Recruiting open textbook authors

This post was written by Adrian Stagg, Manager (Open Educational Practice), University of Southern Queensland

For many Australian institutions, open education represents a new opportunity that offers advantages and freedoms for staff but can present challenges of workload, buy-in, value, and even the risk of being seen as ‘the newest higher education fad’. Therefore, librarians advocating for open text adoption and adaptation need to demonstrate the value of open approaches, which means aligning with their academic colleagues’ existing needs. What follows is a list of methods that have yielded positive results by positioning openness as an extension of existing practice.

This approach uses Professor Emeritus Geoff Scott’s ‘Listen, Link, Lead’ maxim; that is:

(i) Listen for the problems and opportunities when working with academic staff. Liaison librarians do this daily and have excellent relationships with Faculty, often based on a ‘problem solver’ reputation.

(ii) Link (where appropriate and relevant) the issue at hand with open education. There are plenty of examples below, and again, part of the daily practice of any liaison work.

(iii) Lead. Be prepared to offer a strategy evidenced by practice examples.

Whilst ‘Listen, Link, Lead’ is core business for most librarians, it’s a handy way to frame discussions.

Linking examples

The examples below might serve as a touchstone for your experiences or as a base for extending practice with potential academic authors.

Textbook design and use

Custom texts: There are many good reasons to create custom texts, from providing a curated selection of the most relevant chapters for students to broadening the disciplinary narrative beyond a single author to providing varying points of view on key concepts. Commercial publishers will provide these texts, but they are often very expensive for students, and the legal frameworks for sharing may restrict the content. The same approach can be used with open textbooks when the licences are compatible. Faculty can select a range of free and open texts and construct a custom text. They also have the freedom to add or revise content that provides introductory or bridging information to create context.

Edition wars: Sometimes, a new edition creates chaos and miscommunication between the lecturer and students. Based on course/unit renewal cycles, transitioning to the new edition may be problematic. This, of course, creates supply issues for students, potential challenges for the campus bookshop, and plenty of opportunities for misunderstanding. Given that open texts remain free and openly accessible, lecturers might consider adopting a text and then slowly updating and contextualising the content over semesters. Then, they can publish the changes at the beginning of the semester and link to the texts via the learning management system.

Online and interactive content: Interactive activity design has been a staple of higher education. Keeping students engaged with study during disruptive events (such as COVID lockdowns) is even more important.

Most universities offer online modes from 2020 onwards, and open texts can support that transition. Lecturers who want to embed existing assets or have expressed interest in tools like H5P could be your next authors. Suggest they use legacy content (appropriately checked for third-party Copyright) with embedded activities as the frame for an open text. For example, they might consider a smaller-scale text that slowly grows each semester.

Access issues

Supply chains: Do you know any lecturers affected by supply chain issues during COVID? Delays on shipments led to student access issues, library closures made accessing texts (as opposed to purchasing them) more difficult, and Australian unemployment levels also exerted financial pressure on students. Textbooks are the only cost a lecturer can directly influence, and online open texts are readily accessible in various formats on the first day of semester.

Access and achievement: Many lecturers will report that enhancing engagement with learning resources is challenging. Whether it is due to cost, hesitancy to purchase, supply chain issues, or even perceived relevance to learning, there are several reasons why students do not engage with set texts. Ask lecturers ‘if we could guarantee access to the text on the first day of semester, would it affect student engagement and achievement?‘ Open texts can be stored locally, redistributed legally, and linked to via the learning management system, providing multiple access points.

Open-book exams: Librarians know that access to electronic texts is predicated on publisher restrictions – how many concurrent users? Does the version in the catalogue include the same features as a private version? How timely are publisher notifications of ‘downtime’ for maintenance and other issues? What is the cost to the library? If you know lecturers who are reluctant to assign an electronic text for these reasons (or have a negative experience), open texts could be a solution. 

Workload

Course renewal cycles: If you are involved in course/unit renewal or program accreditation cycles, this is an opportunity to suggest open texts. If the workload has been allocated to redeveloping the curriculum, existing allowances could be tasked to open education, with support from the Library. Additionally, a newly accredited program might become more attractive to students if they never need to purchase a text – so there is a market differential to consider. Open texts are then aligned with existing processes for setting and developing resources.

‘Scratch-the-itch’: Some lecturers have driving passions in learning and teaching and seek certain freedoms or innovations to support this drive. If you know lecturers like this (often ‘early adopters’ or ‘early followers’), you could align the freedoms of open licencing with their needs.

Collaboration: Reviewing, revising, and/or writing an entire text is daunting. Collaborative authorship can reduce the workload, has an in-built circle of peer reviewers, and (if the co-authors are across different institutions) provide an immediate impact on a large number of students. Authors seeking to demonstrate impact and even engage in research publication arising from their open education work would be well advised to seek out colleagues.

Research

Reputational: Open texts provide seamless access to a lecturer’s work, potentially expanding both reach and attention. Like the dialogue supporting Open Access research, open texts provide greater exposure and potential readership. These texts can be prompted via professional bodies and accrete interest based on access. Additionally, for smaller disciplines, researchers may collaborate (writing a chapter or more each) for a comprehensive national text.

Specialist knowledge: Every university has lecturers involved in specialist research that may have a smaller audience. This can mean publishers are loathed to invest in these texts, usually citing a project’s poor financial return. However, sometimes these lecturers have manuscripts (completed or not) that could be an excellent starting point for an open text.

‘Mind the Gap’: Australian research in open education is neither widespread nor sufficiently diversified for contemporary evidence-based practice examples. Nevertheless, researchers seeking to address aspects of Australian practice may be attracted by the prospect of using their open text work to generate research and reputation.

Students

Authorship opportunities: Learning design already includes the appropriate use of student authoring platforms, online annotation, and other types of resource creation. Identify lecturers who already use these assessments and link the activities to open outcomes. For example, students could co-author an open resource, design ancillary learning resources for a text (such as self-assessment quizzes or case studies), or undertake a structured review of existing content using annotation tools (like Hypothes.is). Open assessment practices may be well-aligned with these existing approaches or offer affordances that current approaches do not. There is also a strong connection between student-authored content and portfolios that support graduate employability.

Conclusion

The thirteen opportunities above rely on creating relationships with Faculty, connecting open education approaches with existing and emerging needs, and then leading an appropriate response. This type of practical advocacy is well within a librarian’s skill set and simply a different arena for current practice.

More opportunities and examples exist beyond this list. Add yours to the ‘Comment’ section below. Collaboration and sharing are cornerstones of librarianship and open education so be generous.

Designing the OER Advocacy Toolkit: Notes from the Team

By Adrian Stagg (University of Southern Queensland), CAUL OER Advocacy Team Leader.

Later this year, the team will launch an OER Advocacy Toolkit designed to support and empower librarians in higher education to become advocates for open education at their institution.  Given the contextual differences across the sector, it might seem like a daunting task; however, there appear to be more points of commonality than we realised.  

Our team commenced its investigations by consulting with advocates in Australia and the United States and reviewing existing resources. Unsurprisingly, most advocacy resources are authored in the US and Canada, with very few from the UK and none related directly to OER and OEP for Australia. So we set about distilling those consultations and the review to provide clear guidance for the construction of the Toolkit.

Connection

  • The experience of many advocates is one of isolation.  Advocates are often driven by their values and intention to create change. The effort required for this is very exhausting long-term.  Connecting people helps normalise challenges, pool resources, share practice, and maintain momentum.
  • Librarians are at the forefront of open advocacy globally; initially, with open access (OA) research agendas, and now with open education. These two concepts are seen to be artificially separated rather than being seen as complementary, as governments and funding bodies explicitly promote OA research outcomes, whilst open education remains completely absent in strategies and targets for the sector.  Librarians are well-positioned to link these concepts (‘it’s open access publishing, but for learning and teaching’) for a holistic approach to institutional openness as they support academic staff in both research and teaching.

Communication

  • Librarians – and by extension, any advocates – are not usually empowered to directly change the status quo at scale, nor do they have the strongest voices in institutional forums.  Locating, recruiting, and mobilising stakeholders and champions is critical to OER advocacy success.
  • The Toolkit needs to consider a range of messages to be employed by librarians to link open education to university goals and to raise its profile nationally.  Providing key messages such as affordability, student success and retention, increased academic freedom, and improved learning and teaching help tailor communications.

Practicality

  • Toolkit resources need to address the practical questions and include concise ‘fact sheets’, workflows, surveys, videos, answers to ‘tough questions’, FAQ banks, presentation resources and exemplar campaigns.

Celebration 

  • As indicated previously, advocacy can be exhausting.  Sometimes change doesn’t happen, or sometimes it happens at a near-glacial pace. Advocates and practitioners need to take the time to celebrate milestones and communicate those successes to champions and stakeholders. 

What’s next?

The team is currently managing a review of the initial content and the core topics to be included in the Toolkit. Feedback from the open community is imperative at this stage.  We will have further posts about our approach, feedback, and forthcoming events scheduled at the CAUL Conference. 

In the meantime, if you are engaging in open advocacy, consider posting a comment below.  Tell the team what you’ve found most useful and share your experiences.

How is Australia supporting open education?

OER Advocacy video

Over the past couple of years, the FAIR and Advancing Open Scholarship programs have increased the visibility of the role of libraries in open research and advanced the open research agenda more generally. In Australia, ‘OER [Open Educational Resources] initiatives are nascent and fragmented and there are limited projects across the higher education landscape. Government policy and support for OERs is needed to foster real change’ (Ponte, Lennox & Hurley, 2021, p. 7). The US and Canada invest steadily and provide legislative backing for openness, so how do we compare? The short answer is ‘not so well’, however there is a way forward.

Drawing on learnings from CAUL’s open research advocacy, the Enabling a Modern Curriculum: OER Advocacy project will develop and enact a plan for advocacy related to OERs, with a view to raising the visibility of the OER agenda and related issues. The project will focus on both local and national advocacy and deliver an advocacy toolkit for member institutions to use for local advocacy, and plan and undertake advocacy at a national level, which will target the DVCsA and government.

This Project aims to:

  • raise the visibility of the OER agenda for key stakeholder groups (DVCsA and government).
  • develop and enact a plan for advocacy related to OERs, which targets the key stakeholder groups.
  • curate and/or create resources which support advocacy work.

Watch the video below about the OER Advocacy project and how it aims to activate higher education advocates nationally:

The project brief (PDF) provides further details on the deliverables and timeline.

Our team

The project team is led by Adrian Stagg (University of Southern Queensland). The team members are Justine Cawley (The University of Queensland), Steven Chang (La Trobe University), Jennifer Hurley (RMIT University), Alice Luetchford (James Cook University), Carlie Nekrasov (Southern Cross University), Lucy Walton (Western Sydney University), and Angie Williamson (Deakin University).

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!