This morning I was taking a look at some of the Piwiks website analytics for the Geography open textbook we created 2 years ago as a textbook sprint project. For me, the really interesting data is always the referring website data as that can give you a glimpse of how the content is being used and by who.
The BC Open Textbook Project tracks adoptions of open textbooks with an eye to reporting back student savings. But there is much more value in open resources than just a displacing adoption where a commercial textbook is replaced by an open one. When you create open resources, you may have one specific group in mind, but you often find there are unexpected audiences using your resources.
This is a big value proposition of open resources. Once you make an open resource, it is available for others to use and refer back to. Each open textbook in the BC open textbook collection contributes to improving the knowledge available on the open web.
This is one of the major reasons I love open resources created by smart people in higher education. Every time an edu contributes resources to the open web, we make the web a better, more informed space for all.
I like to think of it as making the web more educational, less Perez Hilton.
Onto the Geography open textbook.
First, there is a lot of evidence that the book is being used by the intended audience of BC post-secondary institutions as there are referring links back to sections of the book from post-secondary domains at KPU, UVic, Langara, VCC, UBC and VIU. Most of the referring links I follow back take me to a landing page for an LMS at that institution, telling me that the content is being referred to from inside a course. This may not be a full adoption of the resource by the faculty, but it does indicate that the resources are being used by the intended audience.
But use of the resources extends beyond BC higher ed. A large source of referral traffic is from the Oslo International School, which appears to be an International Baccalaureate primary school. Again, when I follow the referring link I am met with an LMS login screen. It’s crazy to think that a regionally specific resource aimed at a first year Geography student in British Columbia is finding use at a primary IB school in Oslo, Norway. You never know where you’ll end up when you go open.
It is not the only K-12 school referring to these resources. Teachers from School District 43 in BC have recommend (Word) the section on Residential Schools to their students as a resource for students doing a research project. Teachers in School District 63 are using the section of the textbook dedicated to the BC Gold Rush as a learning resource in their classes.
Those two resources have also found use outside of education. The Royal BC Museum Learning Portal has included a link back to the textbook section on the Gold Rush as a resource on their learning website dedicated to the BC Gold Rush, and Vice included a referential link back to the section on Residential Schools in an article it published on the Canadian Truth Commission on Residential School.
The textbook is also showing up on some kid friendly search engines. A referral from a KidRex search on the Hope Slide led me back to the search results page for the search and shows that the Hope Slide case study in the textbook comes up as the second result (behind the Wikipedia entry).
None of these uses save students a penny, but show the value of an open resource beyond the financial. No doubt that the student savings are important as the financial barriers are real. But to me, seeing this kind of usage of OER shows the benefits extend beyond students. These resources make the web better for all. It is higher ed freely contributing knowledge to the world. It is higher ed making the world much less Perez Hilton.
Addendum: Gill Green, one of the original book authors and current Open textbook Faculty Fellow sent me this tweet about a resource we created for the book.
— Gill Green (@GreenGeographer) June 1, 2016