Turning the Page on Digital Textbooks

I’m attending the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning 2017 in Toronto, Canada. The set of presentations I’m reporting on are all around open, digital textbooks, OER, open publication, etc.

The Value and Experience of Open Publication

This section is presented by Dianne Conrad, co-editor of IRRODL, Terry Anderson, retired from Athabasca University and Rory McGreal, co-editor of IRRODL.

The open movement, you know, includes open society, open educational resources, open acces, open data, open source software, open licenses.

What is an open access journal? No price barriers. No permission barriers. Subsidized by an academic institution, learned society or government.

IRRODL is the first open access journal in Canada. In 2008 they started the open AU press too. It’s linked to the OER knowledge cloud. SSHRC-funded. The most cited journal in distance education. The readership and manuscripts come from around the world.

The Directory of Open Access Journals, they have the DOAJ Seal which means they adhere to open access best practice. Something to check on other open journals!!

Discussion of the publication of monographs via the AU press. University support is critical for the press. Goal of 1% of the AU budget to go to the press.There are grant funds. Issues in Distance Education – series.

Next Rory McGreal talked about the advantages of open textbooks: cost, adaptability, updating, localisation. Challenges: entrenched practices and special interests. Increase in textbook prices. Publishers are selling less textbooks so they keep increasing their prices.

Main leaders in OER: BCcampus, SOL*R, ecampus Ontario.

Developing an OER Digital Interactive “Textbook:” Challenges and Opportunities of Modular and Flexible Design Principles

Presenter(s): Gail Morong, Shannon Smyrl

This section is creating an open learning course for introduction to academic writing. There are dozens of projects. This is one that every institution has, but needs significant adaptation for local. They wanted to build an open textbook that supported both students and faculty through the experience.

Their main criteria for the project was to have a user-driven resource vs. a textbook-driven resource. The learning resource should support and facilitate the course design rather than dictate. The idea is that the teacher shouldn’t have to be held hostage by the textbook. In activity based learning, you need things to work with in the classroom – and sometimes textbooks don’t provide that.

The design criteria then were modular, open, flexible. Think of how sometimes you only use 3 chapters from a $200 book. Academic writing courses shouldn’t need a textbook. Maybe first year theory courses need it, but you really need something flexible. It should be flexible for 60 students or in a computer lab, or in self-directed online, or whatever.

It’s set up so the different activities can be used. It has a coherent theme, but doesn’t require that students follow through. You can put your own theme in, or you can pick and choose.

From a faculty member’s point of view – what was needed was institutional support, technical support, media support, instructional design support. There was also huge disciplinary support – as part of the work load of faculty.

Development Methodology of Interactive Digital Textbook for Experimental Subjects

By Kwang Sik Chung and Sooyoul Kwon (Korea National Open University)

The challenge with creating digital textbooks is coordinating all the different people. So, a methodology for creating a digtial textbook would be helpful. They were creating their textbook for the smartphone – he showed an example of having the user tilt or shake the phone to fill a beaker for an experiment.

Interesting model from data to information to knowledge to wisdom – moving up a pyramid. How do we get to wisdom? How do we design to bring students to the level of wisdom, not just data at the bottom of the pyramid.

They created a methodology that included: plan & analysis; design; development and implementation; evaluation stage. It includes a variety of roles and a coordination timeline as well.

Developing OER Degree Pathways in the US and Canada

Una Daly, James Glapa-Grossklag; Amanda Coolidge (BCcampus)

James started: The idea here is, how could students have a complete pathway for their whole degree – with the benefit of students the end result. James is from California and is working on the Zero Textbook Cost degrees – it means community college associate degrees or career technical education certificates. It’s about the student – the student getting done. It’s a big deal in California as they serve 2 million students in 114 community colleges; 1/5th of all the U.S. community college. 1/10th of all US [community? ] college students are in a community college in California. 25 colleges are working on a ZTC degree pathway.

In British Columbia they are doing the same thing – Zed Cred – using the Canadian pronunciation of Z. Fun!

It’s significant cost savings to students, increasing in enrollment, persistence and performance (Hilton et al 2016). It makes it easier for student to learn better and more quickly.  What would it take to have an Adventist initiative like this? Maybe different institution could collaborate on specific courses? Funding for development and adaptation of open textbooks for the faith perspective would be critical. Would be so cool!

Another initiative is Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count. This effort is privately funded, and is including research in it’s focus. This effort requires open resources – it can’t even be library resources that are stuck behind a paywall. Very interesting to make sure it’s totally open.

They are also working on what is needed to move from an OER course to an OER degree. They think about total institution cost too – not just the cost benefit to students – costs like instructional support, the departments involved supporting, as well.

Research questions include – do students complete better if they have OER courses; and what are the institutional costs and support? Advising, registration, advertising so they know. Articulation agreements with 4 year degrees. The 4 year degrees should be prepared to accept the courses. It’s very worth while having that conversation with the institutions will be going to next.


An accreditation question. U.S. accreditors don’t require that materials are published by a commercial publisher – what they require is that the qualified faculty is the one making the choice on the materials. Thomson Rivers response – the accreditors are looking at the learning outcomes. The resources are chosen by faculty to meet the learning outcomes.

Someone wondered if students might do all the learning resource activities on their own, and then come to the institution for assessments. The responses were that most of these were used for traditional courses.

OERu is another initiative in this area – where students can use OERs to get a credential.

The value for OER and digital textbooks is really for the students.

Someone else in the audience said this is a cost shift from the students to the institutions and/or faculty. Response: there are faculty incentives. Questioner: why are you doing it? Response: plan for student success – better pedagogy – students completing. In Canada they are government funded – it saves provincial money in the long run because otherwise the province is paying for textbooks with funds for student education. Passionate response: the bike rake is free, the wifi and the library are free, why not the learning resources? That’s the main thing that students are here for.

Another huge aspect of the open textbook is that it can be a different format  – not just print and graphics. Maybe we should call it something instead of a textbook. That’s why we have OER. It’s kind of a workbook – it’s all the things you need. Things you copy, things you use for activities.

On the faculty side, development in this area must count towards tenure and promotion.

Fascinating discussion and presentations. An area where creative and innovative work continues.

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