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An idea for sustaining accounting open textbooks

It happens often enough that I think we in the open education community need a special copyright irony icon for those times when you come across research articles about open education locked away behind copyright paywalls.

Ironic sign post for company called Copyright

Copyright? by Stephen Downes CC-BY

Here is another one (U.S. accounting professors’ perspectives on textbook revisions, Journal of Accounting Education) that contains a great suggestion on how the accounting education community can create & sustain open accounting textbooks.

The paper is a research study on publishers textbook revision cycles, and while it contains some interesting information about how publisher textbook revision cycles are too aggressive for most accounting faculty, the real meat of the article is at the end where the authors present a potential sustainable open textbook community publishing model  along the lines of the NOBA project.

The study was done through the lens of textbook cost and how textbook revisions are one of the major contributing factors to high textbook costs for students. Quicker textbook revision cycles benefit publishers as new editions undercut the used market. The quicker new editions of a popular textbook are released, the greater the opportunity publishers have to sell new books. Since publishers make no money off of used textbooks, there is a strong economic incentive for them to have new editions hitting the market every few years.

How often? The researchers looked at the revision cycles of 69 accounting textbooks over the course of 28 years and found that the time between textbook revisions is shrinking from a mean of 4.2 years in 1988, to 2.4 years in 2016.

While there are changes that need to happen to textbooks over time, it appears that faculty who teach the subject think this cycle is too aggressive. The researchers conducted a survey of 998 accounting faculty, and showed that 54.3% of faculty felt that this revision period was “too short” or “far too short”, preferring a 3.15 year revision cycle. As the authors note, “there is a disconnect between publishers’ current practices and faculty perception of the frequency with which new editions are needed.”

But the recommendation at the end of the paper for accounting educators to establish a Free Textbook Initiative is a fantastic one.

The authors would like to suggest another version of open-source textbooks, a Free Textbook Initiative (FTI) whereby a non-profit entity is created (led by a university, a major accounting firm, the AICPA, or the AAA) to oversee the collection and distribution of funds for writing textbook materials. This would be accomplished primarily with summer writing grants which would be awarded on the condition that all materials created would be put into the public domain and distributed electronically to students and teachers free of charge. For instance, five different professors might write chapters on accounting for leases. Teachers could then choose which chapter they prefer and assemble textbooks on a chapter-by-chapter basis with one chapter authored by professor A and perhaps another by professor B. Those professors with high usage rates for their material would be prime candidates for additional future funding. In this way, the FTI and the absence of frequently revised commercial textbooks would materially lower the cost of education for accounting professionals and create a role model for other disciplines.

Initially, the FTI model could be maintained and periodically updated by faculty in lower-level, static courses, such as principles of financial and managerial accounting, as our survey results indicate that professors teaching in these disciplines prefer longer periods between revisions. Many of the concepts covered in accounting principle courses have changed very little over time (e.g., transaction recording, preparing budgets, etc.), and any initial efforts to develop and compile new course material will potentially be useful for many years.

This does strike me as very similar to the model that NOBA uses in psychology, with individual faculty authoring and submitting openly licensed chapters on specific topics of expertise that other faculty could then mix and match to make their own custom textbooks.

Where the models are different is in the funding structure. NOBA is also a non-profit with sustaining funding coming from the Diener Education Fund. The authors in the accounting example propose a different source of funding.

Accounting education is uniquely placed to be at the vanguard of change in the creation and distribution of textbook materials because of the unique funding opportunities that are available from the profession. The AICPA (American Institute of CPA’s), individual accounting firms, and many businesses are capable and interested in funding initiatives that benefit accounting education. This is almost unique in higher education.

While I am not as keen about having commercial enterprises fund the development of educational material (see Canadian Geographic),  I do think that professional organizations like AICPA (or CPA Canada here) who already have an established interest in maintaining training and credentialing for their profession are well positioned to take on the task of financially support the development of open educational resources specific to their profession. Indeed, the AICPA in the U.S. already supports students through a scholarship program that gives $32,000 in scholarships to 4 students each year. While $5000 and $10,000 scholarships makes a definite impact for those 4 students, imagine the thousands of students who would be financially impacted with lower textbook costs if some of that scholarship money was turned into sustaining an open textbook initiative?

Source: Hammond, T., Danko, K., & Braswell, M. (2015). U.S. accounting professors’ perspectives on textbook revisions. Journal of Accounting Education. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaccedu.2015.06.004

What Pressbooks EDU means for BCcampus and Pressbooks Textbooks

Open Textbook Summit 2015

Hugh getting ready to talk Pressbooks and LibriVox at the Open Textbook Summit

A few weeks back at the Open Textbook Summit, Hugh McGuire from Pressbooks announced a new hosted Pressbooks offering aimed at institutions called Pressbooks EDU. Since that announcement, I’ve had a few emails from people asking what this might mean for BCcampus and our work with Pressbooks Textbooks.

In a nutshell, Pressbooks EDU does not change the work we at BCcampus are are doing with Pressbooks. BCcampus is still actively involved with development of the Pressbooks Textbooks platform, and will continue to contribute our code back to the core Pressbooks code base. This means that much of the work we (and by we I mean Brad) do in BC on Pressbooks Textbooks could eventually trickle down to this new hosted Pressbooks EDU instance, however individual decisions about what features and code we develop get merged back into the PB core are made by Hugh and his development team.

While we do share our work openly for the wider community to use, our primary mandated area is to serve the post-secondary institutions within British Columbia. BCcampus will continue to support faculty authoring and adapting open textbooks in Pressbooks as part of the BC Open Textbook project and, later this summer, we will be piloting a self-serve instance of Pressbooks for faculty and staff at BC post-secondary institutions to use.

Hugh’s new service now gives an option to institutions and organizations in other states and provinces who may not have the internal support or resources to set up and host their own instance of Pressbooks (and if you are from a post-sec in BC and are interested in Hugh’s hosted option, by all means contact him). Now institutions have a service provider to support them rather than have to take on the technical support of setting up an instance themselves which, of course, could happen as well as all the code is open source and institutions with the resources could set up their own instance of PB.

I see this as a great move by Pressbooks as it will likely bring some more interest to the platform in EDU now that there is a hosted option available. It will also provide Pressbooks with a source of funding to help grow Pressbooks, the business. In my opinion, a healthy business model for Pressbooks, the company, means a much healthier open source product in Pressbooks, the software.

We have worked closely with Hugh and Pressbooks in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Hugh and Pressbooks have been wonderful partners, and I am continually impressed with Hugh’s vision around what a book can be in a networked digital world, which he spoke about again recently at the Open Textbook Summit.

All in all, I see this as a wonderful development for Pressbooks in education, and for the open textbook publishing ecosystem as a whole.

Positive moves from University of Guelph on OpenEd

Some positive news today from the University of Guelph on the Open Ed situation.

The UofG was not opposed to sharing the mark more broadly within the post-secondary sector as evidenced by our efforts to provide a license to BC Campus. However, it is evident that the various meanings of the term ‘OpenEd’ will be challenged to co-exist and therefore, the University of Guelph is taking steps to release the official mark in its entirety, although this will make the mark available for others to attempt to make it their official mark or to apply to register it as a traditional trade-mark.

 

Teaching with WordPress

I am going to try to participate in the Teaching with WordPress course being offered by UBC’s Will Engle and Christina Hendricks. The course runs for the month of June. Earlier today, my BCcampus colleagues Amanda Coolidge, Tracy Kelly and Mary Burgess helped Will and Christina kick off the course with a live Collaborate session on open pedagogy.

This post is to get something into my new twp15 category which will (with any luck) have a few blog posts related to the course by the end of the month.

On using OpenEd: an opportunity

Update:  On June 8, 2015.  Some positive and encouraging news  from the University of Guelph. From the statement on their website they say, “it is evident that the various meanings of the term ‘OpenEd’ will be challenged to co-exist and therefore, the University of Guelph is taking steps to release the official mark in its entirety, although this will make the mark available for others to attempt to make it their official mark or to apply to register it as a traditional trade-mark.”

For the past 6 months my organization BCcampus has been in a dispute with the University of Guelph over our use of this:

BCcampus Open Education logo

Current BCcampus Open Education logo

Like many of you, we have always used the term OpenEd as a short form way of saying Open Education. It’s a term that is familiar to anyone working in the field of open education. In our community, many of us host forums and events using the term OpenEd. Around the world, people write blog posts, create websites, and host conferences using the term OpenEd. Our global community uses the term OpenEd interchangeably with Open Education to mean a series of educational practices and processes built on a foundation of collaboration and sharing.

BCcampus has been working with higher education institutions in British Columbia for over a decade on open education initiatives, so when it came time to redesign our main open education website (open.bccampus.ca), it was only natural that we would gravitate to the term that many people in BC and beyond associate with us: OpenEd. Our graphic designer, Barb Murphy, developed this logo in the fall of 2013 and, at the end of November, 2013, we launched our new website with our new OpenEd logo. We thought nothing of it and went along our merry way chugging along on the BC Open Textbook Project.

Little did we know that, on December 18, 2013, the University of Guelph trademarked OpenEd.

Last fall, we received an email from UGuelph asking us to stop using OpenEd. At first, we thought it was a joke. Someone trademarking OpenEd? Anyone involved in the open education community would realize how ridiculous that sounds. But after numerous emails, it became apparent that they were, indeed, serious about wanting us to stop using OpenEd.

We went back and forth with Guelph until it became apparent that they were not going to give up on their trademark claim, but for the cost of their legal paperwork to write up a permission contract ( $500), they would allow us to use the term in perpetuity to describe any open education activities in BC that we were associated with.

We considered the offer, and thought it a fair request from Guelph. They didn’t ask us for a licensing fee. The would give us the rights to use the mark for basically the cost of their lawyers writing up the contract. $500 is not a lot of money.

But then we thought about the rest of the open education community in Canada and how they will not be able to use the term unless they negotiate with Guelph as well. And we thought that, if we agreed to the terms, we would be legitimizing their claim to a term that runs against the very ethos of what we practice. We decided we couldn’t do it.

Then we thought perhaps we should fight and win the mark back? Wrestle the trademark from Guelph and then turn around and release the trademark with a CC0 license for the entire community to use (even Guelph). We thought we could prove our prior use, not only based on the fact that we started using the logo on our new website weeks before their claim was finalized in December of 2013, but going back even further to the 2009 OpenEd conference BCcampus sponsored at UBC in Vancouver where a wordmark very similar to what Guelph has trademarked was first used.

The 2009 Open Education Conference Logo. The conference was at UBC and sponsored by BCcampus

The 2009 Open Education Conference Logo. The conference was at UBC and sponsored by BCcampus

But after speaking with a lawyer, we discovered that the best we could do is win prior use rights for BCcampus, which would be good for BCcampus, but lousy for the entire open education community.

So in the end,  we have decided to change. We are currently working on dropping the term OpenEd from our logo and replacing it with the words Open Education.

This will not be cheap for us. The redesign is simple, but that BCcampus OpenEd mark is used in many places. Most notably, we now have to redo the covers for close to 90 textbooks in our open textbook collection as that OpenEd mark appears on the cover of every book.

Each cover on every open textbook in our collection needs to be changed

Each cover on every open textbook in our collection needs to be changed

And then once the cover is changed, we need to update 3 different websites where that cover might be used. Plus, we have created a ton of additional material that has the mark OpenEd on it that will now need to be scrapped.

In my mind, however, this is the right move. If BCcampus pays even a modest fee, then we accept that it is ok to copyright and trademark something that, I believe, should rightly belong to the community. Given my own personal values around openness and sharing of resources, it’s a bargain I did not want to make. And it doesn’t make sense to fight a battle that will win a victory for BCcampus, but not for the wider open education community. It would feel less than hollow.

So, we change.

The opportunity. If you are from Guelph and are reading this, there is another alternative. You have the trademark to the OpenEd mark. You control the IP. You can always choose to release the mark with a Creative Commons license and show the wider open education community that you understand the community and the open values that drive our work in education everyday. You can be a leader here by taking the simple act of licensing your mark with a CC license and releasing it to the community for everyone to use.

Update June2, 2015:  Trademarks and copyright are different ways to protect intellectual property, and the suggestion I made in the post is probably too simplistic a wish as CC licenses are meant to alleviate copyright, not trademark, restrictions (h/t to David Wiley for pointing me to this distinction).  However, it appears that the two can co-exist and you can openly license and protect trademarks at the same time, as this document from Creative Commons on trademarks & copyright suggests.

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