Best Practices: Making Open Textbooks With Students

In our January Office Hours, special guests Robin DeRosa, chair of interdisciplinary studies at Plymouth State University, Steel Wagstaff, instructional technology consultant at UW-Madison, and Amanda Coolidge, senior manager of open education at BCcampus, spoke about their experiences working with students to create open textbooks.

Robin spoke about her experiences working with students to develop The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature as well as an open textbook for a first-year seminar looking at student retention from a student perspective. Steel discussed two UW-Madison projects where faculty and students have engaged with local community organisations to create open resources. In one case, architecture students created an open textbook on local examples of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and in another, museum studies students worked with a local museum to create an open catalog for an upcoming exhibition. Amanda and her team at BCcampus have overseen a few projects where students have contributed to everything from adapting an OpenStax economics textbook to contributing to a psychology question bank.

The three talked about pedagogy, faculty responsibilities, student rights and agreements when students work on open textbooks and OER projects.

One of the key threads that emerged was the need for students to have agency over their choice of license–meaning they’re not forced into an open license without understanding what it is, and the alternatives.

Robin said she handles this by giving her students choices: They can choose whether to openly license their work or not, and if they do choose an open license, they can choose which license to use. (But if their chosen license is not compatible with the other licenses, their contributions may not get into the finished book, she said, citing the more restrictive CC ND license as one example.)

Students also get the option to use a pseudonym.

“You might have people who want to be in the open but they don’t want to develop their own digital identity attached to their real identity,” Robin said. “But if you’re going to allow that as an option you just have to understand enough about how privacy works on the web and data so that you’re not offering them some false sense of privacy that isn’t actually authentic.”

Robin said over the three courses in which she has focused on open, she has only had one student keep their coursework fully private inside the LMS.

“I don’t think there’s any problem giving them all of that choice. It only works to reinforce the open pedagogy, which is that you are in the driver’s seat and you have control over what you do,” she said.

Steel said he has several considerations when faculty work with students to build an open resource. The first is the students’ right to privacy under FERPA. He suggested several options to protect this federally mandated right of students.

  1. Get FERPA waivers from the students.
  2. Make the open resource and credit the students who contributed, but without identifying that they were part of a specific course.
  3. Allow students to use pseudonyms when building the open resource.
  4. All of the above.

He also mentioned the students’ intellectual property rights (i.e. copyright) to what they create. “In part I think open pedagogy is empowering them to say, ‘hey this is your content. What do you want to do with it?’” Steel said.

When publishing an openly licensed book, he said, “our strategy was that we wanted to obtain consensus on the license.”

He also talked with students about the attribution component of the license and encouraged students to think about how they wanted their work to be cited and attributed.

He noted that students should be able to choose not to use the open license and still get credit for the course and meet its educational goals.

Amanda said open pedagogy provides a great opportunity to teach digital literacy to students around the concept of openness.

“What does it mean to contribute back to the public good, and is that something you want to do or is that something you feel restricted by?”

One of the outcomes of the session was a decision that we at Rebus would organize the creation of a brief guide to practices and pedagogy when working with students on open textbooks and OER. Rajiv Jhangiani, senior open education research and advocacy fellow at BC Campus and Jeremy Smith, digital projects manager in scholarly communication, University of Massachusetts Amherst as well as Steel, Amanda, and Robin, volunteered to contribute.

If you have thoughts on what should be included or experiences of your own to share, please let us know by replying to the post about this project.

And if you missed the Office Hours session, you can catch the Q&A portion on video. Watch the replay of Office Hours.

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