January Office Hours Recap & Video: Adapting Open Textbooks

Office Hours

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.

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