Choose your own adventure with OER

This post was written by Angie Williamson, Program Coordinator (Open Education) at Deakin University Library. A member of the CAUL Enabling the Modern Curriculum (EMC) Advocacy Project team, Angie is one of the expert co-facilitators lined up for our upcoming EMC Melbourne workshop. For more OER learnings register for the workshop or the online Conference sessions.

Flag with "Explore" written on it as a call to action for OER engagement.

The possibilities of OER

Often when open educational resources (OER) are discussed the focus is on open textbooks.  Open textbooks can greatly impact a student’s learning by increasing access, increasing student satisfaction, and strengthening student success (Colvard, 2018). All of which is amazing but there is so much more to OER than just free textbooks!

"OER are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions” (UNESCO, 2017).

If we frame OERs as “teaching, learning and research materials”, OER encompasses multiple and diverse resource types. Think of the types of resources that you use in teaching – videos, review questions, presentations, infographics, simulations and associated ancillary activities to name a few. The formats of OER cover a whole range of resource types that can be used in inventive and engaging ways to support the learning needs of students. Additionally, as the UNESCO definition outlines, creative commons licences mean you can also adapt resources to the format that best suits your teaching. If a text is more in depth than you need, revise it to an infographic or a set of slides (with an attribution). This flexibility is what makes OER so useful and an invaluable treasure for teaching.

Imagination, pedagogy and participation

A step into the world of OER may lead to a personal journey shaped by your teaching philosophy. Exploring OER can be a beginning, maybe leading to the adoption of a resource, such as a textbook. This flip to an open textbook with creative commons licencing might nudge your imagination to create videos or animations or quizzes if they haven’t already been made. These newly created supporting resources in varying formats can then be shared as OER. Your work would then become part of assisting others using the open textbook for teaching. A supportive circle of reciprocal teaching practice!

In searching for resources for your specific need, you might find a textbook to adapt or even create your own using a variety of open resources. There are so many teaching opportunities that can be developed utilising open resources within the context of your pedagogical paradigm that can enhance student learning and interactions.

Participation in revising or creating OER is not limited to teachers, students can create too. Consider learning activities enabled by OER or the co-creation of open resources with students as part of their learning or assessment. The Creative Commons licences enable revision and adaption of open resources and learning activities can be designed to make use of this. Students could comment on open textbook chapters using a web annotator or could peer review, create question banks or diagrams based on an open text, developing lifelong learning skills while gaining an understanding of open practices such as attribution. Student assignments could even form part of an openly published text. With creativity and using open resources, teacher-student collaborations can produce innovative resources grounded in open educational practice for use by the wider community.

Multiple OER formats for new content creation and revision + the diversity of existing OER you can adapt = the application of open educational practice is only limited by your imagination.

Where to start on your OER journey

Start with exploring some platforms – you never know what you might find. Places to look for OER include:

  • OER Commons or MERLOT are both good starting points. Search for your topic and use the limiters to refine the material type if you need a particular format of resource.
  • Mason OER Metafinder has a real-time federated search which means it will search across multiple OER sources at the same time.
  • OAsis is an online open access repository where you can search over 100 sources for various resource types.

For ideas in open pedagogy and practice, have a look at the Open Pedagogy Notebook, Extending Into the Open or the Open Pedagogy Project Roadmap.

My key take-away for you

No two paths into open will be the same but the journey will be an adventure.

References and attribution

  • Colvard, N. B., Watson, C. E., & Hyojin, P. (2018). The Impact of Open Educational Resources on Various Student Success Metrics. International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 262-276.
  • UNESCO. (2017). Second world OER congress Ljubljana oer action plan 2017. 2nd World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress, Ljubljana.
  • Explore photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Contribute to The Living Book of Digital Skills

This post was written by Dr Sara King, Training and Engagement Lead, AARNET

For the last year, CAUL’s Digital Dexterity Champions have been developing The Living Book of Digital Skills (you never knew you needed until now) (aka the GitBook). The book is a living, open source online guide to ‘modern not-quite-technical computer skills’ for researchers and the broader academic community.  

The Digital Dexterity Champions help realise the goals of CAUL’s Digital Dexterity framework in university libraries through creating and sharing resources across the network, and GitBook is an extension of this work. The Champions identified a need for professional learning for themselves and the research and academic communities they serve related to an ever changing, wide ranging set of digital skills that are needed for library, teaching and research practice.  While there are online instructions in various forms for just about any skill, the academic community uses these skills in particular contexts. The GitBook aims to fill this gap in professional learning for  ‘not-quite-technical’ digital skills. These are the kinds of skills that are not specifically addressed in formal courses or training, but simply expected by the nature of the digital workplace and data-driven research, and ones that library staff are often approached to be able to address.

Our vision for the book is that it is made by everyone, for everyone. We want it to be accessible to both amateurs and professionals, creators and users. For this reason, we are keen to draw on the academic library community to contribute to the creation of this resource as a way to build our collective capacity to support academics working in this space.

The GitBook team has worked together to create the chapter outline, a code of conduct, instructions for contributors and a copyright statement.  

Now, we need you! We’re looking for contributions large and small to build out the book.

A contribution doesn’t have to be anything complex, and you can choose to submit parts of a topic too. 

Here is a sample article. You’ll notice that the text is simple and accessible to everyone, with as little jargon as possible. Where there is specialist language, it is explained and can be added to the glossary.  

We’d like to invite you to contribute to the project. Here is a list of suggested articles. You can use that or if you have some other relevant content that you would like to share, please do! You can use one of the following options for submitting your contribution:

  1. To contribute directly via GitHub account, use these instructions.
  2. You can also use our contributor form, OR 
  3. Email us (digidexlibrarians+gitbook@gmail.com)

For more information about copyright, please see our Copyright Statement.

If you would like to meet the group, we meet on Friday afternoons and we are all super friendly, and welcoming to all. Please write to sara.king@aarnet.edu.au for a meeting invite.

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.

Why I started writing an open text and why I’m glad I did!

This post was written by Dr Bronte van der Hoorn, Senior Lecturer (Project Management), University of Southern Queensland

What academic has time to write an open text? Here’s why I embarked on writing my open text – it’s about using visuals in management – and why I’m glad I did.

Who is willing to print a colour book?

Central to my open text is a catalogue of visual diagrams, and these visuals had to be produced in colour. Mainstream publishers are nervous about colour-print runs, particularly if the potential readership is (relatively) small, and the market (and author!) untested. Incorporating colour diagrams was no problem for University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Open Educational Practice!

Diagram representing building with five pillars. Pillar one states 'values first project.' Pillar  two states ' company restructure.' Pillar three states 'customer first training.' Pillar four states 'ICT refresh project and pillar five states back to market project.'
Diagram with arrow in center and six arrows pointing at diagram. It is a depiction of KPIs for a fictitious organisation. It includes KPIs such as 24 hour call center, 25% frontline staff increase

My book’s usefulness relied on the reader downloading files

My reader would get maximum value from the book by downloading and adapting the visuals for their own work. Sure, mainstream publishing can set-up a website for such ‘add ons’, but with an open text the downloads could be embedded in the book, thereby providing a fully integrated experience for the reader. 

I wanted to give back to my research participants

Recruiting research participants is never easy. I always feel bad that I’m asking participants to volunteer their time for very little personal benefit. It’s not that the participants’ input doesn’t result in research outputs. But my research participants don’t share the same view as Q1 journal editors in terms of what constitutes a worthy ‘contribution’. An open text was a way to communicate my research in a way that could make a difference to practice.

Students want a take-away from their study

My current students get access to lots of eBooks and journal articles, and for many the loss of access to these resources at time of graduation is cause for disappointment. When I chose to publish an open text, I knew that at least this course resource would be accessible for students post-study – and they could share it with colleagues who weren’t students as well! 

As I started writing, I was also surprised about some unexpected advantages of open text publishing…

An unexpected level of interactivity

As I started writing my open text, I came across multimedia content that would make the book more engaging. The amazing USQ Open Educational Practice team encouraged me to make use of Pressbooks multimedia and H5P capabilities and embedded videos in the volume and created dynamic hover-overs to enable interactive annotation of each visual, that helps make the book’s content clearer. The book also incorporates a H5P slider preview that enables the reader to quickly flick through each visual – that’s not possible in a hardcopy publication! 

A screen capture of an interactive H5P object in the textbook. It depicts change over time.

Connecting me to academia

I was always committed to my open text project but my excitement when my ‘writing’ day came around each week surprised even me. Any academic knows the competing demands we face and that finding time to write an open text isn’t easy amongst the pressure to produce top quartile articles, teaching duties, and never-ending admin requests. 

However, I found this project to be refreshingly different to my other academic (and admin) work! My open text was a space for me to express my passion for the topic in a manner that accurately represented my ideas and made them accessible for my target reader. And this was a novel luxury! I acknowledge here that the USQ Open Educational Practice team were abundantly accommodating of my vision, they trusted me as the content expert to make design decisions (another delightful novelty!) and worked tirelessly to see my vision come to life. 

It was during the writing of my open text that I have felt most ‘academic’. Not ‘academic’ in a theoretical, distant, clinical way – but in the way I had hoped academia would be; I was making accessible a topic that I continue to learn (research) about and was helping others to learn and grow interest and capability in that area too – not just in my classrooms, but hopefully beyond.

A whisper growing to a roar

This post was written by Bec Muir (Manager, Libraries West) at Victoria University.

Guides, connectors, finders, interpreters: multiple roles of frontline staff

Supporting our frontline Library staff in enabling the modern curriculum

Frontline library staff are integral partners in the modern curriculum. They are the librarians, library technicians, and advisory staff who provide front-of-house services to our academic communities. Frontline staff may have a qualification in librarianship, library technician, or teaching; or have other academic qualifications such as certificates, diplomas, bachelors, or higher degrees. They are very highly skilled, qualified, or both.

The less-seen impact of frontline staff

Our frontline staff are a very present and very visible element of Library service, working as finders, guides, connectors, and interpreters of the modern curriculum. They empower their academic community to step confidently beyond the university by building their information literacy, knowledge of academic integrity, and digital dexterity. They instruct, demonstrate, troubleshoot, and guide students and academic staff through the information journey. Often their work is done quietly, conducted one-to-one at the service desk or via the online chat service instead of before a class. In short, the role of frontline staff in the modern curriculum is a whisper rather than a roar.

Why is this a concern?

By overlooking the role of frontline staff in the modern curriculum, the library misses an opportunity to improve its connection with our learning community and enrich their educational journey. If we do not see the role of frontline staff in this space, we risk not developing and upskilling our Library staff to enact these roles, which can disempower them in their interactions with our students and staff. This in turn can disempower our academic community.

Individual and institutional commitment to professional development

If academic libraries are to fully enact their role in supporting the modern curriculum, professional development of frontline staff should be seen as a key strategic and operational objective. Shared institutional and individual responsibility for ongoing professional development (at all staffing levels) is a vital way to grow industry and professional robustness. This ultimately benefits our academic community by enriching the Library’s ability to speak to their educational needs. Once there’s a commitment to professional development, where can frontline staff access professional learning?

Industry-developed learning opportunities

There are many existing tools and resources that frontline staff can draw on for professional learning. A good place to start is with a framework that maps skills, knowledge and capabilities such as the Digital Dexterity Framework. Conference attendance – such as ALIA Information Online, the Library Technicians Symposium or the new 2022 CAUL Enabling a Modern Curriculum Conference – provide a way for frontline staff to engage in active learning from their peers. Platforms such as 23 Things for Digital Knowledge and FutureLearn, and initiatives like Library Carpentry  provide self-directed and cost-effective learning. Sector magazines, such as Incite, provide a consumable way to stay industry engaged and empower staff to see broader institutional responses to change.

Library-developed training opportunities

Library-developed training can prepare frontline staff to meet the challenges of the modern curriculum and the curriculum beyond that.However, a concern with library-developed training is that it may take a ‘trickle down’ approach where the program is developed by senior staff, and trickled down to instruct frontline staff in expected performance. Rather than being partners in the modern curriculum, frontline staff may be seen as trainees, or even students. While this may not be intentional, it can result in staff feeling silenced, lost, or disengaged from the training as a result. It is not ‘their training’, but ‘the library’s’.

A learner-led learning (triple-L model) opportunity

In contrast to library-developed training, learner-led learning shifts the balance in the learning relationship to one of mutual benefit. I envision learner-led learning (‘triple-L model’) as a training delivery framework shaped around scaffolded learning, shared authority, professional reflection, and learner engagement. The triple-L model creates an environment where the learner feels able to reshaping existing knowledge to build skills for future needs. Triple-L approaches training from a position of partnership.

The triple-L model approaches professional development across five phases, commencing with a position of partnership and concluding with a commitment to evaluation for success. While it is beyond the scope of this blogpost to fully unpack this model, it has already been tested at Victoria University. The triple-L model formed the foundation of our frontline training suite, DigiChat. More importantly, the triple-L model has cemented to every frontline staff member that the role that they play in the modern curriculum is an important one.

The implementation of this model occurred simply and organically from a position of partnering for success. Our frontline team were asked a single straight forward question: ‘what do you find hard when helping our patrons on LibChat?’. ‘Hard’ here was left broad; for some frontline staff multi-tasking became the challenge point, for others identifying the core of the question and conveying an answer, for still others discovering the resource required. We then reflected on position descriptions and changes in the industry to identify any areas missed. We observed that three theme areas were emerging in our frontline team’s identified needs: customer service, digital skills, and professional identity. These themes became the burgeoning phases of the DigiChat cycle: each enriching and speaking back to the other.

From these proposed sessions and phases, we sought reflection and input from our frontline team and engaged staff in a process of co-creation and sharing of skills. A learning theory foundation was employed that limited the length of sessions and introduced a scaffolded theory of staggered skills, in addition to building in opportunities for reflection through doing (theoretical activities); thinking (Teams chats and sharing); ownership (on-the-job skill usage); and growth (tying to current and future skills). Lastly, an important part of this process was embedded in the evaluation mechanism: a survey at the end of each session which asked our frontline team to reflect on their learnings and how they would apply it, and why, in addition to reflecting on the presentation and the presenter. This process yielded great results that have built our frontline team to meet (and embrace) the changes of the curriculum both in its current iteration, and into the future.

A stronger voice

We are all partners in enabling the modern curriculum. Through identifying the needs and skills of our frontline teams, enriching learnings and abilities, and visualising their value in the modern curriculum, the role that our staff play in this capacity changes. Recognising the role of our frontline staff means that we are all better enabled – as a Library and as a sector – to respond to the challenges of the modern curriculum.

A whisper growing to a roar.

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.

Call for participation: PhD research project on open textbook publishing programs at Australian universities

This post is written by Samara Rowling, PhD Candidate, Editing & Publishing, University of Southern Queensland. Email: samara.rowling2@usq.edu.au

Why research open textbook publishing programs at Australian universities?

While as many of you will be aware, there’s already a growing body of research on open educational practice (OEP) and open educational resource (OER) use in Australian higher education, little research has been conducted on open textbook publishing activities and experiences at Australian universities. Most existing research on open textbook publishing focuses on the international context (e.g. North America), where differences in funding and legislative support affect not only how, but the extent to which this work is undertaken. While we know from anecdotal evidence that many Australian universities are engaged in this work, currently, there is no comprehensive and cohesive data available about the state of open textbook publishing in Australia and how this compares to more established models overseas.

How am I addressing this gap in knowledge?

My Doctor of Philosophy project (HREC approval number H21REA125) will be the first national study of open textbook publishing programs at Australian universities. It aims to investigate current and emerging trends in open textbook publishing within the broader context of university and library-led publishing.

I’m collecting data for this research by surveying staff involved in open textbook publishing at Australian universities about their publishing activities and experiences. Once I’ve analysed these results, I’ll be conducting a series of follow-up interviews with a small group of participants to discuss their responses.

I’ll be sharing the data from this research in open access journals and in my PhD thesis, which I plan to make available under a Creative Commons license through my institutional repository with no embargo period, as well as as an open access book.

In my thesis, I’ll be using this data to make evidence-based recommendations about how we can build more sustainable open textbook publishing programs at Australian universities.

This 60-second animation, created for the 2021 University of Southern Queensland Visualise Your Thesis competition, gives a quick summary of the project:

What can you do to help?

If you’re involved in publishing open textbooks at an Australian university, I’m requesting your assistance with this research. Understanding how we can build more sustainable publishing programs, and consequently, increase production of high-quality Australian open textbooks will improve the student experience by helping to:

• reduce the financial burden of study

• remove geographic and copyright barriers preventing students from accessing essential course materials

• provide more accessible, diverse, and inclusive content than is typically offered by traditional publishers.

You can help with this important research by completing my 15-20 minute online survey at https://surveys.usq.edu.au/index.php/584337 by 28 February 2022.

During this survey, you’ll be asked to share details about your university’s open textbook publishing activities – on topics like funding, staffing, professional development infrastructure, and outputs – as well as your own thoughts about the benefits, challenges, and opportunities of engaging in this work.

If you’re just getting started, were previously publishing but have now stopped, or have decided publishing open textbooks isn’t for you, the survey contains alternate pathways designed to capture these experiences as well. After completing the survey, you can also nominate yourself for a follow-up interview if you would like to discuss your experiences in more detail.

For more information about this research, you can contact me at Samara.Rowling2@usq.edu.au. In the spirit of open access, I’ll be tweeting about this project as I go along, including sharing data and links to any publications, so please follow me at @SamaraRowling for updates.

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 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

Students as Partners Roundtable 2021

Academic libraries were represented in the recent National SAP Roundtable with presentations from the CAUL EMC Students as Partners Project group along with case study presentations from the University of Newcastle Library.

The 2021 National Students as Partners Roundtable was hosted recently by the 21C Student Curriculum Partners at Western Sydney University. Over three days from 23th – 25th November, students and staff from around Australia and the world convened online through Teams and Zoom to share ideas, discuss issues and network with each other. This year, the theme of “the Partnership Paradox” provided a great opportunity to not only celebrate the partnerships but also look at partnership practice through a more critical lens through case studies, problem solving ‘hackathons’ and discussions around research.

I was fortunate to attend Day One, which showcased thirty-seven case studies from around Australia and globally, with nine countries represented. The case studies were presented in six zoom rooms running simultaneously over the course of the day. Meeting the challenge of starting at 7 am to attend the first session (due to being on AWST) was totally worth it, as I found the mix of case studies I attended to be informative and thought provoking. It was great to see the academic library sector reasonably well represented, with a presentation from the CAUL EMC Students as Partners (SaP) Project group, and a further three case studies from the University of Newcastle Library, presented by Imogen Harris-McNeil.

Presentation on CAUL’s EMC SAP Project

Fiona Salisbury, University Librarian, La Trobe University started the presentation by describing the project team as a group of library staff from across ten Australian universities, brought together through an open call-out from the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) to support a nationally led project. She explained the aim of the project as being to explore what students as partners means for academic libraries and how library staff can conceptualise the approach. Fiona then highlighted the potential of the Library, traditionally considered the ‘heart of the university’, to support students towards their success through SAP programs, and suggested that although students as partners is increasingly recognised as a key approach to drive meaningful relationships and engagement with students, the library has been largely overlooked.

Dr Mollie Dollinger, Equity-First, Students as Partners Lecturer at Deakin University, then highlighted some of the preliminary results from the national survey which was completed by 200 library staff and 22 University Librarians during October 2021 as part of the project. Mollie reported that most of the SAP programs mentioned by participants in the survey are in the learning and teaching, and peer mentoring areas, while the lowest was in governance, resource design and collection renewal. The survey also revealed that Library staff in general have a superficial understanding of SAP in libraries, suggesting that library staff, as much as faculty staff, need support in this area. While the survey results are yet to be analysed in more depth, the initial findings indicate that there is a challenge ahead in addressing how relationships between librarians and students can better adopt key principles of student partnership.

The presentation then looked at two examples of SAP projects piloted by participating insitutions. Susan Vickery, Associate University Librarian, Access & Advisory Services at Macquarie University, spoke about their program of employing students to assist with evaluating LibGuides. They employed students specifically for the project, who then joined weekly team meetings, did a small bench marking activity, and were significantly involved in designing the UX experience. Wendy Ratciffe, Coordinator Client Experience, Co-Curricular Services at La Trobe University, then spoke about the Bendigo’s campus SAP project to make the campus library a culturally safe space for indigenous students. Four indigenous students were enlisted to engage in a series of exercises which culminated in a design thinking workshop facilitated by Kristy Newton (UOW). Student ideas and input about visibility, inclusivity and reciprocity, as well as the design and arrangement of furniture, colours and use of indigenous language, will directly shape the development of the campus library spaces.

Case study presentations from the University of Newcastle Library

Imogen Harris McNeill, Coordinator, Student Employment and Partnerships, at the University of Newcastle Library (and also a member of the CAUL EMC SaP group) presented three case studies at the Roundtable event. One focussed on the SAP framework that Uni Newcastle Library has developed, while the other two shared experiences from their SAP programs around governance and library spaces.

Despite Imogen’s description of the governance SAP project as “the boring administrative side of things”, the Uni of Newcastle Library’s program of engaging students in decision-making and governance in the University Library was actually very interesting. The program addressed the ‘included and empowered’ pillar, one of three underpinning the Library of Newcastle Library’s SAP framework, that involves valuing student representation in decision-making and Library governance processes and seeking to work directly with students as co-creators and co-designers of Library services, spaces and activities. Imogen described how, rather than endorsing a single stand-alone student advisory group, the Library actively brought students into Library committees, projects, working groups and communities of practice to work alongside Library staff. These students are integral members of each group with their voices influencing outcomes for the Library and student cohorts as they collaborate with library staff to identify opportunities for improvement, develop options, solve problems, or implement solutions.

One of the challenges highlighted was the fact that, despite engaging in governing and decision making being regarded as one of the most empowering forms of partnership and engagement, it can be difficult to interest students in these roles. Leveraging the library’s current pool of casual assistants and using existing employment mechanisms, as well as promoting the benefits of further professional experience for the casual staff, were some of the methods used. It was interesting to hear the challenges from the student perspective as well, such as the difficulty of wearing two hats (student and staff) and thus in defining their role and purpose in each particlar group or discussion.

Brief reflections

The Roundtable presentations provoked a lot of interesting conversation and critical questioning among the participants and provided a wonderful opportunity to share and learn from one another. I found the case studies really useful in showing what is currently being done, highlighting important resources, and sharing challenges and experiences. While there are some great SAP projects happening in academic libraries, there is clearly potential for more to be done, and scope to build support for Library staff to encourage the development of meaningful SAP programs. Finally, it was great to see a lot of student engagement in the event, not only in the presentations themeslves, but also in the Teams chat, and on the organisational side of things as well.