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# Open Textbooks as an innovation route for open science pedagogy

#### Abstract

The paper introduces the UK Open Textbook project and discusses its success factors with regards to promoting open practice and open pedagogy. Textbooks remain a core part of educational provision in science. Open Textbooks are openly licensed academic textbooks, wherein the digital version is available freely, and the print version at reduced cost. They are a form of Open Educational Resource (OER). In recent years a number of openly-licensed textbooks have demonstrated high impact in countries including the USA, Canada and South Africa. The UK Open Textbooks project piloted several established approaches to the use and promotion open textbooks (focusing on STEM subjects) in a UK context between 2017 and 2018. The project had two main aims: to promote the adoption of open textbooks in the UK; and to investigate the transferability of the successful models of adoption that have emerged in North America. Through a number of workshops at a range of higher education institutions and targeted promotion at specific education conferences, the project successfully raised the profile of open textbooks within the UK. Several case studies report existing examples of open textbook use in UK science were recorded. There was considerable interest and appetite for open textbooks amongst UK academics. This was partly related to cost savings for students, but more significant factors were the freedom to adapt and develop textbooks and OER. This is consistent with a range of research that has taken place in other countries and suggests the potential for impact on UK science education is high.

## 1.Introduction

This paper reports the results of the UK Open Textbooks project, which assessed the viability of the UK for “open textbooks” between 2017 and 2018 through a series of engagement actions. Open textbooks are a form of open educational resource (OER). OER have been described in various ways. According to the UNESCO definition they may be understood as “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions” (Creative Commons, 2016). Open textbooks are funded by universities, foundations, governments and other institutions to disrupt the traditional model of educational textbook publishing. Authors (typically academics or other experts) are paid for their work, which is then released under an open licence (e.g. Creative Commons, n.d.). This typically allows content to be freely copied, shared, edited, remixed and used in new ways without further permissions required from the copyright holder.

We proceed with a brief discussion of open science which highlights the potential role of open textbooks in pedagogy 2 before going on to describe the potential for such innovation in the UK market 3. Section 4 describes the UK Open Textbooks project and its activities. Sections 5 and 6 describe the results of the evaluation method for the two engagement approaches explored. Section 7 presents case studies of open textbook use in the UK. Section 8 discusses the results of the project as a whole. Section 9 makes recommendations for further research in this area. The conclusion 10 frames the relevance of the results for open science pedagogy.

## 2.Open science and open textbooks

“Open science” does not have a fixed meaning, and refers instead to a set of aspirations and actions designed to make research accessible to all levels of society. This can include open access publication; open data; open source software; collaboration platforms; citizen science; infrastructure; sharing lab notes; specifying protocols for metadata; and outreach from knowledge producer to the general public through social media. Tennant et al. (2019) describe the ongoing transition from open access to open science and open research, finding there are many persistent myths and misunderstandings about openness in science. There are also many longtanding debates about the proper role of openness within scientific research (see Willinsky, 2005; Whyte & Pryor, 2011; Friesike et al., 2015; Concannon et al., 2019; Teixeira da Silva, 2019). Fecher and Friesike (2013) accordingly describe open science as “an umbrella term encompassing a multitude of assumptions about the future of knowledge creation and dissemination”.

Open science is still broadly understood as research-oriented, with the “open” element provided by the outputs (research data, lab notes, methods, instruments, etc.) being made available in accessible formats on open licences to facilitate reuse and validation. The role of openness in science has been explored in a research context quite thoroughly through open data, open access publishing, open source software, and open protocols and practices that enable collaboration, research reproducibility and data validation. Citizenship science is increasingly encouraged. However, the implications of openness for scientific pedagogy are rarely discussed.

For instance, the FOSTER project provides a comprehensive taxonomy of open science which contains no reference to teaching, learning or pedagogy (see Fig. 1).

A recent innovation that challenges the established model of scientific pedagogy

##### Figure 1.

Taxonomy of open science (FOSTER, n.d.; Pontika et al., 2015) CC-BY. Hi-res at https://www.fosteropenscience.eu/themes/fosterstrap/images/taxonomies /os_taxonomy.png.

are “open” textbooks. Textbooks are a ubiquitous educational tool, used internationally, that often form the centrepiece of a course presentation. They offer the possibility of a balanced curriculum that is refined over time and standardised to uphold quality standards. Textbooks can be written for a range of purposes and levels of education. The market for educational textbooks in science is enormous, but a handful of publishers dominate this space, making huge profits. Textbook costs in the USA, for instance, have risen by more than 1,000% since the 1970s (NBC, 2015).

There are two main advantages associated with open textbooks. The first are efficiency savings which can be substantial and make a significant difference to low-income students who benefit from having ready access from the time a course begins. The second is the potential for open textbooks to support educational innovation through the use of a wider range of content which can support experimentation and reflection on practice (OER Research Hub, 2014: 21–22).

There is a significant body of research demonstrating the quality and efficaciousness of open textbooks and OER more generally. In one of the largest studies into the efficacy of open textbooks Fischer et al. (2015) analysed whether the adoption of (digital) open textbooks significantly predicted students’ completion of courses, class achievement, and enrollment intensity during and after semesters in which OER were used. The study employed a sample group of almost 5000 post-secondary students using open textbooks and over 11,000 control students using traditional commercial alternatives, distributed among ten institutions across the United States, enrolled in 15 different undergraduate courses. Focusing on five measures of student success – course completion, final grade, final grade of C- or higher, enrollment intensity, and enrollment intensity in the following semester – finding that the OER group had more favourable outcomes.

Delimont et al. (2016) surveyed more than 2,000 students across 13 courses on their use of alternative educational materials on the subject of agriculture, finding that learners rated the quality highly and would prefer to use more open resources. They also interviewed a faculty member from each course, and it was reported that student learning improved while the use of open content both improved workflow and resulted in significant savings.

Similar patterns have been observed in a range of studies. Hilton (2016) synthesized studies into OER, selecting cases according to a quality threshold (comparison of OER cohort with a control group using traditional materials; peer-reviewed & published; focused on OER quality or educational outcomes; having at least 50 participants). Sixteen studies were selected (representing a sample of 46,149 students).

Only one of the nine studies on OER efficacy showed that the use of OER was connected with lower learning outcomes in more instances than it was with positive outcomes, and even this study showed that the majority of the classes were non-significant differences. Three had results that significantly favored OER, three showed no significant difference and two did not discuss the statistical significance of their results. In synthesizing these nine OER efficacy studies, an emerging finding is that utilizing OER does not appear to decrease student learning (Hilton, 2016).

With respect to science education Jared Robinson et al. (2014) found that “students who used open textbooks scored 0.65 points higher on end-of-year state standardized science tests than students using traditional textbooks when controlling for the effects of 10 student and teacher covariates”. While studies such as these don’t establish that open textbooks are pedagogically superior, they have established that an equal level of quality is typically attained.

Watson et al. (2017) studied the student and faculty experiences of adopting and using an open textbook on a biology course. Students (n= 1299) were pleased with the savings and appreciated the quality of the materials. Faculty found the flexibility of the materials very useful, with the ability to integrate OER into the local Learning Management System particularly valued. They highlight the tensions that can result from introducing open materials:

Faculty adopters in this study noted concern from colleagues who were unfamiliar with notions of open education resources generally…those faculty sometimes found themselves defending their choices in these contexts; however, their ability to describe their firsthand experiences with the quality of traditional and online textbooks, coupled with cost comparisons, made those concerns and discussions easier to navigate (Watson et al., 2017).

Cost savings from switching to open textbooks can be considerable. Recording the adoption of open textbooks has made it possible to calculate the financial value of “going open”. More than $1 billion has been saved by students, their families, institutions and governments (Allen, 2018) as shown in Table 1. ##### Table 1 Documented financial savings achieved through OER SectorAmount saved USA & Canada (higher education)$921,783,169
USA & Canada (K12/school)$45,051,066 Other countries$38,500,000