EdTech, Open, Textbooks

A sprinting we will go!

Sprint Board

Ok, I am pretty pumped about this. I’ve been working on this for the past few months and am very happy to see it coming to fruition. Earlier this week I got budget approval to go ahead with a textbook sprint.

In a nutshell, a textbook sprint is an intense 3-5 day event that brings together 6-8 authors to write a book. I wrote a post in November about our preliminary thinking around having a textbook sprint and last month posted some notes from a conversation I had with Erika Pearson about her textbook sprint at University of Otago in New Zealand last fall.

Now, coming out of a textbook sprint with a full textbook is the primary goal. But I have another equally important goal for the event, one that relates directly to the sustainability of an open textbook. I am hoping that the faculty who take part in the co-creation of the textbook emerge feeling a sense of ownership around what they have created in this intense burst of activity, and that this feeling of ownership translates into the beginnings of a community of practice going forward. Having this intense event act as the impetus which leads to stewardship of the textbook.

I’ll be writing more about the logistics of the event, but for now I am happy to say that Adam Hyde will be coming to facilitate the event. Adam has developed a methodology for book sprints & has completed over 70 book sprints resulting in a finished book every time. It’s an impressive track record.

Originally I gave a thought to facilitating the event myself. But after reading this article (PDF) from Phil Barker, Lorna M. Campbell and Martin Hawksey at Cetis in the U.K. who, along with Amber Thomas at the University of Warwick, worked with Adam on an OER-oriented book sprint I changed my mind. Specifically, this quote stuck in my head:

“It is my belief that Book Sprints succeed or fail based primarily on facilitation. I have seen sprints fail because of inexperienced facilitation by people who do not really understand what the process is and how all the issues come into play”

So I contacted Adam, and I am very happy I did. After speaking to Adam I was quite impressed with his thinking around what it takes to have a successful book sprint, and his thinking about the crucial role that an impartial facilitator plays in making sure the project gets done in the limited time allotted. He also understands the importance of positive group dynamics and creating an atmosphere of true collaboration in order to reach that goal we have of developing a community moving forward. And he seems like an interesting guy who I’d like to hang out with for a few days. I am really looking forward to learning from him.

The idea is we will bring together 6 faculty for 4 days in June, hunker down at SFU Burnaby UBC Vancouver & bang out a credible, useable open textbook.

The dates we have are June 9-12 and the subject area we are going to concentrate on is 1st year Geography.

Geography is a broad discipline, so to help narrow the scope I spoke with with the head of the Geography articulation committee here in BC, Jim Bowers at Langara, to get a better sense as to where we should focus our efforts. After a bit of brainstorming, I think we are going to look at developing a regional Geography of Canada textbook. There are a couple of reasons for this focus.

  1. Regional Geography is a common 1st year course across institutions in B.C. so it would have broad appeal.
  2. Being that it is a Geography of Canada book, the textbook would have appeal outside of B.C. so we could create something that had value for other jurisdictions as well.
  3. We have an opportunity with the B.C. Open Textbook project to create something that is needed in our province (Geography is one of the top 40 subject areas identified in our early textbook needs analysis), but will probably not be picked up as a development project by any of the other major open textbook initiatives currently underway, such as OpenStax College or SUNY Open Textbooks.  Those projects are primarily U.S. based projects and the development of a textbook so Canada specific will be of little interest to them. Unfortunately, the downside of choosing such a Canada specific project for the book sprint means that we are creating something that will probably have little interest for those projects in return, but I am confident that there are many other areas where our work will compliment each others.
  4. There are existing open Geography resources that I think we can draw on to help seed the book with content. When I look in SOLR (our repository of open content here in BC) I can find over 30 Geography resources listed there, including many full first year open Geography courses. This is content that has been created over the years by B.C. faculty funded by provincial OPDF funds, and I see this as an incredible opportunity for us to build and reuse open content that has already been created by B.C. Faculty.

Next steps now that the funding & logistics are in place is finding game faculty. If you know of any faculty who teach Geography in B.C. who might be game for a challenge, please direct them to this page on the open.bccampus.ca website, or have them contact me directly at clalonde@bccampus.ca.

Photo: Sprint Board by Rool Paap used under CC/ CC-BY license

CC BY 4.0 A sprinting we will go! by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Profile Picture for Clint Lalonde
Wrangler of learning technologies by day, Dad, cyclist, soccer fan and, lately, home roaster of coffee by night. INFJ. I am the Manager of Educational Technologies at BCcampus, working primarily on open education projects. This blog is a personal blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BCcampus.


  1. __I imagine there will be editorial challenges in meeting Faculty’s specific learning objectives with fine-grained content that is written by authors in such a way that Faculty-customized rearrangement of the sequence / order of content won’t confuse the Student. Professional customization services required by Faculty are, of course, offered by publishers. _ Textbook Quality, Standards and Efficacy have evolved and continuously improved throughout its’ many iterations. Yet, with all due respect to David Wiley, his contribution to cost-cutting isn’t simultaneously advancing the state-of-the-art. _ I also follow research on the impact of the cost of education and hope that Economists weigh-in so the quality of actionable data improves. You likely have seen this research which breaks-down Students’ Budgets _ http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-estimated-undergraduate-budgets-2013-14#Key%20Points _ It would appear that a textbook represents only roughly half a percent of a student’s annual budget, [10 courses/textbooks per year] – I’m having difficulty seeing this as the “tipping point” for students’ decisions, nor does it suggest to me “There is a direct relationship between textbook costs and student success” and, quoting Cable Green again, “We shouldn’t allow Open to be any lower quality, than non-Open things. Right? So, if we’re going to use Open Textbooks, they had better be as good, or better than, commercial textbooks that are $175. — and, if they’re not, either don’t use them, or, I would argue, fix them”. Presentation Q&A: skip to 1:23:50 _ http://conferences.upcea.edu/SOLS/

  2. __I have a deep interest in Open Textbooks too, and go looking through as many pages as I find – comparing Design to Textbooks I love. I started looking at the Recommended Geography Textbooks at SFU, wondering which of the most-Faculty-used Textbooks to study and ‘mentally edit’ into a viable option to this commercial textbook. Aiming to have as good or better quality, and set on the meaning of “high quality”, I’d want to meet and discuss their book – calling the key folks listed in the front matter, Designers-Editors in particular, and Product Marketing. Share subject expertise for Geography Fundamentals written in a voice supported by visual communications – see design stage prototypes. . . exciting project, as you’ve said. __ I was glad you gave the video link to OpenStax College – The impact of a Free Book – I’ve seen it several times before, and really read the copy, and still don’t see free as a value proposition. Since I have a lot of respect for great Textbooks, the question of value of a free textbook will come out of comparing to the Faculty-used textbook. Any old Economist can guess where this student will spend this money, money directed from their textbook budget, added to discretionary spending budget. More Courses?

    1. You touch on some really important points. Thanks for the comment. For me, there is real value for open textbooks beyond the free. Specifically, open textbooks afford a level of autonomy for faculty and their learning resources that commercial textbooks don’t. The open license doesn’t just mean free. It also means free to reuse, remix, modify to meet the very specific learning objectives of the course. This is an affordance you don’t get with commercial resources, at least not at the granular level that you can have with an open resource. As for the quality, you ask a very good question when you say “set on the meaning of high quality.” It’s important to know what it is we mean when we say “quality”. According to David Wiley, the primary quality we should be worried about as educators is whether the resource helps the student learn. It’s a point I agree with. Finally, on the point about what students would spend their extra money on, it’s not that this becomes extra disposable money for students. As much of the research is showing, students make very real academic decisions based on finances. They do not take courses because textbook costs are too high. They try to go through courses without a textbook, or pirate the books. I believe that for some students, cost barriers are real barriers to higher education. And it could be *the* barrier for those students we never see in our institutions. Really appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  3. __It is very interesting to follow the Open Textbook evolution through its’ various iterations and wish you all the best in achieving your goals. I’m looking forward to future posting with details about Geography Course Students whose expectations you hope to meet. Do you expect this textbook will become Faculty & Students first choice, or is it aimed only at Students who likely will not opt to buy or rent the Faculty recommended textbooks?

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