Open Textbooks and Open Educational Practices

By Bodong Chen in blog

April 24, 2018

I was included in an MN Daily story about open textbooks last week. It was actually a bit embarrassing as I thought a few other colleagues would ‘co-star’ with me in this story because there are exciting work on open textbooks and affordable content going on at UMN.

In this blog post, I’d like to share some personal thoughts that were not included in the news story.

Open textbooks: Personal reasons of using them

The price of textbooks in the US (and Canada) is ridiculous. I am not knowledgeable enough to explain why. But I had lived experiences with buying bulky textbooks for $200 and using them as laptop stands after a single use. They are from respected textbook publishers (like SAGE) and are indeed well-written. But … there could be 100 reasons why a textbook should not cost that much.

More importantly, the notion of ‘a textbook’ has evolved, at least for some disciplines. In many fields that are fast-evolving, textbooks written today will become dated in two years. Also, one textbook can rarely fulfill needs of a course, making it necessary to introduce fresh texts and multimedia content from the ‘open world’. Digital tools, such as H5P and Colaboratory, offer richer modalities, interoperability, and interactivity for learning in comparison with traditional paper books.

More profoundly, the conceptualization of a textbook as a container of knowledge to be acquired by students is challenged by ‘new cultures of learning’ that de-emphasize ‘knowledge as stocks’ and value learning as ‘participating in a flow of knowledge production’. Instructors can surely do inspiring things with a traditional textbook, but grounding principles of Open Educational Resources (OER) almost automatically make a philosophical statement that draws one’s teaching closer to new cultures of learning. It’s the (promised) paradigm shift behind OER (and open textbooks) that attracts me, besides cost concerns mentioned above.

And, by the way, these changes are not limited to textbooks, but also scholarly knowledge production in general.

Open educational practices

So my thinking on OER are tilted towards ‘open educational practices’. In addition to making my course content open ( on Github for example), I am also interested in:

  • Open participation — that does not limit participation within a socially, spatiotemporally, and technologically bounded environment
  • Student agency and voice — that give students a say about what to learn and how to learn
  • Connected learning and networked scholarship opportunities — that present a fuller picture of learning

In a design case I recently published in TechTrends, an EdTech journal, I introduce in great details about a course I designed with these ideas in mind. I wrote a course handbook, which is essentially a compilation of OER, and incorporated tools like and Slack to facilitate collaborative discourse.

It would be fun to integrate more ‘open pedagogy’ ideas in the next iteration of this course. Maybe asking students to rewrite the handbook. Maybe setting up open Jupyter Notebooks for students to fork, remix, and redistribute.

What does this mean for faculty members?

It’s a good critique. Free-time is an unfamiliar word for many academics. The idea of teaching online is already facing push-backs over the years. Structural supports for faculty members are needed to make OER production sustainable. Supporting broader acceptance of OER and open educational practices also requires cultural shifts within an institution, which is often hard to bring about.

Posted on:
April 24, 2018
3 minute read, 636 words
oer teaching open education
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