Open Textbooks – A la Carte or Seven Course Meal?

04 Nov

I posted the paragraphs below on my blog page on the Community College Open Textbook Project Ning. Until then, I didn’t think my understanding of how to use Open Textbooks (depending on their licensing) was outside the norm.  To explain,  I look at the Open Textbook like an a la carte menu, where I can just order what I want and leave the rest for some other patron.  In my mind, closed (and print) textbooks are more like seven course meals with a menu decided for you.  Take the whole meal or none of it.

Since OERs generally come in bite-size modules, I assumed Open Textbooks came with the same kinds of options of utilizing  a single chapter here or module there.  But Judy Baker‘s reply (listed in blue following my post below) got me thinking maybe my vision of Open Textbooks is way off base from the intent of the Open Textbook movement.

My Ning post: I teach pre-college English composition online. My students are not English majors and it is doubtful that they will ever be interested in becoming the next Hemingway or even the next Stephen King. They just want to pass the minimum English requirements necessary for their particular certificate or degree program. In their eyes, everything else is busy work.

When I think about Open Textbooks and the ability to remix, reuse, and repurpose – this is where I get a little excited. Creative Commons licensing means I can pull a chapter here and a section there – cobbling together just what my students need. Instead of a tome meant to create future Nobel Laureates in literature, I can build an online composition guide meant to help future auto mechanics, nurses, turf managers, and cosmetologists be able to communicate in writing in a clear and concise way in eleven weeks.

Once I create it, others can use it, too. Or improve upon it. Or remix it.

Toni Morrison once wrote, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Open textbooks are kind of like that. If there’s a book you really need for a class, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must create it. (And, of course, put a Creative Commons license on it so others can use it, too).

Judy Baker’s response: Well put! You put a whole other spin on this that I haven’t considered. Thank you!

Help me out readers – do I have a good grasp of the Open Textbook concept – or have I missed the forest for all the trees we’ll be saving by going digital?


Posted by on November 4, 2009 in The Plan


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6 responses to “Open Textbooks – A la Carte or Seven Course Meal?

  1. Shaomeng

    November 23, 2009 at 5:05 am

    You might already heard of this project:
    They have lots of books, not CC licensed. You can even pay for it. But the important thing is that you can access it for free online. And hopefully the producer of the textbook might also benefit from some of the buyers, and the cost is cheaper.
    This might not count as “Open Textbook” by some of it’s fundamentalist definition. Who cares?
    Everyone has their own interpretation of the reality, while each of other is also influenced by how people as a whole think.
    I am from China. Sometimes I might access pirated textbook on torrent site. I don’t think I am sinned for the eager for knowledge. In my definition, everything that I could access and process it in my brain without pay extra cost on my part is open.
    But I think I am also interested in how other people think and define these things too–if I am not, I might be more ignorant than I am now.

    • Philipp Schmidt

      December 13, 2009 at 7:23 pm


      As far as I know (and I just checked a few to make sure) the FlatWorldKnowledge books are licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license. That means anyone can use, modify, re-distribute – just not for commercial purposes and only if they also license their works under a similar license.

      I agree that the social norms that have been enabled by new technology are changing – and that the law sometimes feels out of sync. While that changes the way individuals and self-learners can access educational materials, for people working within institutions, the legal contraints still feel very real and relevant.

  2. Michael Werner

    November 19, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Open source textbooks/learning… makes me think of Wikipedia, which scares the ever-lovin’ bejesus outta me.

    To paraphrase the inimitable Michael Scott from The Office: “Wow, Wikipedia… what a treasure trove and the most amazing resource on the planet… Imagine this… you can look up any subject written by just about anyone with any background from any place and at any time.”

    We need valued editors and trusted ‘decision makers.’

    There is no free lunch here, or anywhere.

  3. joseph thibault

    November 10, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I struggle with my own definition of OER daily. Really, I lump together any resource that I can freely link to on the web (either directly by url or as a hyperlink on another site). CC licenses are great, but if the action is occurring elsewhere (like in a Moodle course) based on that other content can’t I still consider it OER?

  4. cccoer

    November 4, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    What I meant by a new spin was your effective and powerful use of the Toni Morrison quote.

    When giving presentations about remixing open textbooks, I usually hear a lot of doubt from the audience that faculty would be willing to take the time to create their own customized open textbooks.

    What a relief to hear from someone who actually embraces the idea!

    – Judy Baker

    • Lisa

      November 4, 2009 at 6:10 pm

      Good to hear I wasn’t out in left field. (That’s where many of my faculty naysayers usually think I am – lol).

      I am still so new to all things “open” and the information is so varied and vast, I often worry that I have only uncovered tangents of the ideas rather than the full concepts. (And then, of course, there are the multiple schools of thought on any given topic within the open movement…yikes – I am still working on getting a good handle on it all).


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