Category: Office Hours

Open Textbook Network and the Rebus Community present Office Hours, a monthly discussion among people who are creating open textbooks to talk about related issues.

Office Hours: Launch: Rebus Community Projects (May 16, 12 p.m. PST / 3 p.m. EST)

Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community Host Office Hours

Office Hours Launch: Rebus Community Projects

Time / Date: Wednesday, May 16, 12 p.m. PST / 3 p.m. EST

Guest Speaker: Zoe Wake Hyde

Rebus Community is building a new, collaborative model for open textbook publishing. To support this model, we are building a platform to enable global open textbook creators to collaborate on open textbook projects.

In this special session of Office Hours, Rebus Community project manager Zoe Wake Hyde will demonstrate the platform, which will launch in beta soon. Interested in joining the beta? Get on the list.  


Click to join the session day of.

February Office Hours Recap & Video: Barriers to Open Textbook Adoption: Common Questions and Concerns Explained

Are you a faculty, staff member, or librarian hoping to encourage the adoption of Open Textbooks? Speakers in this month’s Office Hours on Barriers to Open Textbook Adoption explained their strategies to overcome obstacles to textbook adoption. Watch the video recording, or read a summary below.

Open textbooks reduce the costs of attending college and increase access to knowledge. Still, they have their (vocal) detractors. In this session, experts dissect common arguments for and against using open textbooks, and discuss ways to overcome these objections in the higher ed landscape.

This session featured guest speakers Jasmine Roberts, Strategic Communication Lecturer at The Ohio State University and Sarah Cohen, Managing Director at Open Textbook Network.

Watch a recap of the session, or read the full summary below.

Sarah Cohen, a guest speaker who is also the managing director of Office Hours co-sponsor Open Textbook Network (OTN), kicked things off. She introduced the Open Textbook Network, “an alliance of higher ed institutions committed to access, affordability and student academic success through the use of open textbooks.” Sarah said their focus has been on faculty adoptions but is expanding to open textbook creation.

Sarah introduced Jasmine Roberts, a faculty member at the Ohio State University who is an OER research fellow and an open textbook author who created the open textbook Writing for Strategic Communication Industries.

Sarah then talked about the typical obstacles she has seen to faculty adoption of open textbooks. These included discovery and lack of awareness, which she said were less common, or at least, more solvable, now. She said she was increasingly having conversations with faculty, in which the key objections were quality and the time it takes to switch to a new textbook (especially if they’ve built their course around another).

“I think that it’s important that we are empathetic to the struggles of trying to find the time to change your course. It’s a huge lift for faculty and not something for us to take lightly in having those conversations,” Sarah said. “However, the tack that I take is that all faculty at some point are going to have to look at their textbook anew.”

Jasmine jumped in to discuss some of the objections she had heard from faculty as she evangelized about OER. “A lot of faculty members think that this is purely an altruistic thing that you are doing for your students,” she said. Jasmine said she’s heard things like, “‘That’s very, very lofty of you to do, Jasmine,’” from her colleagues, followed by, “‘We still don’t see the professional advantage of doing something like that.’” (The impact of doing an open textbook on tenure and promotion was discussed later in the session.)

She talked about three major issues:

  • the stigmatization of OER;
  • the departmental kickbacks that faculty or their departments receive when they adopt a textbook from some traditional publishers; and
  • the ancillary materials that often accompany a textbook and make teaching easier.

She said it’s helpful for faculty to have top-down support or departmental support for creating OER.

Jasmine also mentioned distorted faculty perceptions of the need for college affordability. Some faculty, she said, see buying textbooks as a student’s responsibility, ahead of the technology they take to the classroom, or perceived luxuries like their coffee.

Sarah added that it was important not to conflate the issue of the high cost of a textbook versus students not reading the text. “That cost of the book is something that we, as faculty, can do something about.”

The session proceeded into Q&A, moderated by Liz Mays, of the Rebus Community, which coordinates the event with OTN.

Liz read a question from the chat, asking for more clarification on departmental kickbacks.

Jasmine explained that some publishers give the faculty member’s department funds they can use for professional development when they adopt a textbook. “And of course, departments want that funding for research conference, conferences, for teaching conferences.” Sarah added that the “kickbacks” could be more subtle – food that gets dropped off, a box of chocolates at the holidays. “And I also know campuses where there is no such thing,” she said.

Next, Liz read a question from Michelle Reed, at University of Texas at Arlington, who mentioned a workshop she had been to that took a “tough love” approach to the costs of college. “The argument was essentially, yes, maybe students are struggling with the costs, but it’s teaching them financial literacy and budgeting skills,” Liz read from the chat: “Michelle said her opinion is that there are better ways to teach students these types of lessons.”

Other chat participants referenced the “beer” and “Starbucks” arguments: “If students save money on textbooks, they’ll spend it on beer.”

“And I think that the argument that we make at the OTN, really is around that might be true for some students, but you don’t know in the classroom which students that applies to,” Sarah responded. “And we’re talking about trying to support all students.”

Jasmine said she didn’t think it was her business to judge how the students spend their money.

“I just don’t think it’s my role as an instructor to be my students’ financial planner, and to be their parent,” Jasmine added. “But it’s my job as an educator to make sure that my students are successful and to prepare in that fashion. And so, if I’m assigning a textbook that’s $150, am I really setting my students up for success?”

Sarah clarified: “It’s so important to recognize that just as we’re saying that we don’t want faculty members essentially to blame students in those situations, how important it is that we don’t blame faculty in those situations…we’re not going to bring more faculty to open textbooks by yelling at them that that’s a ridiculous argument.”

Sarah also added that this is an argument you don’t hear as much in community colleges, because food insecurity is a more prevalent issue in that environment.

Other questions from the chat centered around peer review. Jasmine said she found it important to have her book peer reviewed and be able to state that. Liz mentioned that Rebus Community has a working group around peer review. And Sarah said that OTN library does not require books to have a formal peer review process.

The conversation then moved on to “inclusive access” and similar services traditional publishers are offering that put textbooks, sometimes including OER, and sometimes even course tests, behind a digital access code for a reduced price.

Sarah said this was a hot topic that had been written about by David Wiley and Inside Higher Ed recently. She said it was important to assess if the platforms offered faculty the flexibility they need and students what they need to succeed academically. Jasmine said this is why it’s important not to just use cost-savings arguments around OER, because the big publishers can use them too, but to bring in pedagogical arguments.

Ethan Senack said, “My concern with inclusive access programs are that there’s even less accountability for publishers. With print textbooks students could opt out, or look for alternatives. With inclusive access students take their tests through the platform, and they have no way to opt out.”

Cheryl Cuillier added, “These inclusive access programs cut out the used book market, and the rental book market.”

Other attendees mentioned the potential marketing challenges and brand confusion when bigger publishers put OER behind a proprietary platform and paywall.

“I think it’s kind of a great thing that in open education we actually are having an impact and that the publishers are taking notice,” Jasmine said. “But I have to be honest with you, it’s sad to see all these publishers getting in on what they call OER, when it’s really not OER.”

Sarah said it was important to spread the OER-enabled pedagogy messaging from faculty to other faculty.

Liz asked Jasmine how she has those conversations, particularly with tenured faculty.

Jasmine said in her experience, tenured faculty hadn’t been as eager to create open textbooks.

But Sarah said she was aware of campuses where tenured faculty were the most likely ones to be leading open textbook projects.

“So, I think [this] again brings back [the fact that] every institution is different. And the culture at your institution might be that your tenured faculty could be the ones that are going to be your coalition of the willing,” she said. “While at other campuses, it might be adjunct faculty, or newer faculty to the profession, that or the discipline, that might be your best inroads. So, that’s I think the thing that we have to ask ourselves. Who are my allies going to be on my campus?”

Cheryl added that it is helpful when promoting OER to be involved in faculty senate and advocate for textbook affordability in policies, resolutions and the like. She said another strategy is to partner with instructional designers when a course is being redesigned.

Join us for the next Office Hours session, on Tracking Open Textbooks Adaptations and Adoptions, on April 4 at 12 p.m. PST / 3 p.m. EST.


A raw transcript of this session is available.

Office Hours: Tracking Faculty Open Textbooks Adaptations and Adoptions

Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community Host Office Hours

Tracking Faculty Open Textbooks Adaptations and Adoptions
Wednesday, April 4, 2018, 12 p.m. PST / 3 p.m. EST
Guest Speakers:

Tim Robbins, Assistant Professor of English, Graceland University; Karen Bjork, Head of Digital Initiatives, Portland State University; David Harris, Editor in Chief, OpenStax; and Rosie Liljenquist, Fellow in Open Access & Education Initiatives & Asst. Prof., Library Media, Southern Utah University

Publishing an open textbook is a monumental feat, but for a dynamic, living, open resource, the project doesn’t end with publication. Open textbooks can be modified for specific courses, combined with other texts, and expanded and revised. In this session, faculty and administrators will talk about out how they discover and track who is using the resource they created, and how it has been adapted.

RSVP for the session.

Click to join the session day of. (Note that the session will be recorded.)

January Office Hours Recap & Video: Adapting Open Textbooks

Are you a faculty, staff member, or librarian hoping to adapt an Open Textbook? This month’s Office Hours session on adapting open textbooks will help! Watch the video recording, or read a summary below.

In January’s Office Hours event from Open Textbook Network and Rebus Community, faculty and staff who have adapted open textbooks discussed their process, insights, and recommendations for others considering adapting an open textbook for their course.

Guest speakers included Lauri Aesoph, manager of Open Education for BCcampus; Dave Dillon, counselor/professor, chair of the OER Task Force (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges) at Grossmont College; and Anita R. Walz, copyright and scholarly communications librarian at Virginia Tech.

Watch a recap of the session, or read the full summary below.

Elizabeth Mays from the Rebus Community began by speaking briefly about Rebus’ mission to build a new and collaborative model for open textbook publishing. She then introduced Karen Lauritsen, from Office Hours co-sponsor Open Textbook Network (OTN). Karen explained OTN’s mission: to improve education through open education. Currently, OTN members represent more than 600 higher education institutions. OTN offers resources, guides, a member discount on Pressbooks EDU networks, and training and support for institutions with open textbook publishing programs.

Dave Dillon presented first. He teaches a first-year college and career success course at Grossmont College. He said his interest in OER began when he saw that the textbook he had created through a university press had been marked up from $30 to $42 by the university bookstore. Dave put in a sabbatical proposal to create an open textbook for his course. He was able to combine existing texts: from Open Oregon, Lumen Learning, and the State University of New York system (SUNY), with his own original material into a new text. Dave said one of the sources was originally CC BY SA NC, but he was able to negotiate with the original editor to change the license to CC BY, which allowed him to release the new text under this less restrictive license. He pointed to a variety of guides and resources from BCcampus that he said helped him understand best practices as he built the new book (see resources below).

Lauri Aesoph said she was glad to hear the BCcampus resources were helpful and that a new and improved edition of the BC Open Textbook Authoring Guide was coming out soon. Lauri said her role in open textbook adaptations at BCcampus is as a project manager, working with faculty, authors, and adapting faculty and authors throughout the province of British Columbia. She said initially BCcampus began as an effort to Canadianize 10 open textbooks and it grew from there. “Canadianizing” meant replacing the content with Canadian examples, Canadian spellings, and metric measurements. She said she worked with a team of copy editors who helped to develop style guides for the books. Lauri likened adapting an open textbook to a home renovation. “You run into surprises all the time, and sometimes it can take just as long as building a new house.” She said it’s important to start with a quality text that observes best practices. For instance, the team had to remove a lot of images and videos that were not openly licensed, and in some cases, copy edit books that were not copy edited to begin with. Finally, she mentioned that sometimes it took awhile to get the original books into Pressbooks for book formatting. In one case, this was because the original books were produced in a closed, PDF format. In another case, it was because they were cutting and pasting to import a book from OpenStax. BCcampus’ Pressbooks developer, Brad Payne, ultimately built a plug-in to automate the process of importing from OpenStax into Pressbooks.*

Anita Walz shared her experience helping a Virginia Tech College of Business faculty member adapt an open textbook, into what became Fundamentals of Business. Once the professor’s textbook increased to $220, he came to Anita for help. They decided to remix an openly licensed textbook with the goals of making the new text engaging, editable, accessible, tested by students, and low-cost. Walz concurred with Lauri’s construction project analogy, saying, “You’re either building something brand-new, or you’re renovating something that already exists.” She said the professor reduced the text, rewrote large passages, brought out-of-date examples up to date, and reorganized its sections. He had help from additional contributors and authors, and also some student reviewers. Anita managed the overall project and trained the team in Creative Commons licenses, copyright, and how to write attributions. She also obtained grant funds, reviewed the entire book for copyright issues, identified the research and graphic design that would be necessary, handled permissions, and more. She said she had to have some hard conversations about fair use out of concern for downstream users. Ultimately the book was formatted in Word, which Anita said she does not recommend. Among tips for those starting open textbook adaptations, she suggests documenting expectations up front, so everyone knows what is expected from their role and what they’ll be contributing. “It’s really important to be very clear and maybe even in writing, regarding what kinds of licenses are acceptable, both as inputs and as outputs,” she said.

Next, the session opened up to Q&A from attendees. C. Holland asked how Lauri and Anita became project managers for managing open textbooks. Lauri said she was hired at BCcampus Open Education 15 years ago. As the organization grew, the team realized that their role was to support, guide, and train the faculty. “We need to teach those who are developing and using these materials and resources how they can do it on their own,” she said, noting that five years later, that’s working.

Anita said she happened into managing the project when she was approached by faculty, and they didn’t have a structure at the outset. “There are a lot of things I would do differently,” she said, laughing.

People asked about software used to produce open textbooks. Anita said they used Word, but does not recommend doing so. Lauri and Dave both used Pressbooks.

Lauri said they require authors to work in Pressbooks, and conduct training on it for faculty and staff. She also authored the BC Open Textbook Pressbooks Guide.

Dave said Pressbooks was a natural choice. “Of the five things that I was looking at to try to sort into the same unifying text, three of those were in Pressbooks already. So, that made it really easy.” He said Pressbooks was as accessible as other alternatives, and continually improving. He complimented the Pressbooks support team. Most of all, he advised against doing an open textbook just in PDF. The closed format, he said, is “terribly difficult to be able to openly adopt.”

Anita agreed with Dave, saying, “I would agree that the remix of PDF is really problematic. And actually, the book that we remixed from was PDF. So, we had to reverse-engineer it- it was such a mess.”

That was part of what motivated her to create a guide to modifying open textbooks.

Karen asked Anita to elaborate on the fair use issues she ran into. Anita talked about how in-copyright images can complicate downstream uses.

“When you add content under fair use that is iffy, you put other people in a position where they have to do- where they should do a fair use analysis. And you don’t want to do that in openly licensed content.” She mentioned that there were a few crucial images they couldn’t find replacements for but had to include. She reached out for permissions, included a clause to make those permissions transferable, and created a permissions file for the book that is available upon request for those who might remix it.

Others asked about copy editing and graphic design. Dave and Anita recommended using student talent for the design. Lauri was able to hire copy editors for the BCcampus books. Anita did not have a copy editor for the business text, but now sends books to be edited professionally. Dave did not have this benefit but thanked Rebus Community for the support they offered in facilitating peer review.

Funding was another topic of discussion. Anita said her open textbook efforts were funded by the university libraries and the open education budget. Dave said his college received a small grant to incentivize faculty open textbook creation or adoption projects. Lauri said BCcampus is funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education to provide support to all 25 public co-secondary institutions in the province of British Columbia.

Finally, guests discussed accessibility and its importance when building open textbooks. Lauri pointed to the BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit, available in English and French, and noted that books meeting the criteria on the Accessibility Checklist are marked with an accessible flag. She said BCcampus is gearing up to release an updated version of this resource in mid-February.


*In the interest of transparency we would like to note that some members of Rebus staff also work for Pressbooks, an open source book formatting software. Pressbooks offers a discount to OTN member institutions. Pressbooks is not affiliated with Office Hours events, and any mentions of Pressbooks are speakers’ own.

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.

(updated) Office Hours: Barriers to Open Textbook Adoption

Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community Host Office Hours

Barriers to Open Textbook Adoption: Common Questions and Concerns Explained

February 21, 2018, 2 p.m. PST /  5 p.m. EST

Guest speakers: Jasmine Roberts, Strategic Communication Lecturer, The Ohio State University; Sarah Cohen, Managing Director, Open Textbook Network; and others TBD

Open textbooks reduce the costs of attending college and increase access to knowledge. Still, they have their (vocal) detractors. In this session, experts will dissect common arguments for and against using open textbooks, and discuss ways to overcome these objections in the higher ed landscape.

RSVP for the session.

Click link to join the session day of. (Note that the session will be recorded.)

If you have any questions, or have difficulty entering the call, email us at

Office Hours: Open Textbook Adaptation

Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community Host Office Hours

Open Textbook Adaptation
January 24, 4 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. PST 

Guest speakers: Lauri Aesoph, Manager, Open Education, BCcampus; Dave Dillon, Counselor/Professor, Chair, OER Task Force (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges), Grossmont College; & Anita R. Walz, Open Education, Copyright & Scholarly Communications Librarian

One of the benefits of open textbooks is that they can be adapted for various faculty and student needs. Content can be adjusted for various student audiences, updated to include current events, or otherwise customized to reflect specific teaching approaches to the subject matter. In this session, we’ll talk with faculty who have adapted open textbooks. They’ll talk about their process, insights, and recommendations for others considering adapting an open textbook for their course.

RSVP for the session.

If you have any questions, or have difficulty entering the call, email us 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!


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.

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.