Month: October 2017

Office Hours Recap and Video: Beta Testing Open Textbooks

In this month’s session, guests discuss the logistics of beta testing an open textbook, including: strategies to recruit beta testers, mechanisms for collecting and implementing feedback, and marketing this process. If you’re curious about how open textbooks are tested in classrooms, or how and when student and instructor feedback is incorporated, read the recap below or watch the video recording.


This Office Hours session began with brief introductions to the Open Textbook Network, whose member institutions pool expertise and promote best practices in open education, and the Rebus Community, a collaborative resource of open textbook creators and users. We also solicited suggestions for topics for future Office Hours sessions, and if you have ideas that you would like to explore or revisit, please let us know.

This month, we were joined by Michael Laughy, Dianna Fisher, Linda Bruslind, and Elizabeth Mays to discuss the process of beta testing an open textbook. The opportunity for beta testing is one of the main competitive advantages of open textbooks, as they can be updated and revised based on classroom feedback more quickly than traditional textbooks. Watch the video recap of the session, or continue reading for a full summary.

Speaking first was Michael Laughy, who is an assistant professor of Classics at the Washington & Lee University. He recently co-authored an open textbook on Ancient Greek, and has been using it in his language courses. The book is also being beta-tested by faculty at Louisiana University and the University of Illinois. Laughy says he makes live changes to the book to incorporate students’ feedback during class. Laughy judges students’ reactions to material as he teaches it, and in so doing learns how to edit chapters in the book for the next time he and others teach the course. The experience of teaching with the book also gives him a better sense of how to partition the book – and how much material can actually be covered weekly during a semester. The faculty at Louisiana and Illinois also have editing rights on the book, and make similar adjustments based on their experiences in the classroom. However, Laughy acknowledged that the live changes can prove confusing for students who may be trying to look for a piece of information from earlier in the course, which has been altered or deleted.

Next, Dianna Fisher, director of Open Oregon State at Oregon State University, described their process for beta testing. She asks faculty to first pay attention to areas where students have historically had difficulty in understanding subject matter, and test these sections of the book with students. Dianna says that they keep two versions of each book – one that is “in use” in the class, and one that is being “edited,” so that they can easily restore complete versions of chapters if needed. She said that they use Basecamp for project management, including managing beta testing changes. On some books, Dianna notes that beta testing is done in stages with specific groups of students – for instance, first with doctoral students, next with masters students, and later with advanced undergraduate students. With the final group, she encourages faculty to find out what students need to know to fully digest or comprehend the information in the book, so that different versions of the book can be created for different levels.

Linda Bruslind, who is a senior instructor and lead advisor in Microbiology at Oregon State University, was next to offer her perspective. She authored an open textbook for a 300-level general microbiology course, as she noticed that students weren’t using the traditional texts she had assigned, and since she wanted a simpler text for students. Linda first tested this book in her summer 2016 course, and later tested it online through Oregon State University’s eCampus. Linda found that students in the in-person class would access the text on their phones, or print out specific chapters, at the same time as they were completing group activities. She invited students to give her feedback, identify areas where information was unclear or lacking, and point to any errors in the book. She then passes this feedback on to Dianna, whose team makes changes to the book. Linda noticed that the post-assessment scores in her courses went up dramatically after using the textbook.

Our final speaker was Elizabeth Mays, adjunct professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and marketing director at the Rebus Community. Elizabeth combined forces with lead editor Michelle Ferrier at Ohio State University to create an open textbook on Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Mays said Ferrier quickly recruited 12 beta testers for this book by reaching out to people in her network. They, along with the book’s authors and 38 others in the community of practice teaching these subjects, were encouraged to join a fortnightly call to discuss each chapter of the book. Beta testers were given guidelines and many mechanisms to provide input. Feedback was also solicited through Hypothesis, which was enabled on the book; through the Rebus Community forum; through a Google Form; and via email. Mays compiled all the feedback into one spreadsheet. The co-editors then made decisions on what changes to implement and how. Elizabeth discovered this process was quite laborious, and said she wished there was a better mechanism on the book itself through which to collect, track, and respond to feedback.

The floor was then opened to questions from other participants. Participants were curious as to whether students in online courses and in-person courses provided different feedback about the textbooks. Linda noted that feedback from the two groups was very similar. Other participants wondered what types of feedback were solicited and how. Linda welcomed all kinds of feedback from spelling errors to the clarity of a particular chapter. Elizabeth mentioned that a Guide for Beta Testers was created with prompt questions for faculty using the book in their courses. Karen wondered what the pros and cons were of framing the book as being in beta testing. Linda liked the idea of a more formalized feedback process, and would want to provide all students with an opportunity to give feedback on the book. Michael noted that students were hesitant to critique, challenge, or correct information in the book as it has been written by “the professor” – he actively sought to make students comfortable to state their opinions about the book and its content. Dianna noticed that students overcame this initial discomfort and later feel more invested in their learning, and felt that their contributions made an impact. Linda said that students seemed excited about being engaged in the process and having some control over the content of the book. Another question was about who implemented these changes – in Michael and Elizabeth’s case, they made changes themselves; in Linda’s case, the implementation was done by the publisher.

Beta testing is a valuable process to gain student and faculty insights on how open textbooks can be improved. Thanks to our guests, and to participants who attended and shared their thoughts! If you would like to have further conversations on these or related areas, please let us know on the Rebus Community forum!

Resources

Rebus/OTN Office Hours: International Perspectives on Open Textbooks (December 2017)

December’s topic for Rebus / OTN Office Hours is International Perspectives on Open Textbooks, and this month, we’re doing things a little differently.

The Rebus Community headquarters is located in Montreal, Quebec, with our brilliant marketing manager based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our partners, the Open Textbook Network, are also U.S.-based, and as a result, we schedule our calls during business hours for mainland USA and Canada, and they are run in English. While there are practical reasons for this, we have to acknowledge that timezones, language, and undoubtedly cultural differences can be barriers to participation for many in the OER community.

So, this month, we thought we’d shake things up. With a nod not only to our guest speakers who are from different continents and in varying time zones, but also to anyone who faces barriers to engaging with our usual Office Hours format, here’s how things will go:

  1. Each of our guests will pre-record their comments.
  2. These recordings will be compiled into one video.
  3. That video will be made available on Dec. 4 at 2 a.m. CLST, 7 a.m. SAST, and 3 p.m. AEST in the Rebus Community forum.
  4. Our guests will lead an asynchronous discussion with participants in the forum, where everyone will be encouraged to ask and answer questions in their preferred language.

Office Hours Open Textbooks: International Perspectives title image

Currently, guests include Mark Horner, CEO of Siyavula Education in Cape Town, South Africa; Werner Westermann Juárez, Chief of Civic Education Program for the Library of National Congress of Chile; and Jessica Stevens, Doctoral Student in the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology.

Guests will discuss student, faculty, and staff perspectives on the creation, adoption, and awareness of open textbooks in their countries. They will also provide advice to creators who want to make their content useful to faculty and students in multiple countries.

In addition to changing the format for this call, we’d like to make all of our Office Hours events more friendly to our audience members, so we will be making the asynchronous discussion piece a permanent feature of all future events. We hope that this will prove a useful alternative for those who prefer to, or by necessity have to, ask their questions outside of the live calls, for any reason.

The video will be posted in the Rebus Community forum and discussion will take place on this thread. You can RSVP here.

Financial Strategy for Public Managers: Now Available!

Financial Strategy for Public Managers by Sharon Kioko and Justin Marlowe is the first Rebus-supported open textbook project to be officially released, and is now available for adoption and use in classrooms!

This book offers a thorough, applied, and concise introduction to the essential financial concepts and analytical tools that today’s effective public servants need to know. It has been reviewed by 8 subject experts at 8 different institutions, and is available openly available in web, PDF, ebook, and other formats from the book homepage. If you’re interested in adopting the book, let us know!

Kioko and Marlowe’s book covers materials found in most public financial management texts, but it also integrates foundational principles across the government, non-profit, and “hybrid/for-benefit” sectors. Coverage includes basic principles of accounting and financial reporting, preparing and analyzing financial statements, cost analysis, and the process and politics of budget preparation.

Book homepage on Pressbooks, with a short description and links to download formats including PDF, EPUB, MOBI, XML, WXR, XHTML, ODT

Throughout the text, Kioko and Marlowe emphasize how financial information can and should inform every aspect of public sector strategy, from routine procurement decisions to budget preparation to program design to major new policy initiatives. Their book is written in an accessible style, understanding that students in Master of Public Administration programs often do not have backgrounds in finance or budgeting. Marlowe says, “Our book covers the same basic material in just over 200 pages, with just a few selected cases and a couple dozen practice problems, and it’s written in the plainest possible language. And of course, it’s free and open, so students download it and get to work immediately. That removes another important psychological barrier to the subject. So our book is different because it’s more accessible, and the fact that it’s open really reinforces that message.”

The book is already being used in classrooms as of Fall 2017, and students are responding to the book well. Marlowe, who is using the book in his course at the University of Washington, says, “[The students] know that I can update it almost in real time, so they’re eager to offer suggestions for cases, examples, problems, exercises, etc. because they know their ideas might appear in it sooner than later.” He says that students are also appreciative of the fact that it is available for free, and adds, “but they also say ‘it’s about time.’”

The Rebus Community provided support for this project in the form of coordinating peer review at the chapter and book-level. Rebus also ensured that the book will be available through print-on-demand, in order to enable students who prefer print to obtain a copy for less than it would typically cost to print off using a home computer or at a copy shop. Students who would like a print copy, can purchase it on Amazon, where it was the No. 1 new release in Government Accounting for several weeks.

If you’re located outside the US, and would still like to use this book, you can adapt it to better fit your needs. Marlowe encourages this remixing of content, and says, “Public budgeting and finance is the same in most places, but it’s also different from place to place depending on the local laws, politics, history, and other factors. The OER structure allows professors using the book in other states and other countries to swap out our discussions of budgeting and finance in Washington State, and swap in a discussion that’s more relevant to their own context.”

If you’re interested in adopting or considering the book for use in your classroom, or if you’d like to stay abreast of future editions, please sign up here. Alternatively, if you are a librarian who knows faculty at your institution who teaches a course that could use the book, please help us spread the word!

First Open Textbook on North American Archaeology!

The latest Open Textbook project to join the Rebus Community is the first of its kind in its field. Aptly titled From the Ground Up: An Introduction to North American Archaeology, this book brings together an intergenerational and international team of scholars to shed light on the multiple voices and vibrant diversity within North American archaeology.

The project is led by Dr. Katie Kirakosian from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with support from a steering committee of colleagues who will offer support and advice throughout the process. The decision to pursue the project was fueled by feedback Katie had received from her colleagues in the field about existing textbooks, which don’t often contain diverse perspectives or include primary data with which students can practice.

Katie hopes that this book will “make North American archaeology more accessible and help archaeologists inspire and train the next generation.”

In contrast to existing books, this textbook is committed to including voices from descendant communities and community members, as well as perspectives from individuals in various archaeological sectors, including academia, CRM, museums, non-profits, and the government. It will discuss regional sections that summarize indigenous and non-indigenous cultures and allow students to explore culture change across space and time. In addition, this open textbook will include primary data whenever possible so students can see the data behind archaeological interpretations and can practice making interpretations of their own. The focus of the book is on presenting how material culture and other data help to understand the lived experiences of people through time and space.

As the first step, Katie is seeking contributors to form teams of 6-10 people around each chapter, who will be responsible for:

  1. Creating an outline for the chapter that will be shared with other contributors for feedback
  2. Writing the initial “background” chapter for their region
  3. Securing a case study of a particular site or landscape within that region
  4. Potentially contributing to peer review, beta testing, creating ancillary materials and other activities related to the project

If you are interested in joining one of these teams, you can view the list of chapters, and sign up on the contributor sign up thread in the Rebus Community forum. Or, if you want to find out more about the project, you can read the full project summary and post any questions you may have on the discussion thread.

From the Ground Up will be available for adoption in 2018. Follow the project on the Rebus Community forum for updates!