Prepping for the Geography Textbook Sprint

We are just over a week away from our first shot at running a textbook sprint and I’m feeling anxious, excited, and nervous.

The sprint will bring together 5 Geography faculty who will, over the course of 4 days, complete a first year Geography textbook. The venue at UBC is booked, the faculty are pumped and ready to go (we’ve got people from SFU, UBC, Okanagan College, and one person from both University of Fraser Valley & BCIT). Along with those people, we’ll also have Adam Hyde facilitating the event for the 4 days. To support the faculty, a number of my BCcampus colleagues will be on hand; Amanda Coolidge will be bringing her Instructional Design sensibility. Brad Payne his programming chops, and Hilda Angreeni is on board as the designated graphic designer/illustrator. All will bring a big dose of awesomeness and enthusiasm. Late, but very welcome, additions are librarians Jon Strang and Erin Fields from UBC to assist with researching.

So, we have the team in place.

Prepping for this has been making sure the logistical details are taken care of – venue, accommodations, food, supplies, networks, communication, etc. That has taken a good bulk of time and is increasing as we get closer to the June 9th kickoff. But a big part of the work has also been to try to continue some of the research I started earlier this spring on the pedagogical qualities of a good textbook.

It’s a fine line here because a big part of what makes a book sprint successful is this sense of shared ownership and responsibility that comes from this little community of people we are pulling together. Much of what the textbook will be is determined by the people in the room in the first hours of the sprint. Everyone needs to feel that they have had input to make the book in order for the process to work. But we did want to try to provide something of a framework and some examples of the elements of a textbook to try to help with setting the structure of the book.

One item I found that I quite liked was this Wikibooks article that talks about the structure of a textbook and how structure aides learning. After spending some time with Amanda and Hilda talking about the 5 rules for structuring content mentioned in the article, we thought that making it into an infographic and having it as a poster would be a useful tool to have in the room. So, with Hilda’s design magic and Amanda’s wordsmithing, we have this nice little artifact adapted from the original Wikibooks articles that we think will be a decent reminder of some of the principles in play when structuring content.

RulesOfTextbooksReally, when you look at those principles, you can see that these principles could easily apply to structuring any learning material, not just a textbook. Hopefully it will be a useful guide to help get us started developing the textbook, and provide some overarching advice that can help us mesh the work of 5 different content experts into a consistent and unified finished product.

I have to say, I am nervous about all of this. We’re asking a lot of the participants to create a book from start to finish in 4 days. And not just any book, but a book full of facts that need to be verified and checked, engaging learner activities, and pedagogical elements that make it a compelling alternative to a commercial textbook. It is a challenge, for sure. But beyond that it is an experiment in collaboration. Some things will work, some things won’t. It’s a first for all of us and right now there are questions that can only be answered in the doing. And I am ready to do.

 

The #otsummit in Vancouver next week

Busy week next week. We are hosting the 2nd annual Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver. Last year I had been on the job for only a few weeks when this event rolled around & remember feeling very n00b-ish in a room full of people from well established projects like OpenStax, Siyavula, CCCOER, and Open Course Library (along with others like Creative Commons & student advocates). There were about 30 participants and it proved to be a great introduction to the open textbook community.

Me in full gesticulation at the 2013 Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver. Image from Creative Commons & used under CC-BY license.

This years event has scaled up. There are over 130 people registered. Many are from those same projects & groups, but there are also many new people in attendance. We have more faculty attending. Librarians will be well represented, as will senior post-sec administration. Students will again make up a good portion of the crowd, including some from Saskatchewan, where that province (along with Alberta) have recently announced their own open textbook initiatives. There has been a provincial agreement (pdf) signed between the 3 western provinces to work collaboratively together on OER projects, which is a really wonderful development in terms of encouraging further use and development of open educational resources in Canada. Because of that agreement, there will be some pretty high level government officials from BC and Saskatchewan in attendance.

That is a lot of people representing different stakeholders in one room talking open education.

Brad and I will be speaking for about 20 minutes on some of the technology we are using for the Open Textbook project. Much of my short piece will be built around some of what I have written about before about the decisions we made when architecting our sites to reach some specific goals, like findability of the resources (a long standing complaint of many faculty that we wanted to try to alleviate with our project as much as possible), the public display of reviews of the books, and the ability to enable choice of format for students. Brad is going to dig into PressBooks and the work he has done extending it for open textbook authoring (and I am happy to see that Hugh McGuire, the developer of PressBooks is going to be attending)

This year, I am heading into the 2 days with some clearer conversations in mind, and the biggest one that I am looking forward to is with David Wiley & Bill Fitzgerald around their work developing a new OER publishing platform called Candela. This is very exciting because Candela is being developed on WordPress, which is the same DNA that PressBooks has. I am eager to find out about their roadmap and see where the connections between Candela and PressBooks Textbooks may intersect.

I am also eager to connect with some of the faculty members who will be participating in our open textbook sprint in June as I know they will be in attendance. So far, I have only conversed with this group of faculty via email, and I know some will be in attendance.

I am also looking forward to conversing with faculty in general around a very specific issue we continue to grapple with – enabling customization (or remix or adaptation – pick your term). As we head into this phase of the open textbook project, we need to start making some very deliberate development choices to enable adaptation. So I want to take this opportunity to ask faculty questions about the best way to enable customization to happen. I am fleshing out some thinking around the ways we can enable customization of open textbooks to happen, depending on a number of factors. But much like the conversations I want to have with institutional IT staff when I am at BCnet in a few weeks, I want to hear from those that are on the ground what we can do to enable them to do the types of adaptations they need to do in order to adopt the material.

Registration is closed, but we will be live streaming if you want to join in virtually. Twitter hashtag is #otsummit.

See you in Vancouver next week.

 

Fleshing out the pedagogical features of textbooks

In a post from last week I wrote about some of the research I’ve begun doing around the pedagogical features of a textbook as I try to identify the features of textbooks that we need to make sure we include as we begin to construct open textbooks.

In my initial scan, I’ve found a few interesting papers & studies looking at the effectiveness of pedagogical aids in textbooks. This morning I read two papers from Regan Gurung at the University of Wisconsin (Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance published in 2003 & Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? from 2004) and one earlier paper from 1996 from Santa Clara University (Wayne Weiten, Rosanna Guadagno & Cynthia Beck) titled Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids.

These 3 papers are specific to Psychology textbooks and are primarily built around student perceptions of the pedagogical aids in the books & whether or not students used them.

Student perceptions are important, especially if they do not use a pedagogical aide since an “unused pedagogical aide cannot facilitate learning” (Weiten, Guadango & Beck 1996), but perception is just one factor I want to look at & Gurung’s research digs a bit deeper than student perceptions to see if there is a connection between student use of pedagogical aids and better exam performance.

Weiten, Guadango & Beck surveyed 134 students asking them how familiar they were with the different pedagogical aids in their textbook, the probability of use and their perceived value of each aid. From their research, Weiten, Guadango & Beck showed that the top 3 pedagogical aids students used in their textbooks were bold-faced technical terms, chapter & section summaries & glossaries.

Mean Ratings of Pedagogical Aids (Weiten, Guadango & Beck, 1996)

An interesting takeaway from their research (although it is over 20 years old now) is that at the time “virtually no research has assessed the usefulness of the numerous pedagogical aids that are now standard far in psychology texts”. Meaning that, in the views of these researchers, the features of a textbook that have been put in place to help student learn weren’t put there because they have been shown to help student learn.

Again, the caveat that I am looking at research from 20 years ago, but so far my scan has shown something similar – there is not a huge amount of empirical  research on whether these features of a textbook actually help student learn. In fact, some of the research from Gurung hints at something quite the opposite; that there may be some textbook features in use that we take for granted that may actually hurt student performance.

Do they help or hinder?

In Gurung’s 2003 research Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance,  Gurung surveyed more than 200 undergraduate students and asked them to rate the usefulness of 10 pedagogical aids and instructional techniques (Gurung’s research wasn’t specific to textbook aids, but included a number of textbook specific aids like outlines, chapter summaries & reviews, boldfaced & italicized terms, key terms & practice questions found in a textbook).

Looking at the types of aids mentioned in the research that are textbook specific (ie eliminating items like paper assignments and research participation) and the results showed that the top textbook 3 aids used by students were boldface terms, italicized terms and practice questions (with chapter summaries & reviews a very close 4th). In terms of helpfulness, students rated boldfaced (92%) and italicized (81%) terms as the most useful pedagogical aid, followed by practice tests questions (77%), and chapter summaries & reviews (73%) all as being moderately to extremely helpful.

Reported Use & Helpfulness of Pedagogical aids (Gurung, 2003)

Reported Use & Helpfulness of Pedagogical aids (Gurung, 2003)

When Gurung compared the reported use and helpfulness of the textbook specific aids and student performance based on their test scores he determined that “correlation analysis did not show any positive relations between the reported use of a pedagogical aids and learning as measured by exam performance” and that textbook authors, “…should not feel pressured to load their books with such aids.” Gurung also notes that the lack of effectiveness of textbook pedagogical aids isn’t an isolated finding & quotes research from 2001 by Blach (guess what is going high on my list for further reading).

Can pedagogical aids actually hurt learning?

One of the really interesting findings from Gurungs 2003 paper was that there was one correlation between a pedagogical aid and exam outcomes was “significant” and that had to do with key terms. Students who rated key terms as being helpful had lower test scores than those who did not use key terms. However, Gurung does note that “the correlational nature of the data does not allow for a true test of this question (can a pedagogical aid hurt exam performance)” and there are a few significant limitations to the research, including not accounting for student performance, ability or effort, nor the amount of time the student spent studying. Also important to note that Gurung only looks at one outcome; exam performance.

Still, it isn’t hard to see how a pedagogical aid could negatively affect student performance if the student tries to get by on the built in aids as an alternative to doing the actual reading. If a student sees the aid as a shortcut to doing the actual reading, then it isn’t hard to imagine that these tools could affect student learning. A scenario where a student is crunched for time and instead of doing the reading for the course instead relies on the chapter summaries to give them all the information could be fairly common.

Gurung followed up his 2003 research with a 2004 study that supports the ineffectiveness of the pedagogical aids we seem to take for granted. In his paper Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? Gurung assessed 240 introductory psychology undergraduates (again looking at test scores) and showed that the reported use of aids “did not positively relate to student performance on any exams” and again showed that key terms might hurt test performance. In this research, Gurung did try to account for the 2 limitations he noted in his first, namely student ability & time studying.

My takeaway

I’m still early in my research so it is hard to draw any definite conclusions yet. But articles like these help me flesh out pedagogical features of our textbooks. For example, all the articles note that students use bold and italicized text (whether it is actually increases their learning is another matter all together). But knowing that those features will actually be used by students helps to guide our advice to open textbook authors. When you make a textbook, concentrate on the way you use bold and italicized text because students will be looking for that to help them understand the content.

This is also helping curb my assumptions that just because something appears in a lot of textbooks doesn’t mean it is either a good nor a proven aid to learning, or that students will use the aid in the way it is intended. What we may be doing when we add features that we think students will use to connect deeply with the material may, in fact, be convenient devices students use to shortcut their learning. I’ll be interested to see if this issue of pedagogical feature as shortcut instead of pathway to deeper understanding comes up more in the literature.

References

Weiten, W., Guadagno, R. E., & Beck, C. A. (1996). Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids. Teaching of Psychology, 23(2), 105-107. doi:10.1207/s15328023top2302_8

Gurung, R. A. R. (2004). Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? Teaching of Psychology, 31(3), 164-166. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3103_1

Gurung, R. A. R. (2003). Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance. Teaching of Psychology, 30(2), 92-95. doi:10.1207/S15328023TOP3002_01

 

Complex Simplicity

Brian’s been a-blogging, and I am grateful for his latest post where he dives into his own personal edtech history.

I took part in a lot of conferences, workshops and focus groups with higher education people who attended those “learning object” sessions because they were interested in reusing materials using the as-yet untapped power of the world wide web. I listened as “serious” educational leaders dictated that the platforms require users to adopt unfathomable and complex metadata to ensure that no tangential learning materials be encountered by mistake. I took part in meeting after meeting where technology leaders and faculty representatives demanded strict access controls to limit sharing within elite consortia or collections of funding partners, or even within faculties or departments. Later on in the process, I would try to facilitate workshops with other groups of working educators that rightfully complained that the resulting systems were unwieldy and useless.

I’m grateful that he wrote that because these stories and experiences from early efforts to build systems that enable reuse of OER are important for me to hear. They help me understand what has and has not worked with these earlier efforts and give me a historical frame of reference for the work I am doing now. Learn from our collective edtech history.

Brian’s post (and a conversation I’ve been having with Adam Hyde in response to my post yesterday about the work Brad has been doing to extend PressBooks to enable some of that unfathomable and complex metadata that Brian referred to) have been making me thinking about remix & audience. Specifically, the different audiences we have who may want to reuse or remix the content we are creating as part of the open textbook project.

First, there are educators; the faculty. The people who are using the resource on the ground in their class. For this group, simplicity & ease of use are key consideration. As Brian points out:

Later on in the process, I would try to facilitate workshops with other groups of working educators that rightfully complained that the resulting systems were unwieldy and useless.

Adam’s comment underscores that point

The trick is in the re-use. Making it easy to reuse. I think copy and paste is MUCH slighted in this area. It solves a lot of problems that other ‘more sophisticated’ approaches don’t (and its OS independent). IMHO tech systems that try and ‘enable’ remix beyond what C+P can do often create problems and ‘dis-empower’ people since somehow the techno whizzy magic makes them forget that Cut and Paste even exists

The power of cut and paste. Such a simple tool. And one I bet that most educators use on a routine basis. I wonder what kind of answer you would get from faculty if you asked them if they have ever “remixed” content? Chances are the answer would be no. But ask them if they have ever cut and paste content from one place and used it in another and the answer might be different. Ever copied a photo off a webpage and used in a lecture presentation? Congratulations! You have just remixed content! You have taken something from one context and reused it in another (and I appreciate Adam’s point about the language we use to talk about this remix/adapt/translation behaviour that we are trying to enable).

Really, isn’t a course a remix? I mean, you are taking a whole bunch of disparate content – a textbook from here, some course readings from here, some quiz questions you create, a YouTube video – and you stick it all together to create “a course”. Something new. Something that didn’t exist before. Made from disparate parts. Isn’t a course the result of remixing a whack of content together? (Before the ID’s reading this go apoplectic, I know that there is much more than content selection that goes into course development. My example is merely to make the point that “remix” is something educators do all the time already).

So, when it comes to enabling faculty to “remix” our open textbooks, maybe we need to focus more on really simple things like cut and paste. I wonder if that message would resonate with faculty moreso than “remix this textbook” which, as you can imagine, is a pretty daunting task for reasons beyond the technical challenges (like licensing). Here is a textbook. Feel free to copy and paste a case study for your own course notes. Like that chart in chapter 3? Copy it. Put it in your presentation.

Easy. Simple. That is the mantra for audience #1.

Then there is the second audience group for our content where remix has a different, grander meaning. Bigger scale. I think of projects like ours. What can I do to our content now to make it easier for a future project like ours to reuse our material? This is where the importance of things like metadata comes in. For these projects, we need to pay attention to more complex pieces to ensure that the content can be shared and reused by these other projects at scale. Want to take 12 books from our collection and put them in yours? Here’s a way to do that. Want to extract all the self assessment questions from that Sociology textbook we made? Oh, here is an API that allows that.

Both those audiences need to be satisfied if we really want our project to have lasting value, both locally within BC and for the wider education system.

 

The pedagogical features of a textbook

Ever since I’ve started working on the BC open textbook project, one of the bits of research that I’ve wanted to do was deconstruct “the textbook” to dig into what exactly are the pedagogical features that make a textbook a textbook. As we enter into the creation phase of open textbooks – and with a book sprint coming up in June where we will be creating a textbook from scratch in 4 days – I’ve started taking a closer look at what makes a textbook a textbook.

Specifically I am trying to identify a couple of things.

First, I want to identify a list of common pedagogical features that textbooks have that make them different from other types of books. By features I mean what are the specific elements or attributes of a textbook that help students understand the content in the book. This can range from chapter outlines and summaries to practice questions and glossaries.

Second, I want to find out to what degree do those pedagogical features actually help students understand the content. Here I am searching for some empirical research that shows that specific features of a textbook may be more useful than others when it comes to helping students learn.

Third, does the format of the textbook change or alter the usefulness of a pedagogical feature? By this I mean are there features that were created specifically for printed textbooks that may not be relevant to an electronic version of the book, and are there pedagogical elements that can be done in the electronic version that can’t be done (or are done differently) in the printed version? This third question is challenging, but is important in the context of our work since students have the choice of format types – physical copies or electronic copies and the work we are doing has to be sensitive to the formats (and I think I have a future post brewing that may touch upon my frustration at having to work with both formats, both from a technical perspective and from an educational culture perspective. I’ve easily spent a majority of my time dealing with issues around “the print” vs issues with “the electronic”).

So far I’ve identified 24 different pedagogical features (or aids as I have seen them referred to) that are commonly found in textbooks. These are:

Pedagogical Aid/Feature
Chapter Objectives Chapter Learning Outcomes Chapter Outline
Checklists Headings & Subheadings Bold & Italicized text
Table of Figures Index Focus Questions
Chapter Summary or Review  Case Studies and Vignettes  Glossary/Key Terms
Demonstrations  Examples of Best Practices Maps
Interviews  Illustrations (which include photos, diagrams, charts & figures) Simulations
Further Reading suggestions Timelines Practice Questions
Multimedia (audio/video) Pronunciation Guide Table of Contents

From here, I am creating a description of what the feature is, what pedagogical purpose it might have for learners, what research I can find about that feature to see if there is any evidence that these aids help students, and, finally, some thoughts around how the feature might be different in the print and electronic versions of a textbook.

There is one pedagogical feature that I have intentionally left off of this list is, arguably, the most important pedagogical feature and that is structure. A strong structure provides a logical, well thought out path for students to navigate the content. But given the importance of structure, I think I need to tackle that on its own, perhaps using these 5 rules of textbook structure as a starting point.

Extending PressBooks

The other reasons I am trying to take this deconstructionist approach to analyzing features of a textbook is that we want to see if there are ways we can extend PressBooks to accommodate what we identify as the most useful pedagogical features. For example, in the user interface of PressBooks, Brad Payne has built some textbook specific buttons that insert specific types of content blocks into PressBooks (I spoke a bit about this in an earlier blog post). What we want to do is not only build buttons in the editing interface that inserts visible elements (like say a green box around a case study), but also inserts metadata that identifies that specific pedagogical feature as a chapter summary. Brad has been looking at the emerging Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) to see how we can begin to tag bits and pieces of the content in our textbook.

This is pretty exciting stuff. Theoretically, if we create a button in the user interface to insert a case study into the textbook, it could also insert metadata that identifies that block of content as a case study. Once you have content identified, you could then build API’s that could extract the textbook specific content chunks. From a reuse and remixability perspective, this makes a textbook modular. Build an API that can, for example, extract just the practice questions in a book and you can create a separate practice question handbook with nothing but the practice questions from the book. In essence, we can make the book modular and with that modularity comes flexibility to potentially mix and match content in interesting and unique ways.

But before we get to the point where we could have modular & remixable content, we need to focus and determine what are the really useful pedagogical features of a textbook that improves student learning. Once we can answer that, then we have some footing to proceed to the next step & build the technology to enable that.

 

How BCcampus PressBooks is different than PressBooks.com

I met with Dr. Tony Bates a few weeks back to talk about open textbook publishing. Tony is looking to self-publish an open textbook and was looking for some advice on how to technically go about publishing.

I mentioned to him that we are using PressBooks as our primary publishing platform and began to explain to him a few of the differences between our version of PressBooks and the hosted version of PressBooks.com as we have been customizing the WordPress plugin quite a bit to meet the specific needs of our project and of open textbook development.

First off, when thinking about PressBooks, you have 2 options, much like with it’s parent project WordPress. There is PressBooks.com, which is the hosted version of the software. Sign up for an account and you can start writing your book in a few minutes with a minimum of technical fuss. While you can create books for free on PressBooks.com, when you output the final PDF or ePub version, there is some PressBooks.com branding and watermarking, as you can see here in this small book I created at PressBooks.com.

And then there is the open source PressBooks plugin. Use this plugin on a vanilla install of WordPress and you have an (almost) fully functioning version of PressBooks.com. I say almost because there is a dependency that costs money (if you are an academic institution – there is a free license for Prince that inserts a Prince logo into the output) . In order to output PDF versions of your book, you will (if you are an institution) need to purchase and install a tool called Prince XML to do the output rendering into PDF format. The developers of the PressBooks plugin felt that this was a better PDF output engine than some open source alternatives to output PDF documents. And it is certainly a robust product that does a great job of turning your PressBooks powered WordPress site into a PDF document suitable for print or digital distribution. But the institutional licensing cost might be a limitation for those interested in fully open source digital publishing, and a barrier for others who wish to use the open source plugin.

That said, there is no additional charge for the ePub rendering engine in PressBooks and really, when we talk about digital publishing, ePub is the format we are really interested in. Add in that you get a very nicely formatted website version of the book (really a tricked out WordPress theme that strips away a lot of the WordPress widgets and extras and puts the focus on readability) and you have a very functional “publishing” platform for most books.

However, our needs are a bit specific as we are publishing open textbooks and those have some special needs. So, along the way we (well, very little me, a lot BCcampus developer Brad Payne) have been making modifications and adding plugins to make PressBooks work for us for the BC Open Textbook project.

Recently, we have begun pulling all of these changes together and are working on developing a second plugin that is open textbook specific. This plugin is not a replacement of the PressBooks plugin, but would work with the PressBooks plugin and hopefully make it a bit easier for someone who wants to mimic our setup do so locally (and as an aside, my head is swimming these days of what that might mean & if we should work towards getting to a distro where we could distribute not only a BCcampus-like textbook PressBooks plugin, but also an entire collection of textbooks made in PressBooks, ready to be installed locally at an institution. A repository and editing tool completely seeded with 40 open textbooks ready to be customized and edited with PressBooks. But that is still in the early thinking stages.

So, what have we been doing to our local version of PressBooks that makes it different than PressBooks.com. Specifically, here are the changes we have made, and the plugins we are using.

Plugins

  • The Creative Commons Configurator, which adds a CC license to the bottom of each webpage in the HTML version of the book and adds in CC metadata to each webpage so that it can be correctly indexed by search engines as CC content (it also enables tools like OpenAttribute to work). Brad has actually been working on customizing this plugin to allow us to input & display information when the content is a derivative and based on someone elses work.
  • Relevansi, a search engine plugin for the website version of the book, reducing the need to generate a traditional index.
  • LaTex for WordPress allows us to use this popular science & math markup language Actually, not what we are using anymore. We’re using a modified version of WP Latex, which has been committed to PressBooks core
  • MCE Table Buttons to add tables because, you know, textbooks have tables.
  • Brad also built another MCE plugin called MCE Textbook Buttons which adds 3 new buttons to the TinyMCE toolbar that create styled fields for Learning Outcomes, Key Terms, and Exercises. These buttons add some visual styling and create coloured boxes for al the different output types. There isn’t any special metadata associated with the boxes that the buttons create that might define them as Learning Outcomes, Key Terms, etc. It is simply a visual style difference.

Code Changes

  • We’ve altered the theme to flips the table of contents and description fields on the book homepage so that the ToC appears above the description. For most users of the book (students) the ToC will be more important than the description as they will have probably be sent directly to the site by their instructor.
  • Added in the Relevansi search box. (Brad noted that Relevansi is still not fully incorporated into the new plugin. The search box is there, but the Relevansi plugin integration is still being worked on).
  • We’ve disabled comments. This is a tough one, and one we had to make a decision about based on logistics. Ideally, these books would be used by students. Faculty using the book would send them to the book. But these books have no instructor “owner” per se. There is no subject matter expert ready to respond to potential questions a student may have about the content they are reading. In other words, there is no one watching the comment shop. So, you can imagine a scenario where a student comes to a page, has a question about the content, posts their question in the comment field and then…..gets no response because no one see their question. Discouraging and not very useful. So, we’ve disabled comments on the site. But this is one that we may fire up again in the future. I just don’t know if the potential benefit is worth the potential risk just yet. If there was a dedicated instructor monitoring the resource, then great. But I worry about the instructor who uses the book getting slammed by their student for not answering their question because they didn’t even know that the student asked the question.
  • Added a footer line to the PDF and ePub outputs that says “This book is available for free from open.bccampus.ca” This is a tip I picked up from David Harris & the OpenStax project as a way to combat the selling of the textbook by third parties. Not that it is wrong to sell the books released with a full CC-BY license, but if someone does buy the book, they should know that there is and always will be a free version of that book available from the open site. It’s not perfect and discovery would happen after the fact, but maybe someone who buys the book might use the information to contact us and tell us that someone is selling copies of the book so at least we know.
  • In the admin area, we’ve also changed the Feedback link that floats to the right of the admin screen to send us at the project a message asking for help. In vanilla PB the Feedback remarks go to PB.

There are also a number of customizations that Brad has made that have been contributed back to the PB project, including Brad’s import engine, which imports Word, ODT and ePub files into PressBooks. This is our preferred method of changing the plugin – contribute back bits to PressBooks first and let the project decide if they want to merge the code into vanilla PressBooks. But there are some bits that might be of no interest to the PB developers that we would like to have, hence our own custom development.

Our goal is to have the infrastructure in place to begin recruiting other developers to participate in the development of more open textbook specific features by April. We have a couple of events happening, including the Open Textbook Summit and the annual BCNet conference where we want to talk in more detail about the project and our changes to PB. So, if you have some WP chops and are looking for an open source open ed project, consider yourself invited to come & contribute. Especially if you have some knowledge of ePub3 as getting ePub3 output is a big goal in the near future (see https://github.com/unit29868/pressbooks)

Here are a few screenshots of the differences.

Example of the Key Takeaway & Exercises callout boxes

 

What our book homepage looks like. Slightly different than vanilla PB in that it flips the Book Description with the Table of Contents at the bottom of the page. It also removes the default PB branding.

 

Example of a book search results page from the Relevansi search engine. Notice the search box in the top right, which we have added to each book.

 

WordPress: let a thousand textbooks bloom (well, hopefully)

Update: So, after testing this out, turns out it isn’t as simple as I first thought. See the update note below. If you are the person from Ryerson who did this, I’d love it if you left a comment about what happened when you imported the book.

A couple hours ago I finished uploading a copy of a Media Studies open textbook to our open textbook collection. The book was originally created as a WordPress site by the University of Otago textbook hack project I’ve written about before. A few week ago, Erika Pearson sent me a WordPress backup file of the textbook they have created. I imported that file into our PressBooks collection and, earlier today sent out a tweet saying I had just finished adding the file to our collection.

Because PressBooks is WordPress based, importing the WordPress site created by Erica’s crew was dead easy. It imported into PressBooks with a minimum of fuss – just a bit of structural reformatting to fit the PressBooks book paradigm.

Now, along with our version of the textbook, I also try to make available as many remixable file formats as I can. In this case, I also released the WXR file, which is the WordPress backup file.

Well, here it is, not even 3 hours after I sent out that original tweet saying that we have made the book available when I started getting some pingback messages.

pingbackI was curious as to what was pinging the Media Studies book back, so I followed the links and discovered that someone at Ryerson in Ontario has downloaded a copy of the WordPress backup file and installed it locally on a WordPress instance at Ryerson.

Now this kind of blows my mind in a most  awesome way. First, with very little fuss or friction, a CC licensed book has made it’s way from New Zealand, to BC to Ontario because the original was built in WordPress. Making the backup file available made it possible for someone to take the file and with very little work, have a copy of the book working on their own site, ready to be modified.

Looking at the Ryerson site, it looks like the person who installed it is just testing (the server url begins with test), but it blows me away that a resource can proliferate that quickly and with that little effort. I credit WordPress.

And this is really one of the reasons why I love using a tool that, at the core, is WordPress for this project. As a publishing platform, WordPress is now so common that this kind of fast proliferation of openly licensed content can occur. Combined with the type of speed and reach you get with social media and you have something that is lightweight, fast and easy to use.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about lightweight means of sharing the content we are creating, and the more I think about it, the more I see WordPress – the platform – as such a key piece to the sustainability of these textbooks. Once you get the book completed in PressBooks/WordPress, it becomes fairly trivial to install the “textbook” on any WordPress platform. Don’t know if you have ever tried reusing SCORM content, or even LMS content, but I can tell you from experience that it is not a trivial task.

Update 4 hours later: I’m eating crow. Until this came up today, I had been working on the untested assumption that the PressBooks to WordPress backup/restore process would work. But I had never actually tried to restore a PressBooks backup into vanilla WordPress. Seeing this example today, I thought it might have confirmed my untested hunch and got excited and fired off the original blog post. But this evening when I went to actually test it for myself, I went back and tried to install the PressBooks backup into a clean vanilla WordPress install and…well…the long and short is that it’s not working. I’m getting all kinds of import errors. So, yeah. Needs some work to make this happen in the way I hope it would happen. But this next section still remains true…

Something that is easy to copy makes it more likely that it will be copied. And if it is copied, it has more chances of living beyond it’s original life. A thousand version of something seems to me to be the ultimate sustainability plan for any piece of content.

 

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

 

Learning from others: Textbook sprinting in New Zealand

I’m picking up steam on researching and planning a possible textbook sprint here in BC as part of the open textbook project. While I am still in the research stages of how this thing might work, I’m feeling more confident that with the right people involved we can pull off a textbook sprint.

Just before Christmas I had a chance to speak with Erika Pearson at Otago University in New Zealand. In November, Erika ran a textbook hack to create a first year Media Studies textbook and during the course of our chat I got a better understanding of some of the logistics involved in pulling it together. I am appreciative of her time and willingness to share, and look forward to the cookbook they are planning on releasing later this spring on how to organize a textbook sprint. Here are my notes from our convo.

  • Timeline for the entire project was about 3 months (project plan and a more detailed timeline are posted).
  • There were about 10 participants involved in the Otago sprint. Surprsing to me, most of them were distributed, so communication was virtual done through Google Hangouts.
  • Most of the authors were actually grad students which turned the activity into a powerful authentic learning experience (she’s talking my language here).
  • Authors had a dual role – writing & peer reviewing what other wrote.
  • Erika stressed the important role of designating an OER librarian to help source and attribute resources needed on the fly. A strong CC bg with knowledge of CC & educational repositories.
  • Prior to the sprint, the authors met virtually & came up with a rough outline of the book, including topics and chapters. This was based on course outlines shared by faculty. In retrospect, Erika said she wished that there would have been a bit more pre-work done ahead of time and that everyone came to the sprint with draft chapters that could then be honed and worked on over the actual sprint. Note to self: do as much work ahead of time. By the time we all get together face to face, a good bulk of work might already be done.
  • Write in sprints. Erika’s project broke their day into 90 minute writing chunks, followed by a period of peer review. Iterative development. Note to self: if we use PressBooks (which I want to do if this goes ahead) what kind of workflowing tools do we have/can we add to facilitate a review process?
  • There were a number of virtual lurkers in the hangout. Note to self: make external participation possible (video, chat, event hashtag)
  • Have a note taker to record what needs to be done as it comes up. They kept a spreadsheet of tasks that got added to as the sprint progressed.
  • A fact checker would be a good role to have. Someone to research as problems/disputes/questions of content arise so that authors don’t get bogged down in surfing for answers to questions.

Erika’s project was supported by Creative Commons.

I am also hoping to speak to Siyavula and Adam Hyde of Book Sprints to get some bg on how their events work. But right now I am thinking along these lines:

  • Sprint is a bit of a misnomer as I think most of the work will be done ahead of time in the weeks/months leading up to the actual sprint. Therefore, trying to find a time where faculty have at least a few weeks leading up to the actual event to work on the project will be important. Perhaps early June might be a good time?
  • We’ll need a few pre-event virtual sessions of participants, including some technical training on the platform, setting up the structure, and draft writing. Perhaps 3 seperate pre-event synchronous sessions?
  • The actual sprint itself. If we can get most of the authoring work done ahead of time, 2, maybe 3 days would be what we would need together. Anything longer than that might be a tough f2f commitment for some to make. And, if the actual days are as intense as I think they might be, any longer risks burnout.
  • Subject area. I have one in mind and I have contacted the head of the provincial articulation committee for that area to get his input & feedback. It is an area that currently has no existing open textbook available, but (I suspect) quite a few open resources available. And the subject area is perfect to create something very Canada-specific, which may not get created otherwise by some of the more U.S.-centric projects.
  • A synchronous PressBooks code sprint. This is something Brad Payne and I have been discussing. Alongside the book sprint it might be useful to have running parallel a PressBooks code sprint. There are a number of enhancements that could be made to PressBooks to make it a better tool for collaborative textbook authoring, and having the input of users at the time they are actually using the tool might be invaluable. And it could be a real catalyst to improving participation rates among developers for the project. If we can find some WordPress developers interested in working with us on improving PressBooks, this could be a very useful exercise as it would be great to see more developers participate from higher ed.
 

The architecture of our open textbook site

I’ve needed to document the technical architecture of the open textbook project, so thought that I’d post it here as well in case this info is useful for anyone. At the very least, it will make for a good read if you are suffering from insomnia late one night.

The virtual hub for our open textbook project in BC is open.bccampus.ca, and I thought I would share a bit about the different technologies & syndication strategies at work on the site. It feels like we have a lot going on under the hood, and this is by no means an exhaustive description of everything. But at 1400 words, it’s plenty long enough.

Almost all the work on the site has been done by one of our developer, Brad Payne, who I cannot give enough kudos to. I have an idea and the next day it’s done. If we had to rely on my hackery I am sure the entire system would have crumbled like a virtual house of cards months ago.

Here is a silly diagram I made trying hard to visually represent the architecture of the sites. Silly in the sense that it follows no prescribed network or system mapping framework other than Clint’s messy mind method.

What the hell was I thinking?

The internet can rest safely tonight knowing that a network architect I will never be :). I’ll try to explain what is going on.

Fundamentally, there are three different technologies in play with the site; WordPress, Equella (our digital repository – I almost wrote Learning Object Repository <slap slap>) and a survey tool called LimeSurvey.

WordPress

We actually have 3 separate WordPress instances running, each taking on a slightly different role on the site.

WordPress instance #1: open.bccampus.ca

First, the entire open site is running on WordPress. It is the hub that we use to pull in a lot of information from the other sites. On this main site, we post stories, news, tutorials and other communicative types of content. We also have a couple of plugins handling some other functions on the site. I won’t go thru the entire list, but two that are quite important are BB Press and Wisyjja Newsletter.

BB Press powers the open textbook faculty forums. We use the forums to support faculty who are reviewing or modifying an open textbook.

Wisyja Newsletters is used to handle our textbook change notification mailing list. Every textbook in our collection has an associated mailing list which faculty can sign up for. We use these lists to send out notifications of textbook changes, or to send out information about ancillary resources that we might find which support the textbook.

Equella

However, as important as forums, mailing lists and communication are, the main function of open.bccampus.ca is to provide a user-friendly front end for faculty and students to access open textbooks in our repository. It is the hub, and this is where things get a bit more complicated as the books that appear on the open site are actually not stored on the open site. We store the actually textbook information in Equella, our digital repository, and use the Equella API to pull the information we need about each textbook out of Equella and onto the open.bccampus.ca site.

Within Equella (we have branded our version of Equella as SOLR) we have created a collection called Open Textbooks to house the resources that are specific to the open textbook project. But the user interface for Equella is not the most friendly. So rather than send faculty & students to Equella to find the textbooks, we instead utilized the Equella API to pull the information about each textbook out of Equella and into the open.bccampus.ca website. We choose this approach not only because we felt that WordPress gave us a friendlier interface, but because we thought that there may be instances when we want to expose our textbook collection to other services and sites (think institutional libraries or centres for teaching and learning, which could have a curated collection of our textbooks housed on their branded website). Using the Equella API gives us that flexibility.

So, here is what a textbook looks like in Equella and that same textbook information looks like on the open site. Same information, different interface. Using the Equella API means we have had to make some compromises with the way the textbook information appears on the open site. For example, none of the url’s on open are active links; a limitation of the API.

Now each textbook can appear in a number of formats; PDF, ePub, website, LaTex, etc. One of our goals is to make the same book available in as many different formats as possible, and we store each of the different formats in Equella. For PDF and ePub, this means storing the files in Equella. For the website, this can mean either a zipped archive of HTML files, or a link to a website. And this is where our second WordPress install comes into play.

WordPress instance #2: PressBooks

For some of the books in our collection, the website version of the book is a WordPress site. But not any old WordPress site. We are using a WordPress plugin called PressBooks that turns WordPress into a book publishing platform. So, the website version of the textbook is actually a Pressbooks site, and we store the link to that Pressbooks site in Equella with the textbook record. That link is pulled into open.bccampus.ca and appears alongside the textbook record as a link that people can click to see the website version of the book.

You can see how this works with this Modern Philosophy textbook. Faculty & students using this book can come to this page on the open site and decide what format they want to get the book in and, if they click on the “Read Online” link, they will be taken to the PressBooks version of the textbook. With any lucky, this will be seamless for them; the only site they will need to come to find any version of the book is the open.bccampus.ca site, which will take them to where they need to go.

WordPress instance #3: WooCommerce

A third instance of WordPress is being used for our print on demand service at SFU. The version of WordPress being used by SFU Document Solutions (our print on demand partner) is running WooCommerce, another WordPress plugin that turns a WordPress site into an e-commerce site. The same process is at work with the printed version as for the website version. We store the link to the appropriate page on the SFU WOCommerce site in Equella and pull that into the open site using the Equella API. When a student clicks on the “Buy a copy of this book” link, they are taken to the correct page on the SFU WooCommerce site to purchase the book.

WordPress – it ain’t just for blogging anymore. But you already knew that.

LimeSurvey

The last bit of technology in use on open.bccampus.ca is an instance of LimeSurvey. Some of the open textbooks in our collection have been reviewed by faculty here in BC. We are using LimeSurvey to capture that review data and (again through the magic of Brad Payne & API’s) are pulling the review information for each book collected in LimeSurvey into the open.bccampus.ca site so that the review appears alongside the textbook. Again, for faculty coming to the site, it should look seamless, like all this data is part of the same textbook. You can see how the LimeSurvey data from the API looks by checking out the reviews of this Calculus textbook at the bottom of the page.

So, as you can see, we have a lot of stuff going on with this one simple site. Our hope is that we will take the complexity of navigating out of the hands of students and faculty and make it as simple and easy for them to find the resources they need by centralizing all the information in one spot – open.bccampus.ca.

 

Exactly what we hoped would happen with open textbooks

I’m really happy right now, and it is all Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani’s fault.

Dr. Jhangiani is an instructor at Capilano University who I first connected with this summer when we were looking for faculty reviewers of open textbooks as part of the BC open textbook project. Dr. Jhangiani came to us with a Research Methods textbook that we didn’t know about and asked if he could review it as part of the project. At the time I thought it was fantastic that we had faculty bringing us open resources that we were not aware of. Really that was just the beginning of Dr. Jhangiani’s awesomeness.

A few weeks ago I was presenting on open textbooks at a conference in Vancouver where I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Jhangiani in person. We had a brief chat and he told me that he had adopted the textbook this fall. Awesome moment #2 from Dr. Jhangiani.

But today…today he took it to another level.

This morning I read an email he sent to me pointing me to his personal website where he has posted his revised version of the open Research Methods textbook that he reviewed. Seeing that completely made my week.

Dr. Jhangiani took an existing open textbook and did exactly what we hoped an instructor would do; revise it to meet his needs and then release it back to the commons under an open license for others to use and reuse.

And I suspect that the changes he made to the open research methods textbook will become valuable for others in the system as he has taken a textbook that was written with an American perspective and Canadianized it, removing American examples and replacing them with Canadian examples. He also modified the book to make sure that Canadian laws and perspectives on research were included, and added a table of contents, which the original textbook was missing. Heck, he even nailed the Creative Commons licensing.

Here is an instructor who has taken an existing open resource that was 80% of the way there and instead of going “this doesn’t meet my needs so I am not going to use it” took full advantage of the open license on the book and modified it to work for him. Not only has he saved his students money by making a free, open textbook available to them, but he has also made a valuable resource that others will no doubt use and benefit from.

This is the EXACT use case we have been hoping to see with the open textbook project. I have dreamed of seeing this happen and I am freakin’ PUMPED to see a vision realized. Thank you, Dr. Jhangiani! You have no idea how happy I am right now.

Okay, off to do a happy dance, Big Lebowski style

Ok, that might be a bit intense. Maybe more like John Candy style

Or….really…just take your own pick and join me in my happy dance.

 

How Canada will benefit from U.S. open textbook legislation

Al Franken

United States Senators Dick Durban and Al Franken (above) have introduced legislation into the US Senate called The Affordable College Textbook Act.  SPARC has a good post on the proposed legislation, stating that the legislation will “help expand the use of open educational resources to more colleges in more states, and provide a framework for sharing educational materials and best practices” through:

  • Grants for colleges. The bill directs the Department of Education to create a competitive grant program for higher education institutions (or groups of higher education institutions) to establish pilot programs that use open educational resources to reduce textbook costs for students. Grant amounts are not specified, but appropriations in such sums as are necessary are authorized for five fiscal years.
  • Pilot programs. Pilot program activities can include any combination of the following: professional development for faculty and staff, development or improvement of educational materials, creation of informational resources, or efficacy research. Grant funds can also go toward partnerships with other entities to fulfill these activities.
  • Open educational resources. Any educational materials developed or improved through the grants will be posted online and licensed to allow everyone – including other colleges, students and faculty – to use the materials freely. The bill specifies that the license will be the Creative Commons Attribution License, or an equivalent, which grants full use rights with author attribution as the only condition.
  • Sharing outcomes. Grantees are required to submit a report evaluating the impact their respective pilot programs and to submit a plan for disseminating this information to other institutions. The bill also commissions a GAO report on textbook costs and the impact of open educational resources in 2017.

Reading these bullet points, I can see two obvious ways that this proposed legislation can benefit BC, Canada and, indeed, the rest of the world.

First, the legislation is clear that all materials created be licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution license, meaning that anyone will be able to use and modify the textbooks. So, if this legislation becomes law, we can expect that the number of textbooks that are available in the worldwide commons of open textbooks to substantially increase. Any textbook created with funding from the grants associated with this legislation become textbooks we can use and modify.

Second, the provision around sharing outcomes will provide much needed data that can be used to support the continued development and adoption of open textbooks. I see many case studies coming out of the projects associated with this legislation. With luck, this will also mean academic researchers will be able to tap into funding to conduct empirical research on the effectiveness of Open Educational Resources. This type of research knows no borders. Indeed, much of the empirical research that we currently have on the effectiveness of OER and open textbooks comes from the US & the UK. We need more, and while I would advocate for the importance of Canadian-based research, all research is incredibly useful and important.

I don’t know how the US system of government works in enough detail to know if this legislation has a chance of passing or not. But if it does become law, it has the potential to greatly increase the awareness of open textbooks, the available pool of open textbooks, and the body of knowledge about the effectiveness of open textbooks not only in the U.S., but everywhere, including us in British Columbia working on open textbooks.

Okay, and because it’s a blog post mentioning Al Franken (which I might never get to do again) I have an excuse to link to some classic SNL – Stuart Smalley with Michael Jordan

Photo: Al Franken by Aaron Landry used under CC-BY-NC-SA license

 

Thinking about a BC textbook booksprint/hackathon

Drupal Code Sprint

This week we have started talking about how we can make a BC textbook book sprint a reality in the spring of 2014. These are still very preliminary plans, but I’m very jazzed about the potential.

A book sprint is inspired by code sprints in the software development world where, in a very short time with a number of participants, something concrete is created. In the world of academic software development, I think of projects like the One Week, One Tool project out of George Mason University, which has given us tools like Anthologize and this years Serendip-o-matic  developed in an intense one week burst of coding frenzy. (aside: I am a big fanboy of the work of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason. They have built some wonderful digital tools over the years, including Zotero, which I really should have included in my support what you use post as it is a tool that I do use every day for my research).

In the textbook hacking space, there has been some great projects that we can draw inspiration from, including Siyavula in South Africa, the Utah Open Textbook project , the Finland hackathon that produced a math textbook in 3 days, and (over the past weekend), the Creative Commons supported textbook hackathon at the University of Otago in New Zealand that produced a first year media studies and communications textbook.

This last project is especially interesting for 2 reasons. One, we are looking for a media and communications handbook for our open textbook collection and even though this will be create with a New Zealand focus, there will probably be material in there that we can use as a starting point to create our own media studies and communication textbook.

Second, one of the goals of the event was to create a textbook book sprint cookbook; a guide for others to use who wish to do a similar event. I love serendipity. Needless to say, I am looking forward to getting my hands on that cookbook, and have to applaud the crew involved in the project for recognizing that capturing the process is just as important as the final result. Open FTW.

As I said, these are really early days in our planning, and one of the first pieces we need to figure out is whether we create something from scratch, or whether we modify an existing resource. While many of the examples so far have focused on creating something from scratch, I actually think there is great value in having a book sprint where we remix an existing resource instead of creating from scratch. Remixing works is still a foreign and uncomfortable idea with many challenges (both technical and cultural). A remix-a-thon might help us address some of those issues head on and develop some real and concrete tools that could empower and enable others to look at remix as a viable option.

We also have to figure out the right mix of people to be involved. Obviously there will be faculty (subject matter experts), but what kinds of resources will we need to support them? Technical support, developers, editors, designers And how do we begin to facilitate the work? It needs to be tightly focused to meet the tight deadline. What kind of pre-event work needs to be done so that by the time you get to the event everyone is prepped and ready to roll? These are all questions that we will need to answer in the coming weeks and months as we begin to flesh out this plan.

Photo: Drupal code sprint by Kathleen Murtagh used under a CC-BY license

 

Saving students money with OER IRL

There are many advantages to incorporating and using OER’s in education, but perhaps one of the most obviously compelling is that using OER’s saves money for students. Today, another reminder of just how substantial those savings can be as David Wiley posted on the first year anniversary of Lumen Learning, showing that the work Lumen is doing has saved post-secondary students $700,000 in textbook costs.

This spring, OpenStax College released some stats from their first year in operation that showed their textbooks have saved students $2.3 million dollars.

Here in BC, we are still early on with regards to adoption so we don’t have the same kind of aggregate numbers that Lumen or OpenStax has. But I do want to give an example of the kind of scale of savings we can achieve in BC by focusing on one adoption.

This fall, Takashi Sato, physics instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, adopted the free OpenStax College Physics textbook to use in his Physics class.  What that press release doesn’t note for some reason, is the savings to students taking Tak’s Physics class. he textbook Tak was using cost students $187 dollars. His class has 60 students. Do the math and you can see that moving to the OpenStax free textbook and Tak has saved students $11,220.

1 class at 1 institution for 1 term. $11,220 savings.

Let’s do a bit of math here. 25 institutions in BC. If all we have is 1 instructor like Tak with a similar class load and expensive textbook adopt an open textbook, it would save students in BC $280, 500 EACH TERM.

Saving students over a quarter of a million dollars each term is significant.

One instructor.

 

What I like about Siyavula

siyavula

I first came across the Siyavula project in the spring of this year when I met Siyavula’s Megan Beckett at the BC Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver. Siyavula is a South Africa based open textbook project (originally funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation)  that has produced a number of open textbooks to support k-12 curriculum in South Africa.

There are a couple of things I like about the project.

First, building on what I was talking about in my last blog post about developing a community centered around an open educational resource, Siyavula textbooks are authored in a unique way; through a series of teacher hack-a-thons or textbook sprints. These events organized by Siyavula bring together groups of educators & technicians to create a textbook in a weekend. Over this summer, another textbook sprint to develop Physics and Chemistry open textbooks (remixing both the Siyavula and OpenStax Physics and Chemistry resources) was organized with the assistance of Siyavula. In his wrapup blog post, Siyavula’s CEO Mark Horner emphasizes that the aim of these textbook sprints is to “seed Communities of Practice (CoP)” for the textbook, and speaks to one of the challenges of getting educators to participate – the fear of sharing:

Sharing is scary (at first anyway), because it involves making something available for public scrutiny, something that is actually an investment of your time and energy, and people may be critical. People may also be very positive, but we tend to worry more about what might go wrong than right.

Mark then goes on to point out that, even though sharing may be scary for some, there are benefits to sharing resources and expertise.

The long-term benefit of sharing, in my opinion, is that even if people are constructively critical, the material improves and a community of practice with a shared knowledge base and best practise can emerge.

So, even though there are challenges with developing the community of practice and getting educators to share resources, Mark believe the challenges are worth it because in the end, better resources and a stronger community will emerge.

In my experience, the fear of sharing is often more in my head than the reality. Most of the resources I have ever developed and shared have been received graciously, and criticism has been positive and collegial.

The second thing I really like about Siyavula is how they are sharing their textbooks, and appear to be committed to making the books available in remixable formats. For example, if you look at their Physical Science Grade 10 textbook, you’ll see that students have a lot of choice as to how they want to interact with the textbook. There is a website, a downloadable PDF file, or students can order a printed copy (it doesn’t look like an ePub version is available, which is the only other format I would add). But in addition to those formats aimed at students, they also have the source formats available for download, in this case the original Open Document and TeX files. This allows other teachers or open textbook projects to be able to edit or remix the textbook in the native technical format that the book was written in, which increases the likelihood that this open educational resource will be remixed and customized.

Finally, the textbooks also contain a Teachers Guide, which educators find a valuable additional resource that will increase the likelihood of adoption by other educators. And the source files for that are also available for download so it can be easily customized.

The development of a community of practice, remixable formats, and supplying additional teacher resources. Three things that make the Siyavula project stand out for me.

 

Can the GitHub community be a sustainability model for Open textbooks?

tl:dr Like open source software, it takes a community to maintain an open textbook.

Anyone watching my Twitter feed this week knows I’ve got GitHub on my mind.

gitonmind

Part of the interest lies in the fact that there are some technical projects in development that I want to follow. But another part of me is interested in exploring the ideas of community & collaborative authorship and how individuals come together & contribute to create and maintain a shared resource.

On GitHub, the resource is usually software, but as I pointed out a few days ago, there are a number of academic projects popping up on GiTHub that are taking me down this path this week.

One of the non-technical questions we spend time thinking about on the open textbook project (and there are many) is around sustainability, and I think there is a model in the GitHub community that could be applied to open textbooks as a sustainability model.

GitHub is not only a code repository, but also a community for developers. At the centre of the community is the software; it is the tangible artifact that the community develops around. Members of the community take on the collective responsibility to maintain and develop the software, contributing code, fixing bugs, developing documentation, etc.

Outside of the big open textbook projects (which are currently being supported primarily by grant & foundation money), some of the more successful, small scale open textbook projects I see are starting to use this community-as-resource-steward model to maintain and improve their resource.

One small example of this is the Stitz-Zeager Open Source Mathematics Textbook site where the textbook authors set up some community forums over the summer. I see setting up a discussion forum for those who have adopted the book as a good way to begin to develop a community around the resource & begin to engender a feeling of community stewardship around that textbook.

Scaling up from that example, I was also struck this week by the story of Joe Moxley, an English professor who wrote a commercial textbook published by Pearson. In 2008, he received the copyright work to his textbook back from Pearson (I’d love to hear the story about how that happened). At that point, Joe had a few options for what to do with his book. In the end, he licensed it with a CC license & released it online as Writing Commons. In Joe’s words (emphasis mine):

In 2008, when I received copyright back from Pearson for College Writing Online, a textbook I’d published online in 2003, I decided to self-publish the work. Rather than pursuing a for-profit model, I opted to give the book away for free, first at http://collegewriting.org and later at http://writingcommons.org. With hopes of developing a community around my project, I established a distinguished editorial board and review board, and I invited my colleagues to submit “web texts”— that is, texts designed for web-based publication—for the project. Since then, rather than helping merely a handful of students, the work has been viewed by over half a million people, and we’ve been able to publish original, peer-reviewed web texts.

Since then, dozens of authors have contributed resources to the Writing Commons, and the project continues to encourage contributions from the community to further develop and improve the resource. This benefits not only the project,  but, as Joe points out, also the contributors.

From my experiencing directing the Writing Program at USF, I’ve found that graduate students, adjuncts, and university faculty take pleasure in developing collaboratively-authored pedagogical materials. Additionally, developing online teaching and learning spaces via collaborative tools energizes colleagues as well as students, giving them an opportunity to extend their learning, to talk with one another, and to produce relevant texts—texts that other Internet-users may read. Engaging colleagues and students in a collaborative effort to build a viable textbook creates energy and focus for courses. Rather than importing the values of a book editor from Boston or New York, faculty can customize their contributions to meet the special needs of their students and colleagues.

and (again emphasis mine)

Ultimately, from my perspective as an academic author, by crowdsourcing what had been a single-authored work, I’ve gained communal agency while losing some individual agency. I may no longer be able to do exactly what I want, yet from a team effort I can do more than I’d ever imagined.

Now, I am not sure if the team of contributors who are contributing to the success of Writing Commons are the people who actually use the open resource in class & suggest improvements based upon their direct experience with the resource, but I suspect it is.

Which is the point I am trying to make – those who use a resource are more often than not the ones in the best position to maintain that resource. And the best way to maintain that resource is not a single author being responsible for the maintainance and upkeep of the textbook, but an entire community of engaged users iteratively adding improvements and developments to the textbook over time.

Kinda like the communities of developers who cluster around code projects on GitHub. Those that cluster and contribute are generally those who stand to gain the most from the success of the project. They might use the software on a daily basis for their projects, or it mind underpin an important piece of their work. So they have some motivation to contribute and maintain the project. Just like faculty who adopt an open textbook .

Now, this community development model is not something that is exclusive to GitHub, which is just the latest flavour in a long line of success stories in open source collaborative software development (in edu you don’t have to look much farther than Moodle to see a perfect example of a successful open source community development model in action). But there are some feature of GitHub that I think parallel a community open textbook development model.

First, GitHub allows for various levels of engagement with a project. For newbies in the community (those lurkers on the edge watching for little pieces of low hanging fruit that can bring them in deeper in the community), they can contribute in small ways to improving a project. Find a spelling error? You have the power to fix it in a fairly low risk operation that would bring some recognition from those deeper inside the community.

Moving up the scale, you could contribute a new chapter, or revise a section of text , add images and graphics, charts and tables. Build supplemental resources and easily contribute all of this back to the original project to iteratively improve it.

Finally, the OER holy grail, a full on derivative remixed version of the project is one click away with GitHub. Fork, and you have a complete clone of a project ready for you to begin your own fully developed derivative version of the work. And, if it was a particularly active project, branch another community who might be interested in your derivative version of the project.

This isn’t new stuff. The roots of Open Educational Resources lie in the Open Source Software (pdf) movement. Which is maybe why I find myself this week so enamoured with the GitHub community. It grounds me and connects me to the roots of where we come from. I don’t know if any practical application of my playing and exploring of GitHub this week will lead to something concrete with the open textbook project, but at a theoretical level it has connected me back to the roots of OER. And even if GitHub plays no part in open textbooks, I suspect this won’t be the last time I think openly about community supported open textbooks.

 

Here a Git, there a Git everywhere a Git

I meant to spend most of the day today prepping for my week-long facilitation stint for our Adopting Open Textbooks workshop (which began yesterday in SCoPE), but instead got distracted by books and Github.

If you are not familiar, Github is a very popular code repository used by programmers to store code & collaborate with others on software projects. Recently, GitHub has been popping up on my radar with regards to open textbooks. I’ve come across a few book projects that are using GitHub.

Kathi Fletcher and the OERPub development team have been exploring GitHub fairly deeply, using the code repository as the backend to store book content being authored using OERPub.

A couple weeks ago, I came across an open Philosophy textbook originally authored by Walter Ott. Alex Dunn took Ott’s textbook,  converted it to the Markdown language (using a document conversion tool that I need to play with more called pandoc) and stuck it in GitHub (he could do this because Ott licensed his book with a CC license allowing the creation of derivative copies). Since GitHub is designed for collaborative coding, Dunn’s idea was to see if he could encourage others to contribute to the further development of Ott’s original book.

The third book project in GitHub that popped onto my radar earlier today via a tweet from Alan Levine, was the release of the open ebook by (now RRU and Victoria based colleague) George Veletsianos Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning.

Hey look! It’s been released on GitHub.

I’ve been playing with GitHub for the past couple of months trying to wrap my head around how it works and, to be honest, it is not the easiest to use (although the GUI tools certainly make it easier for those who are not comfortable bashing around with command line). I’m a hacker, not a coder, and the only time I used a code repository was about 10 years ago when I quickly found myself tangled in the underbrush of branches and trunks. Picking up Git a few months back took me right back to those days. So, I am not sure how practical using GitHub will be for those who are not at all technical.

That said, there are some very interesting possibilities about using GithHub as a repository for an open textbook.

For one, it is built for collaboration and has robust version control. Collaboratively authoring is what it is made for, and writing textbooks is often a collaborative affair. True, it was made for collaborative code authoring, but in the end a document is a document, be it code or words.

It is extremely easy to fork (create a new copy) of a project. In the OER world, this ability to easily clone one project to create a derivative version is very attractive. Want to modify a CC license textbook? Fork it and off you go.

GitHub can handle a number of document types. Word, HTML, LaTeX, whatever format you feel comfortable authoring in, Git can handle.

Finally, along with each repository comes a stand alone website to host the project. Meaning your textbook has a home on the web. For free.

Like I said, learning Git is not going to be for everyone (but if you are interested, ProfHacker has  a nice Intro to GitHub aimed at educators and academics, along with a few more use cases that you might find interesting), but it has certainly piqued my interest enough that I am going to keep playing with it, at least to try and keep track of some of the projects I am interested in, like OERPub and PressBooks.

Then at the end of the day, just as I am packing up, this tweet from Mark Smithers pops into my feed

Coursefork. A Github for course creation. Hmmm….maybe the investment time in learning GitHub will pay off in a few ways for educators.

 

I really need to write some posts about PressBooks

This thought has run thru my head almost daily for the past few months, ever since I arrived at BCcampus and started playing with PressBooks as part of the open textbook project .  I need to take a page from CogDog’s book and get better at documenting process and practice, like he does with posts like this on building TRU’s rMOOC site.

So, here we go. The first of what I hope will be a few posts about PressBooks.

First off, PressBooks is a WordPress plugin designed for creating ebooks. The brainchild of Hugh McGuire, PressBooks was released as an open source project earlier this year (there is also a hosted version at PressBooks.com).

Interest in PressBooks as a platform for creating open textbooks began last year with my predecessor Scott Leslie. Last year, BCcampus supported the creation of a couple of small scale open textbook projects using the hosted PressBooks service (earlier this summer we migrated the books to our own self-hosted PressBooks server, which we are still configuring and customizing). You can see the books Database Design and Project Management, created by Adrienne Watt.

Over the summer, one of our developers, Brad Payne, has been active with the PressBooks development community, writing code to extend the plugin, concentrating on adding more input formats to PressBooks so we can import existing open textbooks and use the platform as a textbook remix tool. Brad’s excellent coding on Open Document Type and ePub importers were accepted into core PressBooks this summer, meaning that we can now import existing open textbooks that are in those formats into PressBooks. Brad is currently working on a Word importer. Last week I imported and ePub version of an existing Philosophy open textbook into PressBooks and was quite happy with the results here (a blog post about this process is coming).

So, why are we so interested in PressBooks?  As you would expect with this project, we had a number of requirements, both core and optional. And we looked at a number of authoring/remix platforms (and continue to do so, watching closely the development work that both Connexions and OERPub are doing in this space). But for now, we have decided to focus on PressBooks.

For one, the authoring platform is built on WordPress which has proven time and again to be both powerful and flexible as exemplified by solid edu projects like ds106, edublogs and UBC blogs. The PressBooks UI authoring experience for faculty should not be a big hurdle, especially if they have worked in WordPress before.

PressBooks allows us to create a well structured website for each book, as well as publish that same content to ePub, PDF and mobi (Amazon Kindle) formats. Create once, publish many times using transformations gives students and faculty maximum flexibility as to how they want their textbook content delivered. A caveat about PDF publishing. It does require additional software that is not open source – Prince XML – to produce the PDF outputs.

However, other than Prince, the project is open source. We felt this was particularly important considering that this is an open textbook project. Not only philosophically, but because it enables us to become part of a development community and contribute to the development of the plugin.

The web version produces a very nice, mobile and tablet friendly user experience. Not a lot of flash here, but very useable on a number of platforms.

It is web-based, meaning that there is no software download & install for authors.

Those are some of the reasons why we are working with PressBooks. But, as with all software, there are challenges. Perhaps the biggest is that it is a platform designed for ebooks and not etextbooks, and there is a difference. ebooks (particularly works of fiction) are written to be read in a linear fashion and a great deal of emphasis is placed on the written word. Textbooks, on the other hand, don’t always have the same linear narrative and often include additional pedagogically oriented content types like sidebars, indexes, q&a’s and other such material to hep students really understand the content.

There is also no search feature for the website versions of the book (you do get search capabilities if you use the ePub or PDF versions of the book as search is baked into both ePub and PDF reading software). But the website version of the book does not have a search engine, which we think is important for electronic resources that are often used as reference resources by students.

There are more pros and cons, which I will get into more detail in the future. But for now I wanted to get the “I’ve got to blog about PressBooks” monkey off my back and start the conversation as I know there is interest in BC about the platform.

 

The Generative Open Textbook

IMG_1826.JPG

I am 3 chapters into Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet (and how to stop it) and have spent the past week viewing so many things around me through a “generative” lens.

Generativity is a system’s capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences.

Generative systems are built on the notion that they are never fully complete, that they have many uses yet to be conceived of, and that the public can be trusted to invent and share good uses.

Zittrain uses the term “generative” specifically talking about technology. He is fundamentally speaking to the nature of the PC and the underlying technologies that power the internet, and the design decisions made by the early architects and engineers of both the PC and the internet to focus on flexibility over predetermined function.

Both PC’s and the internet are generative systems. In the case of the internet, the original architects and engineers didn’t much care about what the network was used for – they just wanted to create a system that would connect systems together with as much flexibility as possible. From that flexibility, purpose would be born; that flexibility would “generate” uses. And, indeed, this has been the case with the internet. The generative nature of the internet born out of its flexible design has made a whole whack of applications possible that the early developers did not necessarily envision; e-commerce, social networking, video streaming, email, all these applications arose from the same flexible, generative system – the internet.

The same is true of the PC. The PC did not have a single purpose when it was being developed in the garages of the early enthusiasts and hobbyists. It was designed as a generative system, flexible enough that the end-user could decide how to use it to fix whatever problem they were having. This gave rise to a myriad of uses for a PC, from gaming to word processing, accounting to photo editing. All made possible by the generative nature of the PC.

I love this term – generative, and since reading it in Zittrain’s book have been thinking of how perfectly it encapsulates the spirit of open textbooks (and, indeed all Open Educational Resources).  OER’s are generative in that their future use is not bound by their current use. They can be adapted and modified, recontextualized and used to solve problems that the original authors didn’t even know were problems, let alone something that needed to be solved.

Of course, this is the optimistic view of both OER’s and generativity. The generativity of the internet which gave rise to the convenience of online banking also has given rise to new ways for bad guys to access our money. And OER’s are only potentially generative. If they are never adapted, modified or reused, then their generative nature is squandered.

And there is evidence that the generative nature of open textbooks is not being used. In research conducted between the fall of 2009 and summer of 2011, John Hilton III and David Wiley examined how often the (then open) textbooks from Flat World Knowledge were actually being adapted and remixed to create custom textbooks. Of the 3,304 adoptions of FWK textbooks, they discovered 247 (or 7.5%) books that were different from the original FWK textbook. Of those 247 books, by far the most popular customization was faculty deleting chapters (60.32%).

I suppose I can look at the research and go, “Wow. Almost 250 faculty adapted an OER! That’s great!” But instead the pragmatist (who has a project that is relying on faculty adaptation for success) looks at the 92.5% of faculty who didn’t modify a lick. The overwhelming majority of faculty who adopt open textbooks are looking for fully finished solutions.

Which makes me question whether OER’s are really generative. After all, a generative technology based on Zittrains definition, is grounded in the assumption that:

…the public can be trusted to invent and share good uses

But the research shows that, in this case, not many are.

All this is rolling around inside my head as we move towards the second (and potentially most complicated and challenging) phase of the BCcampus open textbook project; remixing and adapting existing open textbooks (watch for a call for proposals later this fall). Phase 1 had BC post-secondary faculty reviewing a number of existing open textbooks, and it has given us some extremely useful information about the textbooks in the open textbook collection. There have been a few adoptions, but most of the reviews point the way towards revision work.

The prospect of building on existing OER’s is both exciting and terrifying for me. Terrifying because I know that so many have tried hard for years to encourage remix and reuse with little (7.5%) luck. But exciting because there have already been faculty who took part in the review phase approaching us with questions about adapting and modifying the textbooks, and (anecdotal at least) it feels like there are some positive vibes in the air around adaptation.

Are we final ready to fully realize the generative potential of OER’s? I don’t know. But I am feeling energized and enthused heading into phase 2, and am hopeful that we will come out the other end with something of value. And a few strong case studies that sees that 7.5% mark rise.

Photo credit: IMG_1826 by vlidi released under CC-BY-SA license

 

The business of textbooks or why do students prefer print?

Students prefer print.

Julie K. Bartley, an associate professor of geology and chair of the geology department at Gustavus Adolphus College, hears the sentiment from her undergraduates. “Our students don’t really want to have e-books,” Ms. Bartley says.  Chronicle of Higher Ed

I hear this a lot, with some (industry) research suggesting that 75% of students prefer print over electronic textbooks. A 2010 study from Woody et al (E-books or textbooks Students prefer textbooks) supports the notion that students prefer print to electronic.

It is becoming quite clear that, despite the ubiquity of computers and interactive technology in their lives, students preferred textbooks over e-books for learning

But why is that? Why do students seem to prefer printed textbooks to electronic ones? Says Ms. Bartley:

“What I hear from them a lot of times is that they feel some sort of comfort in being able to hold the thing in their hands.” Chronicle of Higher Ed

and

Based on these results, we argue that at this time the medium itself may not be as comfortable as a textbook experience for readers (Woody et al)

I don’t want to minimize the tactile experience of reading a physical book, and I do acknowledge that there are some pedagogical qualities of a physical book things that are easier to do in print than electronic, like flip back and forth quickly between pages to help connect concepts located at different parts of the book. But I sometimes think this reason is given far too much importance when we examine student format preferences and we are missing out on an equal, if not more, important factor biasing student format preference.

Economics.

Most of the studies that have looked at student textbook format preferences have compared a publishers resource to itself; a publishers printed textbook versus the same publishers electronic offering. And when you look at the economics behind this choice, it’s easy to see why students might pick print over electronic. As Kent Anderson’s points out, from a student perspective, the economics of e-text vs print just does not make sense when it comes to publishers textbooks.

For the vast majority of students, print textbooks are economically superior to e-books simply because there’s a robust used book market for expensive print textbooks. Buy them new, sell them back. Want them cheaper? Buy them used. The market is much more favorable and robust.

As an example, would I buy a $52 e-book when I can buy a $115 print book that has, as its low offer, a used price of $84? With print, I can essentially “rent” a textbook for a semester for $31, an economic edge of $21 over the e-book — and with no upfront cost of an e-reader.

In other words, it is cheaper for a student to buy a textbook and sell that used textbook to recoup costs. There is a market for used textbooks. There is no market for a used e-text version.

Not that you could sell your e-text version even if there was a market because students don’t actually own the e version of the publishers textbook. The publishers don’t “sell” e-texts – they lease access to them, usually for 180 days. Even if a student wants to keep the textbook, they cannot. After 4-6 months, they lose access to the e-textbook.

But yet this fall, students will feel an even stronger push from publishers to choose e-text over print even though they are not buying them.Why would publishers continue to push formats that students don’t want?

Simply put – to undercut the used textbook market. Publishers don’t make money from the sale of used textbooks, so they are eager to see the print market dry up and for students to adopt e-text. So there is an economic incentive for publishers to kill off physical textbooks and push e-texts on students, who are balking at the terms they are offering and rejecting their expensive e-text. Plus, e-text versions make collecting data about students use of the textbooks possible, something they can’t do with print versions of the textbook. And there is gold in that there data.

Yet, offer a free and open text and then it is a vastly different story – students will choose the free and open electronic version of a textbook over low cost printed version.

Lindshield & Adhikari created an electronic textbook (they called it a flexbook) for a Human Nutrition course and found that, even though low cost print on demand versions of the book were available, students (whether on campus or online) overwhelmingly chose the electronic version.

Campus
(n = 93)
Online
(n = 102)
Primary way of using the flexbook
   Google Docs version shared to Gmail or K-State Google account
23 (24.7%)
20 (19.6%)
   Web version (accessed through link)
24 (25.8%)
14 (13.7%)*
   PDF (downloaded)
43 (46.2%)
51 (50.0%)
   Hard copy (self-printed or purchased from vendor)
3 (3.2%)
17 (16.7%)**
Second most common way of using the flexbook
   Google Docs version shared to Gmail or K-State Google account
13 (14.0%)
20 (19.6%)
   Web version (accessed through link)
23 (24.7%)
13 (12.7%)*
   PDF (downloaded)
21 (22.6%)
20 (19.6%)
   Hard copy (self-printed or purchased from vendor)
3 (3.2%)
5 (4.9%)
   Flexbook used in only one way
33 (35.5%)
44 (43.1%)

Research from Hilton & Laman (2012 paywall) shows a similar student preference for electronic vs print, with 62% of students choosing a free online version of the textbook compared to a low cost print on demand version of the same textbook (n=307). Incidentally, the Hilton & Laman research, like previous research, showed that students who used the free open textbook scored higher on departmental final examinations, had higher grade point averages in the class and had higher retention rates than those students who used a traditional text).

Now, there is a certain “d’uh” quality to this – free wins is kind of a no-brainer. But, for me, it shows just how powerful the economic argument is when it comes to student format preference. Which is why I think that when it comes to discussions as to whether students prefer one format over the other, we need to look closely at the economic terms being offered to students for those electronic resources and see whether the students are rejecting the format, or the terms being offered to them to use that format.