Adopting Open Textbooks with BCU

One week into the BC “Adopting Open Text Books” course.

I’m embarking on the BC course and in the first week we are provided with a series of videos including David Wiley talking about ‘open’, and we were given the question “What does open education mean to you?” I am now sitting here wondering why after ten years producing OERs and free materials, why I’m embarking on yet another course? Why am I still involved in this field of work that is nothing to do with my day-job?




David hits the nail on the head for me – it is all about the idea of sharing.

Or not.



In the comments on the page Cristina notes:

One thing that really struck me in both the video and the article is the idea of education as sharing, already, in its essence. If you are helping someone to learn something, or develop a new skill, you are sharing something of yourself.

(Christina’s comment).

What do we know about faculty sharing behaviour? 

I think in many people, the desire to share and help others is just their nature. So what do we know about academic / faculty sharing behaviours? When some of us embarked on the UK OER programme in 2009 we looked at attitudes to sharing within our universities.

We found that academics were happy to share within localised subject groups but not more widely, and at that time in 2009, certainly weren’t keen to move beyond the institution (Rolfe 2012, Staff Attitudes to OER). In Peter Reed’s similar study at the same time, staff were naturally sharing locally but in his institution were happy to think about sharing beyond the institution, perhaps reflecting a more advanced awareness and experience of open practices? (Reed 2012, Awareness, attitudes to OER).

In Libor Hurt’s MSc dissertation looking at openness and student perceptions, it was clear that their propensity to share and support fellow students was hugely strong (Download Libor’s dissertation from this page: When asked why, to many it was quite natural to help others, even beyond their university:

“Because not everyone gets the same opportunities do they?”


So in this snapshot of staff and student perceptions, the willingness to share was entrenched within people’s practices even without attempts to influence it. So this leads me to ask how has sharing fared through the history of education? I’m thinking at what point did it/we stop sharing?



I am no educational historian, but I know the teaching practices of the ancient philosophers very much involved the selfless passing on of ideas and knowledge, and the scholar was advised to then go and pass-forward and teach someone else. That was an essential part of the educational process. I love Thomas Wright’s book “Circulation: William Harvey’s Revolutionary Idea” and the recollections of the teaching of surgical practices.

Anatomies were made free of charge according to university statutes, ‘in order that everyone may come’ to enjoy what were civic as well as scholarly spectacles.

The public would pile into the steep-walled anatomical theatres with a dissection table in the middle and railings to stop queasy spectators falling in and spoiling the show. (The musicians were the last to enter and take their place around the dissecting table!) These were open festivals of learning! Harvey’s manuscript outlining his discoveries of the circulation system “De Motu Cordis” further benefited from printing technology and was able to share his theories to the science community and wider public (although they ridiculed him “he was crack-brained”). So returning to thoughts about SHARING, printing clearly led to the wider distribution of knowledge but with it came the bravery and confidence to go forth with your theories and ideas. Also the ‘asset’ started to be a thing of power, and religious differences often resulted in the burning of books, and we begin to see how wielding this power could exclude groups from gaining knowledge and education.

Where are we today?

I get a sense that today in our modern-day education systems that the ‘asset’ and information is still viewed as a powerful commodity to be acquired. Students clamour for PowerPoint slides and lecture notes to be placed on learning management systems. “Are you going to put your slides on Blackboard” must be the most common question in the entire education system. So over the centuries what may well have shifted is the sharing of the understanding of a topic or idea, toward the sharing of information assets?

I think there are also some deeper changes in our attitudes also. What about the desire to help ourselves and our own careers over helping others?

I’ve referred to open education in being in the terrible teens in a recent paper in press and I do believe in the UK anyway we’ve hit a wall. I think our current education system breeds a strong incliniation to help ourselves and our own careers that outweighs what might be our natural motivation to help others. Our education delivery systems reward us on our personal teaching and research achievements, with the overarching obsession about positions in league tables.

So what does open education mean to me?

For me, and many others like me I am guessing, ‘open’ means being able to participate in the education that I want, beyond my institution. I work in my own time using technology that works. I can use the tech I want to create the materials that I think are valuable for my subject. I can distribute them where and when I like on the internet. I pay small annual fees to maintain blogs that amounts to the cost of a few bottles of wine a year.

What roles do you think digital technologies and the internet have played in making open education possible?

Digital technology and social media have enabled educators to move beyond university systems and have been KEY to open education possibilities. I can work immediately and do not have to wait 3 days for administrator to give me access to software, or using learning management systems that can only cope with certain types of files or file sizes.

I can use social media to distribute my resources, where many universities are still trembling at the thought of academics on Twitter, and accounts having to be vetoed by marketing departments worried about what academics might say. Make some resources, place them on YouTube, Flicker, Twitter, Blogs and slap a Creative Commons licence on and away you go. These resources are my own content, artistry and copyright. I know I am working under contracts that permit me to OWN my ‘learning resources’ and to therefore do with as I please.

So how can we help OER through the terrible teens?

Clearly people like me working in their own time is not a sustainable solution and we need to continue to influence the next generation of acadmics and university staff. I think we need to reinvigorate universities as sharing spaces rather than places were education is delivered. Mike Neary and Joss Winn talked about this beautifully in 2009 (The Student as Producer)

Through these efforts, the organizing principle is being redressed creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of openness and creativity, engenders equity among academics and students and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an environment where knowledge is free, the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change.


2 thoughts on “Adopting Open Textbooks with BCU

  1. Great response to the questions posed in the opening week of the course, and thanks for sharing those resources! Very useful.

    I’ll just add a point that also sometimes inhibits inter-institutional sharing related to your (bang-on) point about assets and information, and that is competition for public funding. In our jurisdictions, institutions receive the majority of their funding based on enrollment numbers, so there is a competitive incentive built into the funding model to attract more students than the other institutions. Attract more students to your institution, get more funding.

    When you have a belief that the value of your educational experience lies with the content you use or produce, then you see your content as a competitive advantage to draw students in and increase your funding. Which is sometimes why you see acceptance of the type of institutional sharing among institutional colleagues that you discuss, but more caution when the idea of sharing with other institutions comes up.

  2. Come to this a bit late Viv but would like to stress need for qualitative research into how/why people do/don’t share. I can give my own anecdotal evidence. I voluntarily shared many resources when employed in HE – most of which went ‘under the radar’ from an institutional perspective. I never had any pushback institutionally and quite a lot of positive feedback externally.
    The exception was a learning resource that I developed for a specific version of software within a specific course. This was given to external educational institutions that became partners to my employer. Meanwhile, my teaching responsibilities moved on. Staff from the partner institutions contacted me to complain about errors in the learning resource wrt later versions of the software.
    It makes me wonder about the limits of ‘helping others’. My institution chose, without reference to me, to engage in a relationship with another institution and that could be a really great thing. But does that entail my commitment to helping them with adapting a learning resource for software that changes over time?
    Of course, where CCL could be applied to author’s institutional creations this wouldn’t be such a problem:)

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