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.

Enabling a Modern Curriculum 2022 Conference online program – Call for submissions

Share your work or ideas with peers – pitch your online mode presentation or lightning talk now!

The CAUL EMC Conference aims to bring together industry experts and sharing of evidence based practice, projects and innovations shaping our academic library work within tertiary education. This means your voice and your experiences are a core part to the success of this Conference.

Together we create sign
We want to know about the work you and your Library does! 
The CAUL Enabling the Modern Curriculum (EMC) Project is now inviting submissions for its inaugural Conference in September. Put forward a submission to be part of this hybrid event’s online offering (Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 September).

When are submissions due?

Submissions officially open today Friday 29 April! You have until Friday 27 May to get your submission in.

What does a submission involve?

It’s a short, sweet and not onerous format. There are two submission types to pitch for: 

  • Online Presentation (20 mins + 5 mins question time)
  • Online Lightning Talk (7 mins + potential question time)

The submissions need to reflect and engage with the following themes: 

  • Open Resources to Enable the Curriculum
  • Evolving our Digital Practices
  • Bending and Blending in Learning and Teaching
  • Partnering to Enable a Modern Curriculum

Themes are explained in more detail on the Call for submissions webpage.

What’s the submission process?

The submission process is simple. The Call for Submission webpage details information needed and links through to the submission portal. 

Where to find out more?

To check out the conference details or to make a submission visit the CAUL EMC website


This post was written by Lindsey Fratus (University of Newcastle Library), Liz Walkley Hall (Flinders University Library), Arlene O’Sullivan (La Trobe University) and Kat Cain (Deakin University Library)
All four writers are part of the CAUL EMC Conference project.

Community, collaboration and capability building: The OER Collective Community Day

Last week, CAUL launched the OER Collective with an inaugural Community Day for academics and library staff at 30 participating universities across Australia and New Zealand.

Highlights of the day included:

  • The Open Textbooks 101 session, which explore the basics of OERs generally and open textbooks specifically – what they are, how they work and the key benefits to academics, students and libraries.
  • A keynote from Amy Hofer, Statewide Open Education Program Director for Open Oregon. Amy provided lots of practical advice on how we can collaboratively push forward the open textbook agenda.
  • A panel discussion on open textbook advocacy, featuring academics and librarians from across Australia and New Zealand.
  • An extended Q&A session with a panel of experienced open practice librarians.

The event also featured short presentations about the OER Collective, including:

  • An overview of the Collective model
  • An introduction to the Communities of Practice
  • An introduction to the Collective Publishing Workflow and the documentation to support it
  • An introduction to the Collective Grants Program (EOIs now open!).

We had lots of great feedback:

This has been fantastic and inspirational. Thanks so much to all who ran it and contributed their knowledge on this topic.

I am very new to this space, so the sessions today have been a fantastic introduction to the world of OERs. The posting of links to resources that were being discussed throughout the sessions was super helpful. Thanks so much for organising the session and I’ll definitely be checking out the CAUL OER guide and joining the CoP.

Terrific, informative, collegial day today!

We can’t wait to do it again next year, but in the mean time, you can catch up on the event via the recording. The recording includes bookmarks so you can jump between the sessions.

You can also find a document containing all the links that were shared in the chat during the event on the event listing on the CAUL website.

Even if your institution isn’t participating in the Collective, there is lots of useful information and inspiration in the recording.

A huge big thank you to the OER Collective Project Team, particularly Tahnee Pearse, Fiona Tyson, Jaime Royals and Richard Levy, who all worked hard to bring the day together. Thanks also to our speakers and panelists, and CAUL’s Engagement & Administration Officer Cicy Zheng. Finally, a big thanks to the 300+ registrants who signed up for the event and joined us at various points during the day. The conversation in the chat was fantastic, and it was so good to see so many people together, furthering the conversation about open textbooks.

Applications for DIY Open Textbook Grants are now open!

UPDATE: Please note the deadline for submissions has been extended to 13 May 2022.

They may be free to access and use, but open textbooks aren’t free to produce. That’s why a grants program is a key feature of the CAUL Open Educational Resources Collective.

There are costs involved in open textbook creation at various stages of the publishing cycle, some of which may be covered by institutions, while others may not. The costs don’t always involve invoices and payments, but may instead be time in someone’s workload, such as authors’ time or library staff time. If you’re writing an open textbook, or working with an author who is, some of the other costs you might encounter that require funding include those associated with:

  • Editing
  • Copyright permissions
  • Stipends for peer reviewers
  • Graphic design

To assist with these costs, academic authors at participating institutions in the Collective can now apply for a DIY Open Textbook Grant. To qualify for a grant, the open textbook is required to fall into one or more of four categories:

1. High impact. Open textbook projects in this category are targeted at first year, high enrolment courses (more than 200 students) in core disciplines.

2. Emerging disciplines. Open textbooks in this category have a specialised, novel, relatively fast growing subject area of focus with limited current textbook availability.

3. Australian and New Zealand content. Open textbook projects in this category are focused on Australian and/or New Zealand content in any discipline.

4. Rebalancing representation. Open textbook projects in this category are focused on subject matter or include content that aims to redress imbalances related to representation in academic literature, with priority given to ‘own voices’ projects (i.e. textbooks that will be written by authors with relevant lived experience).

Inclusion of Indigenous content written by Indigenous authors is encouraged across all categories, including content in or about Indigenous languages. Indigenous content must include experience or information that represents Indigenous peoples from Australia and/or New Zealand.

Grants of $1000, $2000 or $3000 (for one, two or three or more authors respectively) are available, and include additional funds for two $250 peer review stipends to be paid to peer reviewers.

Further details about the grants, including eligibility, requirements, timelines and evaluation criteria can be found in the 2022 Grants Guidelines. Links to the EOI form and submission form, as well as the Guidelines and key dates, are available here.

The grants are a great opportunity to assist authors to meet some of the costs associated with writing their open textbook as part of the Collective. If you are working with participating authors in your institution, please encourage them to apply!

The closing date for submissions is 29 April 2022. UPDATE: Please note the deadline for submissions has been extended to 13 May 2022.

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.

What we’ve learned about OER Professional Development

by Kylie Tran (Manager, Library Services and Spaces), University of Melbourne and Nikki Andersen (Open Education Content Librarian), University of Southern Queensland.

This year CAUL’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Professional Development (PD) Program will develop an OER program. In 2021, the project team undertook an environmental scan, literature review and stakeholder survey to inform the design and delivery of this program. Here is what we’ve learned about OER PD so far: 

What we learned from the environmental scan

The purpose of our environmental scan was to gain an understanding of the OER PD programs already on offer around the world. From the environmental scan we learned that:

  • The majority of OER professional development programs were predominantly American. Surprisingly very few were located from Europe or the United Kingdom
  • The OER programs identified used a mixture of platforms and tools. The majority were self-paced courses that offered modular learning
  • Most programs and resources were created for, and aimed at, educators (academics/teaching staff/instructors). Some courses were aimed at both educators and students, such as USQ’s MOOC Repurposing Open Educational Resources: An Introduction. The minority were aimed at library staff
  • The vast majority of programs and resources did not require payment to access or complete. In some instances, programs were freely accessible, but users had the option of paying for a certificate or similar credential
  • The majority of programs do not provide credentials or it was unknown if they did provide them following completion
  • Unsurprisingly, many of the programs included a Creative Commons license, enabling opportunities to reuse and acknowledge the content of the programs and resources. 

What we learned from the literature review

From the literature review we learned that: 

  • The research favoured a whole course approach to capacity building, as opposed to ad-hoc workshops
  • Successful PD programs placed learners in authentic real-world learning contexts, highlighting the importance of situating OER knowledge in participants’ work environments 
  • There was a wide variation in the inclusion of assessment and granting of credentials on completion 
  • The creation of a community of practice or mentorship was supported by the literature, with these networks helping participants grow and develop their OER proficiency 
  • The primary barrier to the completion of OER PD was the ability for participants to allocate time to complete PD, highlighting the importance of organisational support for staff to undertake PD

What we learned from the stakeholder survey

From the stakeholder survey, we learned that: 

  • Most institutions and individuals would find an OER PD program valuable 
  • The PD needs across Library staff are highly variable, from introductory to specialised
  • The majority of respondents favoured (i) self-directed, primarily asynchronous online courses or programs offered over an extended study period followed by (ii) online seminar or lecture series (curated program of linked seminars). 

We look forward to providing an OER PD Program to you all. Stay tuned!

Co-Designing Deakin Library’s Strategic Plan: Project Update

This post was written by Dr Mollie Dollinger, Equity-First, Students as Partners Lecturer at Deakin University.

Deakin University is one of the 11 institutions participating in the Students as Partners project within CAUL’s Enabling the Modern Curriculum Program. The Deakin University project is called ‘Co-Designing Your Future Library’ and aims to take a collaborative approach towards creating the library strategic plan. The project is led by University Librarian Hero Macdonald, Dr Mollie Dollinger and Paul McKenna.

In the project, university library staff are matched with student mentors in a 1:1 dialogue. The sessions are held entirely online (via Zoom) and are approximately 1 hour in duration. To support the dialogue, the project team supplies each pair a scaffolded set of design thinking activities, including mind maps and storyboards, that help guide the conversation and generate novel ideas and solutions.

Participation was entirely voluntary, with 50 university library staff opting in, and 100 students (each staff member had approximately two meetings, each with one student). Students were recruited centrally and spanned various courses, degrees, and cohorts. All students who participated were awarded a $50 gift card to acknowledge their contribution. University library staff also represented the variety of departments and teams within the library, ensuring a wide breadth of views and perspectives.

Sabina Robertson (Manager, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment Library Services) reflected on their participation in the project:

“The co-design project was unexpected opportunity to connect and learn from a student’s experience.  Students come from such diverse backgrounds; their lives are complex and for some demanding. Somehow university study fits in amongst work, family and health issues.”

Similarly, Clare Carlsson (Director, Client Services and Deputy University Librarian), also shared their thoughts:

“I was amazed at how open and engaged the students were with their feedback and think they pretty chuffed to be asked- this process was great for building stronger student relationships”

Students who participated in the project have also been positive about their experience, citing how the process underscored how much the university cared about their opinions and experiences.

Analysis on the data collected from the project is still underway, with a report (and peer reviewed journal article) expected this year.  Watch this space!

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.

A year of Enabling the Modern Curriculum

This post was written by Fiona Salisbury, Executive Director Library and University Librarian at La Trobe University. Fiona is a member of the CAUL Board and the Program Director for the Enabling a Modern Curriculum Program.

It’s been just over 12 months since we launched the CAUL Enabling a Modern Curriculum Program. I am amazed at what has been achieved in this period—but, not surprised! The Program is an example of what 40 library practitioners from 28 institutions can do when they get together to have some fun with five projects. At the end of a very busy year full of competing priorities, I am delighted to say that all projects are on track and some major milestones have been met in 2021.

The Open Educational Resources Collective Pilot Project team developed the Open Educational Resources (OER) Collective model, which was endorsed by the CAUL Board at its November meeting. In developing the model the Project team reviewed the literature, scanned the environment, and surveyed CAUL members. The result is a robust model that will provide an opportunity for participating institutions to publish open textbooks on a shared platform and build institutional capability. It will also provide opportunities for collaborative, cross-institutional development of open textbooks. The OER Collective model will commence from January 2022 and the call for participation is now open. The OER Collective is underpinned by communities of practice for library staff and academics, and the Project team is now working on resources and events that will be part of the launch of the communities of practice in the New Year.

The Open Educational Resources Professional Development Program Project team developed a proposal for an OER professional development (PD) program, which was endorsed by the CAUL Board at its November meeting. There are few OER PD programs available for library staff so this program will fill a gap for library practitioners and allied colleagues in Australia and New Zealand. Informed by a literature review, an environmental scan, and feedback from CAUL members, the OER PD program will be for both experienced and novice practitioners. The aim is to build capacity in leadership of OER practice relating to open textbooks, open educational practices and pedagogy, advocacy, and communications. Next steps for the project team include developing a detailed course overview, structure, and delivery timeline.

The Open Educational Resources Advocacy Project team progressed thinking about how academic libraries can best tackle the issue of raising the visibility of the OER agenda in the higher education sector and nationally. The critical nature of this task cannot be underestimated, and to inform their thinking the team collected data on institutional and individual perspectives on OERs, consulted with key contacts, completed a review of existing OER advocacy resources, and curated a collection of fifty exemplary assets. The team has laid the groundwork for the next step, which is to develop an OER advocacy toolkit proposal that will go to the CAUL Board for endorsement in 2022.

The Enabling a Modern Curriculum with Students as Partners (SaP) Project team launched the National Review of ‘Students as Partners’ in Australian Academic Libraries and completed a national survey of academic libraries across Australia to understand their current perceptions, practices and goals around SaP. Respondents included 15 university librarians and 182 library staff. The project team reported on their preliminary research findings and highlighted project initiatives at the recent Students as Partners roundtable. Individual team members also developed 11 SaP case study projects to be undertaken in their respective libraries. When completed, these case studies and other examples collected via the survey, will create an evidence base to inform a practice toolkit to support CAUL member institutions to engage with student partners as routine academic library practice. What’s more, in 2022 the team will model a SaP approach by collaborating with students on the development of the toolkit.

The CAUL Enabling a Modern Curriculum Conference Project team developed a conference proposal, which was endorsed by the CAUL Board at its September meeting. The conference dates are set – Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 September 2022 for the online program, and Tuesday 13 September for the face to face events in five capital cities – so make sure CAUL’s inaugural conference is in your calendar. The Project team has planned a hybrid event that will include a mix of workshops, online keynotes and in-person events.  There are four conference themes:

  • Open Resources to enable the curriculum
  • Evolving our digital practices
  • Bending and blending in learning and teaching
  • Partnership to enable a modern curriculum.

Stay tuned for more information and a call for participation in March 2022.

It’s been inspiring working with the project team leaders and their teams this year. Each project team has a distinctive focus and is getting on with the task at hand. A strong emphasis on evidence and engagement through CAUL member surveys and briefing sessions, wide promotion of the projects, creative video production, and blog posts are characteristic of the way the teams work. Since mid-September there have been 20 posts here on the Enabling a Modern Curriculum blog. The blog has an international following, and its scope extends beyond the projects to all the ways libraries enable the curriculum. I encourage you to contribute to the clog in 2022. If you are interested contact a member of the blog editorial team who will be happy to hear from you.

Thank you to everyone who has been involved and contributed to the CAUL Enabling a Modern Curriculum Program this year. This overview doesn’t do justice to the enormous effort and huge contribution of individuals and project teams. I’d like to thank our Project Team Leaders (Marion Slawson – FedUni; Tahnee Pearse – USQ; Adrian Stagg – USQ; Dr Nicole Johnson – ECU; Dr Mollie Dollinger – Deakin), project team members, Dr Kate Davis and staff in the CAUL National Office. It’s a collective effort sustaining such a vibrant and dynamic program. But intentionally positioning academic libraries to build national partnerships to enable the transformation of learning and teaching at their institutions is well worth every effort.

The blog editorial team will be taking a break over the next few weeks. You can expect to hear from us again in the second week in January. We hope everyone in our community has a chance to wind down and take time out over the festive period.

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 fiona.tyson@canterbury.ac.nz 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.

References