Way back in mid-March, we closed our office as a precautionary measure in response to COVID-19, and since then I have been planning (and planning and planning) to write about Pressbooks and the ways open digital technologies, open content, and open practices can be part of a resilience strategy in the face of upheavals like
University of Texas at Arlington is using its PressbooksEDU system as a platform on which to build open educational resources as part of UTA Libraries’ open education program.
Open Education Librarian Michelle Reed says the program supports open education broadly, including distribution of grant funding for the creation and adoption of OER, as well as the incentivization of open pedagogy.
Anyone affiliated with UTA can get access to the UTA Pressbooks network to develop openly licensed content. (While UTA recommends and prefers the CC BY license, they will allow any Creative Commons license except for Non-Derivatives.)
In June, Michelle hired a student worker who spent the summer moving content into the Pressbooks platform and readying the OER for publication.
Michelle says this text was a bit of an outlier compared to many of the resources they’ll be using Pressbooks for, but it’s a step into OER and open access monograph work. A typical OER from UTA will be designed to be shared with students; this work was instead created to be shared with instructors of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the LINK Research Lab. (It was later expanded to be a resource to anyone building an online course.)
So far, UTA has seven other texts in development on the Pressbooks platform. Half of these are also UTA CARES Grant Program grantees.
The second book UTA Libraries released, in partnership with UTA’s Division of Student Success, was a customized textbook for use in first-year experience courses. It replaces a $20-$25 book that UTA owned the copyright to. They decided to move the resource into Pressbooks instead and make it available to students for free as an OER. With approval at the provost level, the resource will be used by all first-year experience courses in fall and revised in time for the following year’s courses. In its first semester of use, the OER will impact over 3,000 students and result in approximately $75,000 in cost savings for incoming first-time-in-college students.
“It’s a huge moment for our campus because so many people in different disciplines teach that course,” Michelle says.
Two of the books being built on UTA’s Pressbooks instance are from OER grant recipients in civil engineering. One of the texts is a resource originally developed on Google Sites, which the team is moving into Pressbooks.
Author Sharareh Kermanshachi, an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering, had created an open website with interactive OER course materials to use instead of a traditional textbook, in her fall 2017 course. She also collected data about students’ perception of OER and academic performance in the class. Among her findings, students with loans had a more positive perception of the OER, and in this particular course, students using this OER did better than students who had used a traditional textbook in her same course the prior semester.
She presented her research at a conference, where the resource gained interest from other institutions. The OER will be released publicly on Pressbooks where it will continue to be updated.
Another civil engineering instructor runs a flipped classroom in which students watch the video lectures as homework and come in prepared to work hands-on with equipment. He received a $10,000 OER innovation grant for a project in which he will develop a video series and interactive assessment lab manuals.
An intermediate French textbook, which was initially developed in a Word document, will also be converted into book format on Pressbooks.
Even students have gotten involved in OER production at UTA, helping to retrofit a lab manual for a biology class with openly licensed, attributed images.
While they received high-level assistance from faculty and training in Creative Commons licenses, “students were the ones driving that effort,” Michelle says.
“When I told them how it was going to be distributed and how their work would be acknowledged, they got really excited.”
Michelle says they’ll be using the Pressbooks platform for both authoring and adaptations. (A recent UTA Libraries blog post talks more about how they plan to use the system.)
In some cases, a school or department want to use OER, but find that no open access (or commercial) resource currently exists that meets all of their qualifications.
“Now that we have Pressbooks, we have a real alternative for people to modify the content that doesn’t quite fit their needs,” Michelle says. “I think it will increase adoptions across the board. But I think we’ll also see a huge increase in people modifying OER through the Pressbooks platform because it makes it so easy – particularly if something’s in Pressbooks already – with the cloning feature.”
PressbooksEDU users can use the cloning feature to instantly copy any book on a Pressbooks network that has a CC license and allows derivatives onto their own institutional network. Users can then modify and adapt that book to include whatever content they need for their own use of the book.
“We’re showing off cloning, because it’s just, it’s so easy,” Michelle says. “We’re hoping that we can [use this feature to] reach people who are very interested in OER but resistant because it feels difficult.”
UTA Libraries plans to market the program more heavily over the next academic year. Michelle spoke about OER at new faculty orientation this falls. They also hope to partner with the university’s IDEAS Center. Currently they’re looking for early adopters to demonstrate what’s feasible and learn what infrastructure they’ll need to develop to support future instructors who sign on. Over the summer they hosted community meetings every other week, and they also offered a series of Pressbooks exploration sessions.
“People love it. They’re just so excited to see that it’s easy to use and it makes the whole revision and remix process – which can be hard for people to understand when they’ve never tried to do it – Pressbooks makes it real for them.”
At this point, she says, a key goal is to make more resources available so people can see that this work is happening on the campus.
Michelle and her team are currently doing a lot of the work to help faculty get content from where it lives now into Pressbooks, as well as to make sure it’s accessible. However, the long-term goal is to build a community of practice and empower faculty and their student workers to do this work.
She says features such as H5P integration, which enables interactive assessment, have been very attractive to faculty and help OER compete with content from commercial publishers, or commercial platforms such as Top Hat.
“That’s what gets people excited,” she says. “That’s really what they’re looking to commercial publishers to provide.”
She is also optimistic about the cloning feature. Much of UTA’s OER program has been inspired by learning what other leaders in this space have been doing. Michelle says they looked at work by BCcampus, by Steel Wagstaff at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and by Billy Meinke at University of Hawaii. It was also appealing that the Open Textbook Network offered a discount on Pressbooks to its members.
“A lot of the people who are leading work we admire are moving this direction,” Michelle says.
The more open content there is in Pressbooks, the more powerful the cloning feature becomes, she says.
“As more open educators move to this system, it’s going to really benefit us all because it makes our job easier.”
Update 8/31: We updated the post to note that Creating Online Learning Experiences has been updated to be a resource to anyone building an online course.