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.


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.

Zoom – The great leveller, a necessary evil and a network creator

This post was written by Sae Ra Germaine (Manager, Member & Academic Services) and Sara Davidsson (Member Services Coordinator) from CAVAL. CAVAL is a member-based for-benefit company that offers specialised products and services to the education and library sector in Australia and New Zealand.

CAVAL’s members and owners are some of the most prestigious Australian Universities and CAVAL enables them to access cost effective and collaborative library support services through economies of scale, scope, and expertise.

We may be fatigued from hearing how the COVID-19 pandemic was “unprecedented” and how many organisations, institutions, communities, and individuals had to “pivot”, but, at CAVAL, we think there’s value in taking a moment to: Pause. Reflect. Imagine.

And we think you might find some value in our reflections in terms of your own practice.


Image depicting the word ‘pause’ accompanied by a pause button

CAVAL and its Interest Groups are recognised for delivering high quality and relevant professional development through knowledge sharing seminars, forums, and community of practice events. These events have provided opportunities for CAVAL members from across Victoria to come together (usually in the Melbourne CBD) to learn and network with peers. Our mentoring program was very much state based and each of the groups gathered in a face-to-face capacity, in Victoria and New South Wales respectively.  

When the pandemic kicked off, we were both relatively new in our roles and still finding our feet. We had worked with the Interest Groups and the Mentoring Program cohort to line up our year’s worth of face-to-face events. We were ready to go! When COVID-19 arrived on our shores, this is where we paused. Sae Ra and Sara were both on some of the last flights home to Melbourne from Sydney on the 10th of March 2020. We knew there was a virus going around the world, but little did we know that just 3 days later Australia would go into its first shutdown. We immediately looked for options to keep our member community together and our professional development offerings running.  


Image of a large mural on a wall. The mural has ‘reflect’ written in large letters. The mural also includes a person looking into a body of water and is surrounded by birds flying.

It was evident for everyone that if the participants were unable to come to an event, the event would have to come to them. What better way to achieve this than moving planned events online? Although some of us were already slightly familiar with video conferencing products such as Zoom, it was a steep learning curve to host 200+ people at a collaborative, interactive event compared to a small team in a meeting. 

What did we learn from shifting our events online? 

  • Breakout rooms make people nervous. People are uncomfortable being placed in breakout rooms with strangers, with the added fear that leaving a breakout room is more conspicuous than excusing oneself from a group face-to-face. To alleviate this, we trialled using facilitators to guide the conversations in the breakout rooms. This calmed most attendees who appreciated the structured approach to discussion and networking. While this approach is more labour intensive, it provided an excellent learning opportunity for library staff to hone their facilitation skills in a safe environment and many of them enjoyed it and found the experience valuable.  
  • Attendees from far and wide. CAVAL’s member libraries span campuses in regional Victoria as well as in metro areas of the state. The online events enabled staff in regional locations the opportunity to attend events without having to be away from their workplace for a half day minimum. This was also attractive to those creating rosters and managing staff availability. Additionally, the virtual nature of the events allowed for easy attendance to the events by participants from all States and Territories of Australia, as well as New Zealand. In a conscious effort to provide equity, CAVAL, with its members, decided to open their events to non-member libraries as well which saw an influx of attendees from public and special libraries whose experiences enriched the knowledge exchange.  
  • International and interstate speakers. The lack of interstate and international travel available during 2020 and 2021 made speakers from more diverse locations viable for events. While previously it would have been prohibitive flying an academic or a University Librarian in for a 60 or 90-minute event, the online landscape enabled us to host speakers from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. This widened the perspectives we were able to offer our audience and learning of work practices overseas did not remain an onerous task.  
  • Staff of all levels could attend the events. With a half-day forum or full-day seminar in the past it was challenging for members to enable staff of all levels to attend events. In some cases, senior staff might have been encouraged to attend if they could combine the event with meetings near the event location, or staff from particular areas of the library were able to attend more events due to the nature of their work. When attending from their desks, the events were increasingly available to staff of all HEW levels, working in all areas of the library, from frontline staff supervising a service desk to the University Librarian.  
  • Online events are equitable. A common denominator for the dot points above are that all refer to the increased equity of virtual professional development, where finances, location, number of staff, and other factors do not impact the access to quality capability building. 
  • Longing for connection. This pandemic has locked us away from our families, our workplaces, and our colleagues. A common theme which popped up in the events was the excitement of being able to spend time with people other than our immediate teams, learn from others, and sometimes speak to someone whose life was less (or more!) restricted than ours depending on their location. The sharing of experiences and of how each library managed the pandemic differently was a wealth of knowledge. These sorts of conversations could not happen in corridors and, whilst somewhat forced, it was definitely welcomed.


Image 3 alt text: Image of a sign on a brick wall. The sign says ‘Imagine’

This pandemic has left us with uncertainty but also with hope. We have built new skills, learned new tools, met new colleagues, and built our resilience. With the push to go “back to normal”, we don’t necessarily think that everything should go back to the way it used to be. We don’t want to waste what we have learnt from this pandemic. We still need to connect, and technology can make our connections reach further. We are keeping an eye on how hybrid events will actually work in the future, but we don’t necessarily think that with current technology this provides an equitable platform for learning and connecting. But. We are optimistic. We will continue to learn, we will continue to grow and most of all we are continuing our willingness to experiment with new platforms, new ways of delivering material, and facilitating new ways for library staff to connect.

Image Attributions:

Visualising usage analytics: An evidence base for open texts

This post was written by Emilia Bell, Coordinator (Evidence Based Practice), University of Southern Queensland. Emilia can be contacted at Emilia.Bell@usq.edu.au or on Twitter @EmiliaCaraBell.

How can evidence-based practice inform how we approach open education practices (OEP)? At the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Library, the Open Educational Practice and the Evidence Based Practice teams have collaborated to collect data around USQ’s open texts on the Pressbooks platform. The result has been a Power BI data report to visualise the patterns of usage for these open texts. The data are collected as local evidence to support the continuous improvement of open education resources (OER) and OEP and to advocate for the value and values of openness.


Data visualisation, using Power BI, has helped support a greater understanding of the Google Analytics data model and its hierarchy. The visualisations are not static, and they allow open education practitioners to engage with the data by filtering or highlighting data points that are relevant to their own evidence needs and practice. The interactivity and design choices help to recognise the collaborative efforts in creating OERs and the varied evidence needs of authors. Using Power BI has enabled authors to access and interact with the data collected on their open text, furthering an evidence-based approach to OEP.

Power BI’s Google Analytics connector allows us to easily draw on the dimensions and metrics required for the data report. The initial metrics used to capture patterns of usage include:

  • Page views and user sessions,
  • Downloads and file type,
  • Sources of traffic,
  • Geographic distribution of users,
  • Link resolver statistics (Alma Analytics), and
  • Users’ browser and device types.

Visualisation of web analytics data for open textbooks can enable open education practitioners to engage in evidence-based practice. The report encourages further exploration of the data and critical reflection on its relevance to OEP.

Screenshot of USQ’s Power BI report showing the unique page views and downloads for the open text ‘Academic Success’ (2021).
USQ’s Power BI report page for ‘Academic Success’ (2021).
Screenshot of USQ’s Power BI report showing the geographic distribution of users.
USQ’s Power BI report page showing geographic distribution of users of USQ’s Pressbooks.

Questions and reflections

Communicating the why of openness, as a value, requires evidence to guide how we approach OERs and the practices surrounding openness. Before creating the report, we dedicated time to deciding which metrics would be important to track and communicate to authors. We started with overarching and values-driven questions, not immediately answerable with our data, but highlighting the motivations behind OEP.

Formulating answerable and data-driven questions is critical to determining the local evidence needs for OEP. These questions support the application of evidence to practice. They allow us to consider what is important to be collecting in our local context and the value behind adopting specific metrics.

Initially, questions are summarising the data: What chapters are being accessed the most? What percentage of users are referred to a textbook from a learning management system? Over time, more questions can be identified, especially as trends and patterns are recognised and require further interpretation. Further analysis will further inform how we approach openness and work with open texts, encouraging these new questions and further reflections.

Data visualisation represents one aspect of how we can take an evidence-based approach to OEP. It provides an interactive assessment of the usage of open texts, while also being accessible to authors and supporting a report design that highlights the collaboration behind OEP. As we continue to value, integrate, and assess many evidence types (local, research, and professional knowledge) to inform OEP, we can build continuous improvement and support advocacy for what openness can achieve.

Note: that the screenshots and corporate logos (such as the USQ Phoenix, and any other company represented) and branding are specifically excluded from the Creative Commons Attribution licence of this post, and may not be reproduced under any circumstances without the express written permission of the copyright holders.

Exploring another kind of open

In Open Access Week, we collaborated with Open Access Australasia to put together an event exploring the benefits of, and barriers to adopting, adapting and creating open educational resources. The event featured four case studies with academics who have adopted, adapted or created open educational resources, and unpacked some of the benefits they encountered and the barriers they identified.

The recording of the event is now available.

Along with the recording, we also wanted to share a bunch of resources that were posted in the chat during the event, and the responses the audience gave to some questions we asked during the event.

About the case studies

We featured four brief interviews with academics during the event, with details shared below. For each of these case studies, we have an extended version coming over the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that!

OER adoption with Dr Mathew Marques

Dr Mathew Marques used a psychology open textbook from the NOBA Project in his course at La Trobe University. He also switched the proprietary software usually used in the course for open source software. More on that coming soon in an extended version of Mathew’s case study!

OER adaptation with Dr Wendy Hargreaves

Dr Wendy Hargreaves led a project at the University of Southern Queensland that adapted the open textbook College Success for the Australian context. The adaptation, Academic Success, is available from USQ’s Pressbooks platform.

OER creation with Dr Govind Krishnamoorthy

Dr Govind Krishnamoorthy from the University of Southern Queensland, co-authored the open textbook Trauma Informed Behaviour Support: A Practical Guide to Developing Resilient Learners. The book is published on USQ’s open textbook platform and includes multimedia and quizzes to support student learning.

Indigenous knowledge and OERs with Dr Johanna Funk

The final case study explored how the underpinning philosophy of open educational practice aligns with Indigenous knowledge practices. Dr Johanna Funk is an academic at Charles Darwin University who uses OERs created by and with Indigenous creators in her teaching practice to encourage students to develop their understanding of Indigenous knowledge practices.

Tackling the barriers

For each of the case studies, we explored strategies for overcoming a barrier that the interviewee mentioned. For each barrier, I posed a question to the audience and to one of my co-facilitators. We tacked four barriers or challenges:

  1. Finding a textbook that covers all of the necessary content in sufficient depth.
  2. Understanding conventions around sharing and reusing content.
  3. Managing a large and complex open textbook project.
  4. Understanding Indigenous knowledge practices.

What the audience said

Browse through the questions we posed and the answers the audience gave.

Reading this post in an email? Click through to the blog to see the embedded slides.

What our panel said

Here’s what our panelists said about some of the barriers our interviewees highlighted.

Finding a textbook that covers all of the relevant content in sufficient depth

I asked Stephen Chang from La Trobe University what resources he would suggest to help academics work around this. You can hear his answer in the video, and here’s the list of resources he suggested:

Managing a large and complex project

One of the pieces of advice Dr Govind Krishnamoorthy offered other academics was to think about an open textbook development as a big project. I think a sense of not knowing where to start or how to manage an open textbook project can be a significant barrier for many academics. I asked my co-facilitator Tahnee Pearse to share a bit about how USQ library supports open textbook creation, and what resources she would suggest to help with tackling the management of an open text project. She told us about the Rebus Foundation. Their website is an excellent source of material on writing and publishing open textbooks.

They also run the Rebus Community, which is a “global community working together to create and share Open Educational Resources (OER). Here you’ll find people, processes, and tools to support your publishing efforts. You can use this platform to: 

  • start an open textbook project
  • give and receive guidance on publishing open textbooks
  • post and respond to calls for contributors, and
  • connect with global communities that are changing the world through Open Education.” (Rebus Community)

Additional resources

One of my co-facilitators, Adrian Stagg, also shared some general resources for authors of OERs. Here are the resources he spoke about:

A huge thank you to everyone involved in bringing this event together, including our case study interviewees, my co-facilitators (Fiona Salisbury, Stephen Chang, Tahnee Pearse, Adrian Stagg), interviewers (Nikki Andersen), and planners (Marion Slawson). And a big thanks to the Open Access Week organising committee, led by Thomas Shafee.

ICYMI: Catch up on these OER events from Open Access Week

It’s the week after Open Access Week, which means it’s time to catch up on all of the great events that you missed last week!

Australian university libraries offered a diverse range of online events last week and I have quite the list of recordings bookmarked to catch up on. There was so much on that it was tricky to prioritise, but many of the events were recorded and institutions have been releasing those recordings over the last few days. Here are three that I’ll be watching this weekend, all focused on open educational resources.

La Trobe eBureau presents: it’s publishing, but not as we know it – creating equitable and engaging resources for online learning

This panel discussion was hosted by the La Trobe eBureau as part of Open Access Week The panellists talked about the experience of writing an open textbook, the benefits and successes of this, and the challenges for normalising a culture of open educational practices in higher education. Facilitated by Fiona Salisbury, the panel featured La Trobe University academics Brianna Julien, Katherine Seaton, and Louise Lexis. Steven Chang, who is a member of the OER Advocacy Project Team gave an overview of La Trobe’s eBureau to start the event.

Watch the video.

Open access at UTS: How open textbooks will change your life

This panel session from the University of Technology, Sydney was facilitated by David Yeats and featured UTS academic Dr Amanda White, UTS Learning Design and Technology Specialist Dr Mais Fatayer, and Deakin University’s Dr Sarah Lambert. From the event description:

Libraries are under increasing financial pressure from textbook publishers, with costs skyrocketing and limited licence conditions. Open textbooks offer a solution that is cost-effective for students. They can also be modified for local needs to correct gender, socio-cultural and Indigenous under-representation in the curriculum. There is mounting research to show that students benefit from free textbooks in similar ways to scholarships and financial aid – by lifting grades and course progress rates.

Watch the recording.

And while you’re at it, if you haven’t yet discovered Dr Amanda White’s YouTube channel Amanda Loves to Audit, I highly recommend you take a look!

Open Education Practice Learning and Teaching grants panel discussion: Open book publishing – motivations and balanced outcomes

The University of Southern Queensland Library hosted a panel session featuring several USQ academics who were recipients of USQ’s Open Education Practice Learning & Teaching Grants and who have authored open books. Facilitated by Professor Christy Collis, the panellists included Assoc Prof Martin Kerby, Honorary Prof Tony Machin, Professor Tanya Machin and Assoc Prof Erich Fein.

Catch the recording.

Keep a lookout next week for a post about the OER event we co-hosted with Open Access Australasia during Open Access Week, Another kind of open. We’ll be sharing the recording along with all the resources shared in the chat and attendees’ responses to the polls we ran in the session, and extended versions of the case studies we shared during the event will follow over the next couple of weeks.

Paying it forward: Sharing OERS in the academic librarian community

This post was written by Annette Goodwin, Senior Client Services Librarian at Charles Sturt University. Annette is also a CAUL Digital Dexterity Champion.

Let’s start with an Open Educational Resources framing.  OERs are teaching, learning and research materials 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, n.d.). OERs can therefore include textbooks, curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video, software, coded elements and more.

Libraries and librarians around the world support and encourage educators, teachers and academics to create, locate, adapt and use OERs for the benefit of others.

But have you ever thought of the resources and objects you create as a librarian? Could they be considered OERs too? Absolutely!

Everyday, librarians create and use a wide range of resources that support learning, teaching and research at their institutions. Amazing session plans that unpack research methods  or interactive infographics about fake news. Workshops on how to make videos or seminar presentations demystifying referencing. Librarians are prolific creators! We need to harness the power of this work and share those resources with others. You may already use platforms like OER Commons or Merlot to locate OERs for your own use or recommend them to your academics, but have you considered sharing to the platforms yourself?

Let’s talk about a Digital Dexterity Commons

The Resource Sharing Group (RSG), a sub-group of the CAUL Digital Dexterity Community of Practice (CoP), has created a Group on OER Commons – Digital Dexterity Educators to help you understand and share OERs you’re creating. The CoP supports their organisations and the wider tertiary library community to build digital dexterity capabilities and drive positive change in relation to technology, so creating a OER sharing group seemed a natural fit.

The RSG is encouraging academic librarians around Australia and New Zealand to join our OER Commons group and share resources. If you’re not sure how to go about creating or sharing OERs, the RSG has created a couple of documents to help you to get started…

What can you do?

There are three steps that you can action:

  1. Check out and join the Digital Dexterity Educators Group on OER Commons,
  2. Consider whether the objects you create can be shared with a Creative Commons licence, and      
  3. Take the next step and, with your institution’s permission, share them with the group!

Reference: UNESCO (n.d.). Open Educational Resources (OER). https://en.unesco.org/themes/building-knowledge-societies/oer

Creating an open digital dexterity program: 23 Things

One of the most important contributions that libraries can make to their community is to create meaningful learning experiences, and openness is an important factor that can help achieve this. Curtin University Library has been working to create an open, participatory and connected learning space through its online digital dexterity program, 23 Things.

23 Things is a self-directed learning program designed to help students develop the digital capabilities required for successful study, work and life. It consists of online modules, workshops and creative challenges on topics as diverse as video editing, digital security and virtual reality.

Throughout the process of designing, creating and implementing the program, the Library has striven for openness in different ways.

We have been open to trying new approaches in learning design as part of our Students as Partners program, employing students from diverse disciplines and backgrounds to design the site, create the content and assist in running the program. Enabling student voices to be heard and fostering peer-supported learning has bought unique perspectives to the program and helped make the content relatable and accessible. As our student partners share their knowledge and experience with their peers, we have seen engagement, enthusiasm and friendships flourish.

An open learning community also requires removing barriers by offering different modes of engagement to cater to different learning styles and preferences. Activity-based learning has formed the bedrock of the program, moving away from passive information delivery. Taking a sequential approach with a focus on a new topic each week, we provide synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities through self-paced online modules, face-to-face and online workshops, creative challenges, and invitations to connect with others.

Another major objective is to make the content accessible and inclusive by ensuring diverse voices and perspectives are represented in the content. The storytelling element of the program, which we use to illustrate how digital skills can be applied in a workplace context, have also provided a rich opportunity for normalising diversity and inclusion. For example, through the fictional character of Charlie who is a ‘deadly yorga’ (or impressive woman), we are able to incorporate our local Nyungar indigenous language and culture into the learning experience.

23 Things is open to anyone to participate, and we have intentionally kept the content generic and applicable to the different contexts of study, work and life. Although the program is now part of Curtin Extra, the University’s extra-curricular credentials program, it also remains open to the wider community. As a result, we are customising our communications to the different groups who engage with the program.

23 Things is an Open Education Resource that is licensed under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-SA). Each self-paced module has been created as a single H5P file, and is very easy for others to download, re-use and modify.

Our efforts to create an open, inclusive learning space through 23 Things has been extremely rewarding. Being open to new approaches, welcoming anyone to participate, striving for inclusive and diverse representation, and open-licensing the content have all contributed to enabling our community to participate in and contribute to a meaningful, connected learning experience.

It matters how we build open knowledge

This post was written by Adrian Stagg, Manager (Open Educational Practices), University of Southern Queensland. Adrian is the Project Lead for the Open Educational Resources Advocacy project.

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The why of open knowledge is a strong focus for higher education institutions. In the open education space, advocates promote the benefits related to social equity, reducing costs, improving learning and teaching outcomes, seeking a market differential, or combinations of these. To achieve these benefits, the way we go about openness is critical. It matters how we approach developing, publishing, adapting and adopting open educational resources (OER).

When we’re advocating for OER, we’re hoping to get to a point where there is institutional support, leading to practical action – and this phase can be just as daunting as the advocacy phase. The manner in which an institution and its staff approach opening knowledge signals strength of commitment and maturity of practice, and impacts on outcomes.

This year, the theme of Open Access Week is It matters how we build open knowledge: building structural equity.

Over the last few years, Open Access Australasia has coordinated an Australian calendar of events with a focus on practicality, and deep conversations. This year is no different.

Whether you are new to openness, or have been involved for a while, the breadth of discussion in the 2021 program will be valuable to you and your colleagues. This is an opportunity to interact and learn in a free and open learning environment. The topics will include:

  • Ecologies of open access – for whom are we making knowledge open, and what are the next steps?
  • Changing the thinking around assessing the value of research, and ‘what counts’ as research output
  • Learning about open research practices from across a spectrum of disciplines
  • Open Science
  • Indigenous perspectives on open and closed knowledge and the implications for research
  • Making research outcomes more accessible
  • Openness in learning and teaching.

There’s even an opportunity to participate in a hackathon.

Browse through the program and start blocking out your calendar. If you’re fostering open access or open education at any scale, these sessions will be full of practical advise and critical conversations that will prompt you to reflect on how you approach open. Learning from others can help you to make your practice more successful.

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

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

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

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

A recording of the session is available on YouTube.

Why open textbooks?

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

Findings of the National Scoping Study

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

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

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

Unity in Diversity – Open textbooks to the rescue

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

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

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

What’s required?

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


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

How do we do it?

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

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

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

Policy options

Universities could:

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

Find out more

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

Reference: Lambert, S. R. (2018). Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 225–244. https://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/290/334