Author: apurva

Behind the Scenes: Reflections on December’s Office Hours (International Perspectives)

Rebus Community and the Open Textbook Network held an Office Hours session sharing some international perspectives on open textbooks. Keep reading to learn more about the process involved in this unique session. If you missed it, you can still watch the session online or read a full transcript.

For December’s Office Hours session, the Rebus Community and the Open Textbook Network did things a little differently. Instead of conducting the usual live one-hour session where people can join in via video conference, we made some deliberate changes to our format. This was partly out of necessity as the speakers for this session – Tomohiro Nagashima, Jessica Stevens, Werner Westermann Juárez, Mark Horner, and Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou – were spread out around the world, and it would not have been possible to get them all on the same video call. However, it also gave us an opportunity to shake things up and highlight the limitations of our usual format. In the end, we pre-recorded the session, shared the video and transcript, and conducted a week-long discussion period in the Rebus Community forum. In another change, we thought we would use this recap to reflect on the process, more than the content, though we still very much encourage you all to watch the video or read the transcript to hear our guests’ insights!

Why did we change the format of Office Hours this month?

Since Rebus’ team is mostly located in Canada and the USA, we tend to fall back on North American defaults. The Office Hours events are typically scheduled for afternoons in the Eastern Time Zone (EST), and as a result, most of the attendees for these events feature people located in similar time zones. While we have been recording these sessions, and posting the videos and transcripts after each event, we felt that we could be doing more to engage people for whom our events aren’t easily accessible for lots of reasons. The Rebus Community is working hard to be a global community, and we are involved with projects and collaborators all over the world, but most of our projects are currently based in North America. Similarly, the majority of the Open Textbook Network is within the USA. However, last year the community welcomed new members in Australia, and is collaborating with communities in the UK and Chile. As Rebus also expands, we will be working hard to change this and ensure that collaborators all around the world can get involved in an open textbook project (or start their own!), but first we have to work to understand their unique contexts and challenges.

Given the topic for this session – International Perspectives – it only seemed right to find speakers from different countries. We tried to get broad geographical representation, aiming for at least one speaker from every continent, while at the same time being aware that guests couldn’t be asked speak for everyone in their region. We deliberately kept the focus local in our prompt questions for the guests, asking them only to speak about the context they were most familiar with. We also committed to preparing translations as needed, if our guests preferred to speak in a language other than English. Thomas took us up on this offer, recording his portion in French.

Online time zone conversion tool, showing the time in Montreal, Canada (12:00am, Dec. 4 2017), Chile Summer Time CLST (2:00am, Dec. 4 2017), South Africa Standard Time, SAST (7:00am, Dec. 4 2017), Australian Eastern Time (4:00pm, Dec. 4 2017), and West Africa Time (6:00am, Dec. 4 2017).

Converting the time of our video release across different time zones. It’s an extra step that people outside North America do to attend regular Office Hours sessions.

We also wanted to make a point about how those located outside North America often face an extra challenge when converting from EST to their local times and in trying to accommodate events in their schedules, which can often fall outside working (or even waking) hours. There’s also a sense of being an outsider when North American standards, such as time zones, are the norm. So, in our promotion for the event, we only included times in the speakers’ time zones: Chile Summer Time (CLST), South Africa Standard Time (SAST), Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), and West African Time (WAT). We hoped that our usual set of attendees, located in the USA or Canada, would run these conversions to see when the video would be available. Calculating these differences is fairly easy with online tools, but this is an extra step that people outside of EST do very often, so we felt it was time to switch it around.

Reflections on how we set up the international Office Hours event

As we were writing out the event description, we struggled to choose whether to keep the focus on Open Textbooks or Open Educational Resources, as the latter are more commonly used in some regions over others, but the former is typically the focus of our Office Hours events. We also realized that the very topic or name “International Perspectives” implies revolving around North America.

What’s more, as one of our guests, Tomo, rightly pointed out, our own assumptions of OER internationality led to our framing the event a certain way.

On a more logistical note, we could have done better with securing translators well in advance. We learned that captioning translations is difficult, and that uploading a video to YouTube with captions to match different languages presents its own challenges. We relied on YouTube’s ability to match captions to speech, but any French speakers watching the session will notice that the translation is not quite in sync with the speech. A lot more careful planning was needed than we initially anticipated, and had we more time, the results would be significantly better.

During the week-long discussion

We planned for an asynchronous discussion to take place on the Rebus Community forum once the video was released, to give viewers a chance to interact with the speakers, ask them questions, or share their own comments about the topic. Unfortunately, the discussion did not take off as much as we had hoped, which was disappointing. However, we plan to re-run the discussion as part of Open Education Week in March 2018, which we hope will bring a larger audience to the event.

Our regular Office Hours sessions have about 20-35 participants in addition to the guest speakers, and typically five to ten of these attendees tend to ask questions during the session. In contrast, this Office Hours session has ninety-three views, making it the third-most-watched video on our YouTube channel. In the forum, only five people posted questions for our guests, out of whom four were staff at Rebus or OTN. Three of our guests engaged in the discussion on the forum. We hope that people will go back to watch the video even at a later date, and if they wish to, share their reactions in the forum.

We made sure to promote this event in the same way and through the same channels that we have our previous events, so we believe the lower rate of participation had to do with the changed format. It is possible the time of year had an impact as well (the video was out on December 4), but we do think that the difference between a scheduled call and a pre-recorded session plus asynchronous discussion was notable. Again, we take this as an indicator of how difficult it can be for those unable to attend a scheduled session (for any reason) to then catch up later.

We learned some lessons (on inclusivity and OER internationally), and hope others have too

We’ve learned some valuable lessons from conducting this session, including that engaging community members who can’t attend scheduled events takes time, effort, and a bit of imagination. While the first attempt at this format perhaps wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped, we will be continuing in our efforts to create more inclusive events.

In particular, we will be keeping the asynchronous discussion option for future events. We hope that this will allow for more engagement from people in different time zones, but also for those who have a preference for written communication, or another language, as we can accommodate these preferences using tools like Google Translate.

In the future, we will also still make the effort to invite and include speakers from outside North America at our events, especially since we have learned that we have the technology options to support it.

Most important, we were thrilled with the video we were able to put together with our guests’ insightful contributions. We encourage everyone to watch it to hear more about the amazing work happening in OER around the world. It’s an opportunity for everyone to reflect on their practices, and think on ways to form more cohesive, inclusive communities around OER.

This Office Hours session was an important one for the team at Rebus; our mission has always to build a model for publishing open textbooks that can be used all around the world. It resonated deeply with Zoe and Apurva in particular, too, who both feel like they one foot in the North American context and the other out, being transplants to Canada from New Zealand and India respectively. We hope that it also resonates with you, and that you have also gotten something valuable from this session!

If you have any thoughts about our format, process, or this session, please let us know in the Rebus Community forum!


We will be reopening the discussion as part of Open Education Week March 5-9! Anytime that week, you can join the conversation in the Rebus forum.

Tim Robbins Presents Open Anthology of American Literature at MLA Convention

The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature continues to grow and evolve. Robin DeRosa, professor at Plymouth State University, and her students, who were looking for a cost-savings anthology for their classroom, started the project. Now, with support from the Rebus Community, the book is under the wing of a new lead editor, Timothy Robbins, assistant professor of English at Graceland University. The anthology has since expanded to include more texts, with collaborators from institutions around the U.S. contributing to the book.

Next, Tim will present the anthology and its iterations at the annual Modern Language Association convention on Jan. 5. He will show Robin’s initial book shell, Abby Goode’s recent classroom-led revision, his own class’s revisions, and the current work in progress with Rebus. If you’re in New York, we encourage you to attend Tim’s session and learn more about this dynamic project.

Inspired by Robin’s experience, Tim included an assignment in his course for students to help expand the anthology. His students read through the texts in Robin’s shell, which included what Tim calls a “potpourri of canonical and ‘minor’ writers.” Tim says his students completed activities to guide their classroom discussions and also give them the skills needed to build the anthology, which they did in teams near the end of the semester.

As part of the process, Tim’s students read about and discussed open education and Creative Commons licensing. Early in the term, student teams participated in developing criteria for evaluation and grading. Tim says that he found this “practice forced students to take a kind of critical ownership of the project by thinking both proactively and reflectively on their own learning and engagement.”

During the term, students used the Pressbooks software to format the anthology. They located and annotated secondary research, edited texts, wrote introductions, all while focusing on “how to make the texts ‘teachable.’” At the end of the semester, teams led a classroom lesson based on their newly designed anthology chapter. The expanded anthology included entries for authors and texts not yet represented in traditional texts.

“My own ‘American Literature to 1900’ course charts some of the various, often contentious stories of “American” culture’s movements towards inclusion, emancipation, and equality across those four centuries of coverage,” Tim says. “When I took on the project with Rebus, I knew that inclination would color the anthology’s roster, a case reinforced in the current Table of Contents. As expected, the sections track roughly chronologically and feature representative authors and texts. Indigenous creation stories confront European colonial documents; the early texts of New England’s Puritan pulpits are met and challenged by the voices and pens of native peoples, African slaves, and women writers. The American Revolution gives way to an explosion of social movements and an expansion of the canon stretching from Thomas Paine’s republican propaganda to the birth of African-American letters in Phillis Wheatley. The selections from the early nineteenth century include the familiar names of the ‘American Renaissance’—Emerson, Poe, Hawthorne, Whitman, Melville—in tandem with the literature of abolitionism. The post-Civil War sections aim to balance the significant social writings of the Gilded Age and Reconstruction era with the emergence of realist fiction.”

Robin DeRosa reflects on the expansion, saying: “When my students and I created the first version of The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature, we were mainly trying to save money. Students were regularly paying about $85 to purchase an anthology full of literature that was virtually all in the public domain. The first Fall that we used the book started off a little rough: We realized it didn’t have any of the introductions or illustrations or annotations that students generally rely on in commercial anthologies. So that semester, students started adding these things to the book, and before long, we realized that the cost-savings were the least exciting part of our dynamic, student-generated textbook. By the end of that semester, students had created lots of great content, other schools had begun using the book, and I had a whole new sense of the pedagogical possibilities inherent in open textbooks.”

Rebus is excited to be building off of Robin and her students’ work, and could not be more grateful to have Tim at the helm. With Rebus’ support, further entries have been added to the anthology, with more expected in 2018. Roughly 30 entries are completed and polished, and we’re seeking more contributors, including people to take the lead on organizing and writing introductions to the various periodized sections. Tim’s student assistants at Graceland have been charged with line editing, and he has also enlisted a graphic design major to help create a new cover for the anthology.

Robin is proud to see the anthology grow. “Now that Rebus is facilitating a more coordinated expansion of the project, you can’t imagine the pride that my students and I feel knowing that our initial work was the seed that led to the emergence of what will be such a game-changing text,” she says. “There is nothing in my career I feel prouder of being a part of than this project, and I am so grateful to the current editors and team at Rebus for taking our small idea and growing it so beautifully: What a wonderful example of the open community at work!”

The open text is gearing up towards an official launch in the summer, but given the nature of this project, the text will continue to evolve and grow indefinitely. Stay tuned for more updates later in the year, and for those who’ll be in New York in January, please support Tim at the MLA convention on Jan. 5!

If you’d like to collaborate with us on this unique project, please let us know in the Rebus Community forum.

Literature Reviews For Education & Nursing Graduate Students: Available for Adoption!

Written by Linda Frederiksen and Sue F. Phelps, Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students teaches students how to prepare better literature reviews that are vital to their research. Read the book for free on the web, or download it in other formats from the book’s homepage!

Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students is the third open textbook produced with support from the Rebus Community to be released! The book has been peer-reviewed by seven subject experts, and is now available for adoption and use in courses or as a library resource. If you’d like to adopt the book, please let us know.

This book helps students recognize the significant role the literature review plays in the research process and prepare them for the work that goes into writing one. Developed for new graduate students and novice researchers just entering into the work of their chosen discipline, each of the book’s eight chapters covers a component of the literature review process. Students will learn how to form a research question, search existing literature, synthesize results, and write the review. Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students also contains examples, checklists, supplementary materials, and additional resources.

Linda Frederiksen

Authors Linda Frederiksen and Sue F. Phelps are both librarians at Washington State University, Vancouver, with many years’ experience guiding students through research and writing assignments. Linda is active in local, regional and national organizations, projects and initiatives advancing open educational resources.

Sue F. Phelps

Sue’s research interests include information literacy, accessibility of learning materials for students who use adaptive technology, diversity and equity in higher education, and evidence-based practice in the health sciences. Both Linda and Sue are committed to equitable access to information.

The Rebus Community worked with the authors throughout the writing process, advising on formatting, licensing, images and other questions that arose. We also recruited reviewers and coordinated the peer review process for the book, and were fortunate to find a wonderful group of reviewers who generously shared their expertise, giving chapter-level feedback. You can read more about the reviewers and the review process in the book’s Review Statement. Rebus also assisted the authors in formatting, running accessibility checks, and the other final stages of publishing and are very excited to be celebrating the first release!

Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students can be used in graduate-level research methods courses or by librarians preparing subject guides and resources. If you’re interested in adopting the book, please let us know! We would also love to hear from anyone interested in adapting this resource for another discipline. You can always reach us on the Rebus Community forum or at

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!


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!

Office Hours Recap and Video: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Textbooks

In this Office Hours conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion in open textbooks, guest speakers and participants identified several aspects of OER that deserve attention and improvement. Read the recap below, or watch the video recording.

Office Hours, hosted by The Open Textbook Network and the Rebus Community, is a monthly event in which we create a space to discuss common topics in open textbook production. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Textbooks was this month’s topic.

We were joined by Maha Bali (American University in Cairo), Susan Doner (Camosun College), and Alan Harnum (OCAD University) to discuss how we can leverage the values of open education to create a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and vibrant publishing culture. Unfortunately, one of our original guests, Tara Robertson (CAPER-BC), couldn’t join us for this event.

We’d like to especially thank Maha for attending despite the large time difference. We are aware that scheduling our Office Hours events based around the time zones of a largely North American audience creates challenges for those outside this part of the world, and we are working to find ways to make the event more accommodating for all who might want to participate in future.

As a start, we always aim to provide a recap of the event within a few days (once the video has been captioned). So if you missed the event (for timezone-related reasons or not!), you can watch a video recap or scroll down to read the complete summary!

Karen Lauritsen and Hugh McGuire began the session with quick introductions to the Open Textbook Network and Rebus Community. Karen said that this event was an opportunity to ensure that diverse voices are equally valued and explore what barriers exist in open textbook publishing that currently inhibit these voices. Next each guest speaker gave an overview of the topic from their perspective.

Maha Bali is an associate professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She talked about inclusion from a postcolonial perspective and reminded participants that there was nothing inherent about Openness that means it will include everyone – inclusion is still something that needs to be intentionally worked towards. Maha asked us to reconsider a common analogy used for diversity and inclusion – “giving someone a seat at the [pre-designed] table” – and instead to give people opportunities to design the table with you, decide what goes on the table, what the rules of the table are, and the height of the table. This approach can be considered at many levels in our community, from community participation, to systems, organizations and technologies. Each of these should be approached with an acknowledgement and understanding of different backgrounds and contexts, and with considered thought given to who is “building the table.” With regard to OER creation, Maha said that while we need to empower people to be able to share work, we must also be aware of other barriers that may be involved with openly licensed content. (Footnote:Read what Maha has said about Creative Commons licenses elsewhere.) She also noted that there are all kinds of barriers to participation in open movements. For instance, she said, the Open Source movement requires one to have certain technical knowledge and be comfortable participating in a male-dominated environment. Other requirements can be more practical. As an example, the oft-touted Domain of One’s own requires a credit card to make payments, something Maha noted not every student may have.

Alan Harnum is a senior inclusive developer at OCAD University’s Inclusive Design and Research Centre. He brings a technical perspective and mentioned that IDRC is looking at ways to improve authoring tools to support alternate ways of creation, such as voice recordings and transcription. Alan said that they are experimenting with other aspects of the production line to ensure that materials have the widest possible reach, including accessibility, alternatives to images, touch, and sonified infographics. They are also looking at ways to create components that can be easily internationalized. Alan is also interested in looking at the remixing of content and ways to blur lines between authors and readers that is carried over from traditional publishing. On the question of the valorizing of content and remixing, Alan quoted Michael Caulfield’s blog post, saying, “What if the OER community saw the creation of materials as a commodity, but the reuse as an art?” He also cautioned against the replication of traditional power structures in publishing, a message echoed by others in the call.

Susan Doner is an Instructional Designer at the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Camosun College. She considers proprietary educational materials as laying claims to knowledge, and often being created by a homogenous group of people with a monoculture–they are a risk to diversity, she says. Susan thinks that educational materials should have input from a diverse variety of individuals and stakeholders, including student voices, if they want to stand the chance to be relevant to all students. For her, the default setting when working on any project should be open. Susan also said that openness creates opportunities to widen the circle of input, to build, share, and expand resources beyond what they could be in a closed system. She pointed to the BC Accessibility Toolkit as an example of a growing resource. It began as a small set of resources put together by her and Tara Robertson, and grew into the toolkit, which was later translated into French and adapted into a workshop activity. Overall, Susan sees OER as a collaborative vehicle for inclusion.

Once guests shared their insights, the floor was opened for questions and comments.

Esperanza Zenon pointed to the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity as a resource folks might collaborate with to make OER more inclusive and equitable. Other participants identified significant problem areas that need more attention:

  • Funding and Grants – Authoring OER is largely contingent on funding and grant money. How can we help granting agencies get better at recruiting diverse voices and funding a variety of authors?
  • Enrollment – How do we ensure that OERs are developed for courses that don’t qualify as “high enrollment”? How do we encourage authors both financially and in sentiment to create materials for all courses?
  • Position – We must acknowledge the extra challenges and risk faced by non-tenured, underrepresented, and/or part-time faculty when creating OERs. How can we involve and incentivise those in more secure positions to participate in OER creation and advocate for their colleagues in more precarious circumstances?
  • Content – OER creation teams should be diverse and inclusive from the point of conception. How can we ensure that diverse perspectives are taken into account when designing content, and that traditionally marginalised voices can be heard?
  • Remixing – How can we ensure the “source code” of an OER material is made available for easy remixing? What can content creators do to enable things like localisation and translation down the line? Remixing is a clear departure from traditional publishing models, and we should recognise and promote the new opportunities it creates.
  • Technology – Access to and fluency with all kinds of technologies varies widely for students and instructors, across communities, institutions, and geographies. How do we address and overcome these barriers to creation, use, and remixing of OER?
  • Existing Systems – The creation of new models of publishing offers a chance to reject the power structures of traditional publishing and embed our values in everything we do. How do we ensure that these new systems embrace diversity as the default, rather than having to try to retrofit it later?
  • Quality – The assumed quality of a resource can often be tied to institutional prestige and who contributes to a text. We need to put aside our preconceptions of supposed “high-” and “low-”quality resources when interacting with OER, particularly when integrating student voices and traditionally marginalised perspectives. How do we signal the reliability of an OER? If it is through peer review, how is this carried out?
  • Time – We must be aware of the amount of time that each stage of the publishing process takes, and whether faculty, staff, and students can devote this time. We should be conscious of their other responsibilities both at work and home, and how this can affect their workload. How can we avoid overburdening people, while also not privileging the voices of those with lesser time commitments?

As is evident from this list, these issues are broad, and cannot necessarily be easily resolved. However, recognizing that they exist is a first step. At the Rebus Community, we are committed to working with our partners, contributors, and other community members to find ways to make the OER community more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We plan to reflect on our own practices in the coming weeks to ensure that we continue to be supportive and inclusive of anyone who would like to be involved in OT creation, and will share our reflections with you.

Thanks once again to our wonderful guests, and to everyone 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!


A transcript of this recording is also available.

August Office Hours Recap & Video: Metadata for Open Textbooks

Are you an author, librarian, or staff member creating or using Open Textbooks at your institution? Learn more about the metadata that helps make these books discoverable in this month’s Office Hours session! Scroll down to read a recap, or watch the video recording.

This month’s Office Hours event, hosted by the Open Textbook Network and the Rebus Community, covered a technical but important topic in the growing world of Open Textbooks – metadata. To help us understand how metadata works, we invited special guests Naomi Eichenlaub (Ryerson University), Sarah Cohen (Open Textbook Network), and Hugh McGuire (Rebus). Laura Dawson (Numerical Gurus) was unfortunately unable to attend the event, but you can read what she has said about metadata in the past.

Watch a recap of the session below, or continue reading for the complete summary. Metadata is a complex topic, and there were a lot of acronyms thrown around during this call. Scroll down to get some clarification on the technical terms mentioned during this event!

Rebus Foundation co-founder Hugh McGuire started the session by introducing the Rebus Community, which is building a new, collaborative model for open textbook publishing. Next, Sarah Cohen introduced the Open Textbook Network, which is active in over 600 campuses and promotes access, affordability, and student success through the use of open textbooks. She said there were currently 425 books in their Open Textbook Library, and that number was growing.

As the universe of Open Textbooks expands, Hugh said, it is more important than ever that we think of how these resources are categorized, and how they can be discovered by faculty and other users: which means using metadata.

Metadata is a bit of a buzzword, but what does it mean? According to the Government of Canada Records Management Metadata Standard, metadata is “structured information about the characteristics of an analog or digital resource which helps identify and manage that resource.” In the context of Open Textbooks, metadata is information about a book, attached to a book file, including the usual things like title, author(s), subject, license, and ISBNs, as well as potentially more complex data around versioning and accessibility.

Okay… but why should I care about it? Because metadata:

  • provides everyone with useful information about a book and its content;
  • can be both machine- and human-readable;
  • makes a book you create discoverable in different repositories, libraries, and catalogues; and
  • helps people in their search for the right book to adopt.

You may not be involved in determining how information about a book is being shared with different softwares (like libraries or repositories), but it’s important to know that information is being sent and received! Without it, books would be all but impossible to find and collections impossible to navigate, meaning that valuable resources couldn’t reach the people who benefit from them.

Naomi Eichenlaub, a catalogue librarian at Ryerson University, first came into contact with metadata while working on an Open Publishing Infrastructure Project to extend BCcampus’ Open Textbook collection and migrate it to eCampus Ontario’s new Open Textbook Library. During the course of this project, Naomi looked at trends in metadata, trying to find the best schema (a schema is a “framework that specifies and describes a standard set of metadata elements and their interrelationships” (ISO)) that would help integrate BCcampus’ repository. Naomi said they looked at various schemas, and settled with Dublin Core for this prototype. She hopes that this project will allow them to integrate other schemas, allowing them to submit content to different repositories, and in so doing, expand access to all kinds of content (not just books).

Sarah Cohen, managing director at the Open Textbook Network, said that they used Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC records) in the Open Textbook Library, which can be downloaded by users if needed. The library does not host materials itself, but rather refers to other repositories, so OTN wanted a schema that worked well with Open Public Access Catalogs (OPAC) that most universities have. Sarah said that the challenge was to point to the right location for the content that was being searched, and allow for easy correction of any broken links. They are working with Colorado State University and the Online Computer Library Center to clean these records.

Hugh McGuire, co-founder of the Rebus Foundation, described the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) initiative to create web-native standards for web publications. While this process is a lengthy one, it involves first determining which metadata fields are mandatory (like author, title, license), and which can be optional. Next, the web publication working group will look at ways to link this standardized metadata file to existing schemas. Hugh says that Open Textbooks will be the first use-case for this new specification.

Melinda Boland, a guest at Office Hours from OER Commons, explained that they host and link to over 60,000 pieces of OER in their digital public library. Michelle Brennan, their information services manager, said that they follow the IEEE standard for Learning Object Metadata as a guiding profile to make it easy for content to be searchable and for users to find these resources. Their approach is to build different modules on top of this core that map to different metadata standards in the field.

Thanks to Naomi for sharing this comic on Standards by Randall Munroe ( This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

After speakers discussed the importance of metadata, and their different approaches, participants had some questions. Some wondered what kinds of accessibility metadata were being used. Michelle Brennan, information services manager at OER Commons, explained that they use A11-Y, which is a community-driven effort to improve web accessibility.

Others had questions about versioning, and its implications on a book’s metadata. Hugh said that this was something to think about as we work to build a formalized means of handling metadata for books on the web. Melinda Boland, also from OER Commons, said that including a Version History to each book (or web object) is good practice. Participants also wondered how different versions of a book would be indicated to users searching in repositories or catalogues. Jonathan Poritz, professor at Colorado State University, pointed to versioning systems like GitHub and Wikipedia to help track the lineage of an Open Textbook as it undergoes revisions or remixing. Another participant suggested the GITenburg project as an example.

This session revealed that we still have a long way to go in working out best practices for metadata in the Open Textbook arena, and that many conversations need to take place to best lay out a universal standard for all kinds of web-native open content. However, metadata is a fundamental (if complex) building block for Open Education, and we hope to have more discussions about them down the line!

To keep the conversation going, head over to the Rebus Community Forum, or join us at another Office Hours event.


Here’s a list of some metadata-related technical terms, and what they mean.
Technical Term Description
LMRI (Learning Resource Management Initiative) Co-led by the Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons to build a common metadata vocabulary for educational resources. It is for learning objects only, and was recently accepted to
IEEE LOM (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association Learning Object Metadata) Specifies the structure of metadata for learning objects in the IEEE standard.
DCMI (Dublin Core Metadata Initiative) Supports innovations in metadata design and best practices. The closest thing to a standard for web content. It includes different schemas that help structure the web.
A11-Y A numeronym for accessibility, the A11-Y project looks to make web accessibility easier for developers to implement.
MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging) A data format introduced by the Library of Congress, it is now popular in most libraries.
NSDL_DC (National Science Digital Library) A variant on the Dublin Core standard.

Four New Part Editors for Introduction to Philosophy!

We’d like to welcome Dr. Benjamin Martin, Dr. Beau Branson, Dr. Douglas Giles, and Dr. Heather Salazar as part editors on this open textbook. Would you like to get involved as an editor or chapter author? Join the project on the Rebus Community Forum.

It’s been almost a year since Christina Hendricks at the University of British Columbia decided to work with Rebus to create a new, open (CC BY-licensed) textbook for use in Introduction to Philosophy courses. The project has grown tremendously, with dozens of collaborators, and we’re pleased to announce that four new editors have recently joined the team to kick off four new subject parts; Logic, Philosophy of Religion, Social and Political Philosophy, and Philosophy of Mind.

Benjamin Martin joins us from the UK, and will be working as the part editor for Logic. Since receiving his Ph.D. from University College London in 2014, Martin has held the position of assistant professor at Queen’s University. His current research interests include the philosophical implications of non-classical logics, responses to scepticism, and the relationship between negation and denial.

Beau Branson has taught in Almaty, Kazakhstan and Owensboro, Kentucky. He will be curating the Philosophy of Religion part. Branson received his Ph.D. in 2014 from the University of Notre Dame. He specializes in Ancient and Hellenistic Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Philosophical Theology. Branson’s current research focuses on the philosophy of the early Church fathers. By bringing the rigour of contemporary logic and analytic metaphysics to bear on deep historical questions in patristics scholarship, he hopes to show how both analytic theology and historical theology can benefit from a deeper engagement with one another.

Douglas Giles taught philosophy in the U.S. for twelve years, and will be compiling the Social and Political Philosophy part. He recently completed his critical social theory at the University of Essex, U.K.. Giles plans to continue teaching at the university level. His research interests include political philosophy and phenomenology.

Heather Salazar is an associate professor at Western New England University. Salazar will join us as the editor of the Philosophy of Mind part in early January. Her specializations within philosophy of mind include substance dualism and externalism. Salazar’s current work focuses on enlightened self-interest both within Western perspectives (neo-Kantian constructivism and philosophical psychology) and Eastern traditions (Yogic philosophy and Buddhism).

These part editors will be responsible for:

  • Creating and sharing a part outline with a summary and short chapter descriptions
  • Soliciting & incorporating community feedback on the outline
  • Helping to recruit authors
  • Working with Christina Hendricks to answer questions from chapter authors
  • Helping to edit contributed chapters

We’re so pleased to have these incredible individuals onboard and thank them for their willingness to contribute! We’d also like to thank Christina, and our first two part editors Dr. Scott Clifton (Aesthetics) and Dr. George Matthews (Ethics) for their leadership to date, guiding and moderating debates on the Rebus Community Forum, shaping the direction of the content, and helping to work out the process for bringing the project to fruition.

The book is beginning to take shape, with chapters from the Ethics and Aesthetics parts beginning to come in. We are excited to see more content coming together in the upcoming months. Head over to the project volunteer page to sign up for updates or get involved!

A New Era of Student-Created Anthologies: Antología abierta de literatura hispánica!

Are you a professor of Hispanic literature? We need you and your students to help us expand the Antología abierta de literatura hispánica! We’re looking for instructors to run a critical edition assignment in their classrooms (with support) and submit the results to the second edition of the anthology. If you’re interested, head to the project homepage and let us know!

We’re pleased to share that the Antología abierta de literatura hispánica (AALH) is now available for use in classrooms! The AALH is a collection of public-domain texts from the Hispanic world, accessible to students of Hispanic literature as a free, openly licensed resource on the web, in PDF or as an ebook. It proposes an inclusive, broad, and evolving definition of the canon, and in so doing reimagines the ‘Anthology’ for a new era.

This project is spearheaded by Dr. Julie Ward at the University of Oklahoma, who ran an Edición Crítica assignment in her Introduction to Hispanic Literature course to produce the first edition of the anthology. Over the course of the semester, students prepared critical introductions and annotations that came together to become the AALH.

We are now looking for instructors to replicate this assignment (or something similar) in their Fall 2017 course, and contribute their own student-created critical editions to the next edition of the anthology. As these editions are collected and compiled, we see the AALH becoming a robust, accessible, and valuable resource for students, instructors, and researchers in the field of Hispanic literature.

To support faculty who will be conducting the assignment, Dr. Ward has prepared a comprehensive implementation guide, complete with assignment materials, student guides, and instructor resources. She and others running the assignment will also be available to consult on questions or challenges that may arise.

The AALH is unique in its incorporation of student voices and perspectives, drawing inspiration from the highly regarded Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature (first produced by Robin deRosa and now being expanded by new lead editor Tim Robbins & the Rebus Community). These projects redefine conceptions of an Anthology from a static collection put together only by faculty to a dynamic, accessible compilation of both faculty and student work.

If you’re excited by these developments, and want to participate in this project, sign-up on the Rebus Community Forum and leave a comment on the discussion thread!