Defining Open Textbooks
I would encourage someone who’s thinking of writing an open textbook to go for it. — Caitie Finlayson, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of Mary Washington. Author of World Regional Geography (CC BY NC SA).
In fall 2013, the Student Public Interest Research Groups conducted a survey of 2,039 students from more than 150 different university campuses. Key findings include:
- 65% of students said that they had decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive.
- 94% of students who had foregone purchasing a textbook were concerned that doing so would hurt their grade in a course.
- Nearly half of all students surveyed said that the cost of textbooks impacted how many/which classes they took each semester.
- 82% of students felt they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional.
Open textbooks are a solution to these academic and financial concerns. Read the entire report online at www.uspirg.org.
Open textbooks are not only free — a big deal on its own in an age of rising education costs — but also licensed in such a way that they can be freely edited or modified. (More about open licenses in the next chapter.) Open textbooks are typically distributed online in multiple formats (for example, PDF or EPUB). Often it’s possible to buy a bound open textbook in a college bookstore or online at low cost, too. Students can choose the format that works best for their budget and learning style.
Open means that everything included in the open textbook, including images, are openly licensed. In addition, the Open Textbook Network and Open Textbook Library consider the right to adapt an open textbook to be integral to the definition of open. This means that the books in the Open Textbook Library use open licenses that allow faculty to add, remove or rearrange content. This malleability means faculty can reflect recent updates in the field or change content to accommodate their course design and timeline.
I found that without a full understanding of what it means to be “open” and the requirements of Creative Commons, some faculty will do a lot of work and include a lot of content that is not open or appropriate for an open textbook. I have had to change my approach to making sure that faculty first understand what it means to be “open” just to save them a lot of extra work. — Shane Nackerud, Technology Lead, Library Initiatives, University of Minnesota Libraries
Open Access and Open Source
Open textbooks have a lot in common with open access materials and open source software. However, there are some differences.
Open access (from Wikipedia) refers to online research outputs that are free of all restrictions on access (e.g. access tolls) and free of many restrictions on use (e.g. certain copyright and license restrictions). Open access can be applied to all forms of published research output, including peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed academic journal articles, conference papers, theses, book chapters, and monographs.
Two degrees of open access can be distinguished: gratis open access, which is online access free of charge, and libre open access, which is online access free of charge plus various additional usage rights. These additional usage rights are often granted through the use of various specific Creative Commons licenses.
So, not all open access materials are also openly licensed, but all are free. When we say “open textbook” throughout this guide, we mean open textbooks that are libre open access because they are licensed to allow for additional usage rights.
As for open source software, that means that the creators have made the original source code freely available for others to share and change. Some open textbook authors, especially in computer science, embrace this openness by making their files available on GitHub or another repository. This allows for easier editing or remixing of the original work. However, not all open textbooks are also open source.
For further reading on defining open: opencontent.org/definition/
For more, see Self-Publishing Guide, Not Just Another Textbook [New Tab].