to commercial textbooks. We quickly realised that while there was recent research on New Zealand students’ perspectives of textbooks (Brown et al., 2020; Stein et al., 2017) and we understood librarian perspectives of textbooks, we didn’t have concrete evidence of academic perspectives.

This was a significant gap, since academics are the market for academic publishers (and, often the authors – but that’s another blog post).

Academics hold considerable market power in the textbook market as what they select drives student and tertiary library purchasing.

Our research group launched a national survey, asking academics about how they used textbooks in teaching, their selection criteria, their experience during COVID-19 lockdowns and their perspectives on OERs. Members of our research group are Sara Roberts (University of Canterbury), Lisa Davies (University of Canterbury), Associate Professor Cheryl Brown (University of Canterbury) and Richard White (University of Otago), with support from Zhanni Luo. A more detailed analysis of our data from a recent presentation is available here and we anticipate more data/analysis will be forthcoming.

How do academics use textbooks?

We found that academics were well aware that the cost of, and access to, textbooks was an issue for students. They also reported that many students did not use the textbook, particularly from academics working in hard-pure disciplines (e.g. Chemistry, Physics).*

*In order to meaningfully analyse respondents by disciplinary group, we divided disciplines into hard-pure (e.g. Chemistry, Physics), soft pure (e.g. History, Philosophy), hard-applied (e.g. Engineering, Computer Science), and soft applied (e.g. Economics, Education), according to criteria first articulated by Biglan (1973).

Nonetheless, academics reported textbook practices based on the traditional print textbook model, assuming that the majority of students would purchase the book. Approximately 50% of respondents reported often or always teaching into courses with prescribed textbooks, mostly frequently setting one or two chapters of the textbook as readings. Other frequent usage was to structure a course around the textbook or set over half of the textbook as readings. Setting prescribed texts when using just one or two chapters suggests academics’ textbook practices are not aligned with their awareness of students’ perspectives.

This disconnect was made even clearer when we asked respondents what percentage of students they thought were purchasing prescribed textbooks.

Academic estimates regarding how many students buy the prescribed textbook.

It was not possible to draw a meaningful statistic from our data because the answers ranged from 0-100%. (Although, academics working in hard-pure disciplines did express a more realistic view of how many students were purchasing the textbook).

Academic perceptions of library textbook services & lockdowns

We were also interested in academic perceptions of tertiary libraries’ textbook services. Academics reported offering prescribed textbook alternatives such as requesting academic libraries put textbooks in high use collections, requesting academic libraries purchase textbooks, or recommending earlier editions. Interestingly, a number of respondents distinguished between getting an e-version and asking the library to purchase a textbook, suggesting academics don’t equate the library purchasing copies of textbooks with the library purchasing e-textbooks.

Furthermore, survey respondents almost always took price for students into account in textbook selection, but almost 60% of respondents reported rarely or never taking into account the price for the library. Given the financial pressures academic libraries face with textbook provision, we believe this finding indicates a need for academic libraries to be open and honest with academics about how the commercial textbook market is changing.

Libraries also need to communicate the pedagogical implications for academics of these changing models – both in terms of their own workload and the implications for student success. Academics reported on their experiences in lockdown in our survey, with around 20% sharing that textbook access became a significant issue when teaching moved online. Accordingly, they reported that an electronic format was an increasingly important factor in textbook selection. If academic libraries do not take the lead in talking about textbook practices and promoting viable e-textbooks models, such as adopting, adapting or creating open textbooks, the move to e-textbooks will only increase the financial pressure on libraries.

The way forward

Our survey confirmed that, by and large, tertiary educators in Aotearoa New Zealand are prescribing and using textbooks under the assumptions of the traditional print textbook model. The evidence suggests while they are aware of student perspectives, they do not materially grasp how these traditional textbook practices no longer align with the textbook publishing market, affecting students, academic libraries and, increasingly, their own pedagogical practices.

Academic libraries must lead in this space to ensure equity for students and maintain their role as information experts on campus.


Unity in Diversity: Findings from the Open Textbooks in Australia project

This post was written by Frank Ponte, Manager Library Services (Teaching) at RMIT University.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash.
Image caption: The phrase “Unity in Diversity” graffitied on a wall.

This post summarises the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE) at Deakin University Seminar Series panel session titled “Open Textbooks in Australia: updated, localised, inclusive.” The session was facilitated by Helen Partridge (Pro-Vice Chancellor – Teaching and Learning, Deakin University) with research findings presented by Chief Investigator Dr Sarah Lambert (RMIT University). Observations were contributed by panel members Fiona Salisbury (University Librarian – La Trobe University), Dr Johanna Funk (Lecturer – Charles Darwin University) and Professor Kevin Ashford-Rowe (Queensland University of Technology).

A recording of the session is available on YouTube.

Why open textbooks?

Open textbooks are relatively new to the Australian context but are gaining prominence alongside their commercial equivalents. An open textbook provides the ability to modify content to suit your context. An appetite for customised content is increasing, but it becomes a question of time and funds for the creator to support the publication process. There are emerging local institutional investments in the creation of open textbooks at La Trobe, USQ and Sydney University Press to name a few.  

Findings of the National Scoping Study

The overarching research question of the Open Textbook in Australia project is: “What extent do open textbooks have the potential to act as social justice initiatives in Australian Higher Education as they do overseas?” The project applied a social justice framework which, when applied to open textbooks, demonstrates that prescribing free materials widens the access to learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds (see Lambert, 2018). The inclusion of case studies, images, indigenous and marginalised narratives in open textbooks provides recognition of diverse views and experiences and the ability for those marginalised voices to express their stories for themselves rather than be recounted by others.

Both staff and students in the study expressed that commercial textbooks demonstrated a lack of recognition when it came to marginalised groups. Commercial textbooks ignored narratives associated with women, LGBT, and indigenous people and were often voiced through a Eurocentric point of view. Inclusive texts were framed as exceptions and interviews with participants were layered with emotion as people articulated negative experiences due to a lived experience of racism.

Belonging and cultural inclusion are important themes in higher education. A lack of belonging can increase feelings of anxiety and depression and hinder study. Consequently, if commercial textbooks lack marginalised narratives and diverse viewpoints, one can draw parallels. The results also demonstrated that students were irritated at the restrictive nature of digital access to commercial texts, the inability to get digital copies and the requirement to employ complex workarounds for alternatives. Textbook costs were also an issue but there was more angst expressed on the digital restrictions.

Unity in Diversity – Open textbooks to the rescue

The survey results showed that 80-90% of teaching staff were open to using open educational resources in teaching with institutional support. 73% were interested in modifying an open textbook and making it relevant to the Australian context and 67% would modify the textbook to make it more representative of marginalised groups.

Staff felt that diversified texts provided a wider variety of perspectives and would better prepare students for the world and workplace. Students who had experienced diversified open access readings agreed.

The research clearly demonstrated that there were social justice benefits to the modification of open texts especially for the underrepresented. The use of open textbooks in curriculum also provided several general benefits, including free access for all, seamless integration into the LMS, and up to date knowledge for better graduate outcomes preparing them for their professions and a diverse workforce.

What’s required?

Institutional support is important in the form of time and grants, particularly for large scale projects. Support from expert staff such as librarians, graphic designers, copy editors, peer reviewers, and proof-readers are all important aspects of textbook creation.


  1. Reframe OER projects and broaden the scope to both social inclusion and economic benefits
  2. Reframe OER projects as strategic digital innovation linking digital delivery + curriculum renewal + equity/accessibility policies
  3. Push for continued open access publishing for research
  4. Reframe OER as legitimate works and address workload, probation, promotion and publishing outputs
  5. Reframe grant-funding to ensure that OER support strategic curriculum renewal; equity inclusion; focus on 1st year foundation subjects; recognition of indigenous knowledges; improve gender representation

How do we do it?

To get to where we need to be will require a lot of capacity building across the sector. This could be achieved through:

  • The production of targeted support guides and training workshops
  • Using OER metafinders and aggregators
  • Cross promoting Australian OER resources
  • Training staff in OER curation and creative commons
  • Co-creating with students, staff, community through ethical partnerships
  • Amplifying marginalised voices in your creation
  • Supporting staff to diversify curriculum

The OER movement should tailor development of open resources to fit into the policy and strategic directions established locally at each institution, rather than wait for funding from government legislators.

Policy options

Universities could:

  1. Consider using an OER textbook before a commercial one in new courses
  2. Consider an alternative if there is restricted or no digital access to a textbook
  3. Use OER textbooks for open book exams
  4. Ensure there are targets and timelines for implementation
  5. Have acceptable use guidelines for commercial textbook platforms
  6. Develop strategic sector wide collaboration focusing on high intake, foundation courses that are taught across the sector  

Find out more

This was a fascinating session that is well worth watching, especially for the insightful panel session that followed the summary of the research findings. Findings from Sarah’s research will inform the CAUL OER projects so sign up to the blog to keep up-to-date!

Reference: Lambert, S. R. (2018). Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 225–244.

Introducing the Open Educational Resources Collective Pilot project

Open educational resources (OER) are expanding rapidly as a more equitable, flexible and adaptable medium to provide content for teaching and learning, but creating OER texts can feel daunting. The good news is that you don’t need to do it alone!

The CAUL OER Collective Pilot project offers the opportunity to have a go at creating open textbooks in a supportive, collaborative environment.

Sounds good – tell me more!

CAUL is now leading a major initiative to develop, licence and promote a range of OER that leverages the expertise of librarians, copyright experts, academics and authors. The project will oversee the entire open textbook lifecycle, including:

  • Establishing models for governance, management and membership
  • Leading administration and publishing processes
  • Guiding the selection and production of open textbook titles 

The project brief (PDF) provides more detail on the deliverables and timeline. 

This video introduces the CAUL OER Collective Pilot project and highlights the benefits for students, academics and libraries, as well as a summary of recent Australian research into OER. Keep an eye out for guest appearances by members of the project team.

Our team

The project team, led by Tahnee Pearse (University of Southern Queensland), includes Chloe Czerwiec (University of Western Australia), Anna Du Chesne (University of New England), Samantha Elkington-Dent (University of the Sunshine Coast), Richard Levy (University of South Australia), Jane Norton (Charles Sturt University), Craig Patterson (Deakin University), Frank Ponte (RMIT University), Jaime Royals (University of Adelaide), Ashley Sutherland (University of Melbourne) and Fiona Tyson (University of Canterbury).

Interested in being involved?

Subscribe to the blog to receive project updates and keep an eye out for the call for members coming in November 2021!