Open Textbooks: The Missing Link

Nov 23, 2015 | Education | 0 comments

After attending #opened15 last week, there were lots of sessions talking about open textbooks. Some folks are for, and some against, with Amanda Coolidge weighing in this morning on the real purpose of these projects: to save students money

Now I’ve never been a big fan of the idea that knowledge is ‘owned’, whether it be by governments, corporations or even by schools, but I understand that this is the way the world works and I have to grin and bear it.

The growth of open textbooks as a cheaper alternative is something I fully support. Saving students money, hell, saving ME money as a student is something I can get behind, especially for the quality we get from some texts. Earlier this year, I started my PhD, and bought $300 worth of books. 3 books to be exact. One of them had a nice shiny hardback cover, and was pretty useless, was self-contradictory and actually had me going to wikipedia every 3 or 4 pages because it failed to explain terminology it used.

I get the need to save students Money.

I get the need to have efficacy and peer-review studies of open textbooks.

I also get that open textbooks serve a purpose. They are a missing link.

When we talk about evolution, a missing link refers to an intermediate form between two already known forms (we all know that this is a really outdated idea, but just roll with it)

We know the publisher model.

We know the TRUE OER model, where a collection of resources from many different sources are used to create a learning experience and present a body of knowledge.

The in-between stage or as we learned at #opened15 last week, the “not yet-ness” of OER is a reality. The above model, that we all wished existed today does not, so instead we have this intermediate stage.

Open textbooks, just like published textbooks still tell us that ‘this is the source of authority on X’, when we all know that the source of authority on anything is shared, distributed and collectively owned. There is no one source. This is what the internet has done for us, and this is what a TRUE OER model will deliver…when it arrives.

I would constantly get a question when talking to faculty about finding OER: “How do I know if it’s any good?”

And my response was “Don’t you have a PhD in this topic? Look at it, if you think it’s good. Use it.”

In my head, all I could think was “Duh.” It baffled me how the instructors I worked with were seemingly unable to stop bending their knees to published textbooks and take the authority on the subject back for themselves. Why was this? Is it a generational issue? Perhaps. Maybe it’s just that OER is still ‘new’ when compared to the model that came before it.

Someday textbooks will be a thing of the past. Just as we collect and curate home furnishings and DIY resources on Pintrest, soon we’ll be doing the same for lessons, courses, and full programs and we as instructors and we as experts will finally take ownership of our expertise in a much more meaningful way.


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