For faculty to adopt open textbooks, they must perceive their value in terms of academic quality. Other important faculty considerations include the time required to find and review them, savings for students, and suitability for their course’s learning outcomes and pedagogical style of their teaching.
Respondents to the Florida Open Access Textbook Task Force Survey (OATFF, 2010) ranked academic quality first from among ten factors influencing their decision to use open access materials. A University of California at Berkeley (Harley, Lawrence, Acord, & Dixson, 2009) found similar concerns, with 95% of respondents choosing “Quality of content, including editorial review" as a necessary feature for consideration of adoption. The concern is a natural one in that some open textbooks found online often have not undergone structured peer review or professional editing, which are hallmarks of commercial textbooks. However, several approaches have been developed to assure quality and address the perception that open textbooks are inferior to commercial textbooks.
The most accepted quality endorsement is obtained through the peer review process. Multiple approaches have been tried to encourage faculty participation in the review process. One approach is to solicit unremunerated reviews from faculty who might be interested in using or have used the textbook in their classes. Another approach is to pay qualified faculty to conduct a structured review of an open textbook, as OGT+ has done in some cases. Several faculty reported in a focus group (Daytona State College, August 24, 2010) that peer review of an open textbook would be an important factor in their decision to adopt a text. They would be reluctant to select an open textbook if it had not been reviewed, and reviews help them determine if a text is appropriate for their course. A different approach to reviewing is to engage qualified students to review the text. In any case, reviews have the potential to assert the academic quality of texts and to alleviate some faculty concerns about quality.
Another feature of open textbooks that can alleviate quality concerns, when the license permits it, is the freedom to revise and remix materials to suit the learning outcomes of the course. Given the permission to revise and remix, faculty can use multiple sources and choose the parts of each that best meet their objectives and complement their instructional approaches. Depending on the license, faculty can edit the text word by word and correct faults in the text while creating improved versions for future use.
Respondents to the Florida Open Access Textbook Task Force Survey (OATFF, 2010) ranked time to find, review, and select second from among ten factors influencing their decision to use open access materials. Open textbooks are scattered across the Web, making retrieval difficult and time-consuming for individual faculty. Moreover, reviewing a text to determine if it meets a set of prescribed criteria is a very time-consuming task. A faculty participant in a focus group (Daytona State College, August 24, 2010) reported spending several hours on several different occasions searching for materials that were appropriate for his class. Some of the best materials were found by his students. Another participant in the same focus group said, “I think something that would really help for me is to have student reviews … because something that looks good for me may not be good for the students."
Fortunately, repositories, university presses, student organizations and consortia can address both of these problems by contributing employee time and contracting with qualified reviewers. For example, one full-time and one part-time employee of the Florida Distance Learning Consortium (FDLC) spend some of their time searching the Web for open textbooks to include in The Orange Grove Repository and for possible inclusion in the Orange Grove Text Plus (OGT+) collection. In partnership with FDLC, the University Press of Florida (UPF) contracts with qualified reviewers to conduct structured reviews of open textbooks being considered for inclusion.
As part of the deliverables for the Open Textbook Implementation Model, all existing open textbooks that have been discovered and any that have been created will be available for online access through The Orange Grove Repository. This content will consolidate the growing body of open textbooks, and reduce the challenge of finding new or existing ones.
Given the growing body of free and low-cost textbooks, the repository component of this model will help to resolve the current challenge of finding new open textbooks. By using a digital repository as a clearinghouse FDLC will integrate resources from existing repositories and websites into The Orange Grove, as well as incorporate new faculty-contributed textbooks. For a comprehensive account of Florida’s initiative to create and sustain a statewide standards-based educational repository, visit the Online Content Repository (OnCoRe) Blueprint.
Of the respondents to the Florida Open Access Textbook Task Force Survey (OATFF, 2010), 52 percent answered that they were not at all familiar with open access textbooks, 40 percent somewhat familiar, and only seven percent declared that they were very familiar. Because of the early stage of the open textbook innovation, awareness can be expected to increase through normal communication channels. However, FDLC and other organizations seek to accelerate communications through presentations about the open access movement at faculty and administrative meetings and webinars that we host featuring publishers, editors, authors, and adopters of open textbooks, as well as researchers and evaluators of open textbook and open educational resources. It could be argued that the surveys we have administered to thousands of Florida faculty and administrators and thousands of Florida students have increased awareness of open textbooks by stimulating curiosity, even though that was not the intent of the survey.
Faculty champions such as the Orange Grove Scholars are essential to the maintenance and growth of an open textbook initiative. They grasp the same policy issues as their peers and communicate in familiar terms. Their availability to answer questions and provide encouragement is a powerful inducement toward adoption.
The Open Access Textbook Project utilizes webinars, Facebook and Twitter sites, websites, and presentations to increase awareness and encourage adoption of open textbooks. Eight webinars during the fall semester of 2010 alone included presentations by open textbook authors, editors, publishers, an ancillary developer, a researcher, and an evaluator.