Open Access Textbooks

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Getting Started

Identify Stakeholders and Champions

Stakeholder groups include organizations and individuals at all levels of participation, including faculty, students, and parents, but also governmental, administrative, and student groups that have established initiatives to promote the authoring, publishing, and adopting of open textbooks. Champions are those who clear the field for the triumph of an idea, who argue forcefully and resolutely for the cause. The individuals and groups who support the development and adoption of open content are growing in number and are heard more and more as the trend continues. As the voices of the champions are being heard, awareness of the phenomenon of open textbooks is becoming better understood, and as a result individuals and groups are becoming aware of their status as stakeholders.


Some state legislatures are responding to the high costs of textbooks by sponsoring open textbook initiatives. For example, the Florida Legislature in 2009 directed the Florida Distance Learning Consortium (FDLC) to develop a plan for promoting and increasing the use of open access textbooks as a method for reducing textbook costs. The resulting Open Access Textbook Task Force (OATTF) was comprised of members representing Florida colleges and universities in roles of faculty, administrators, student government leaders, business officers, bookstore representatives, and staff of the Florida Board of Governors, Division of Florida Colleges, Florida Distance Learning Consortium, and the University Press of Florida. From the results of interviews, document analysis, and two surveys, the task force produced eleven recommendations to meet critical, identified needs for a successful implementation of open access textbooks in Florida. The importance of the legislature in authorizing the FDLC and the OATTF to conduct the necessary research and submit their final report to the Board of Governors, the State Board of Education, the Office of Policy and Budget in the Executive Office of the Governor, the chair of the Senate Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means, and the chair of the House Full Appropriations Council on Education and Economic Development was paramount in communicating the importance of textbook affordability and Florida’s efforts to those at the highest level of Florida’s education policymaking.

System Level Entities

The governmental bodies that oversee the administration of state policy are of key importance to the successful implementation of an open textbook initiative. In Florida, the Board of Governors oversees the state universities and the Division of Florida Colleges oversees the Florida College System institutions including state colleges and community colleges. These stakeholders can, for example, sponsor awards for innovative faculty initiative such as authoring open textbooks, and can influence presidents, provosts, vice presidents, and deans to recognize digital scholarship as a valuable academic contribution.

Institution Level Entities

The institution is the level at which the faculty member is recognized and rewarded (or not) for authoring or adopting an open textbook. As such, it is an essential locus of influence on the success or failure of an open textbook initiative. Deans, provosts, and vice presidents or deans of academic affairs often have a significant influence on the kind of publishing that is valued in promotion and tenure decisions. They also oversee the institution-wide granting of academic awards to faculty. The messages they send through this role about the importance of digital scholarship can be influential on the academic ethos of an institution.


Faculty members are the main targets of an open textbook initiative. For open digital scholarship to be recognized by tenure committees and administrators, faculty who would engage in it must first be convinced of its value to the profession. Regarding issues of quality assurance, the peer review process, if sufficiently rigorous, should help to gradually advance acceptance of its value. Some faculty members have recommended developmental review by an editorial team as an approach to promote the acceptance of open digital scholarship as eligible evidence for tenure and review purposes. The Community College Open Textbook Collaborative (CCOTC) established a program to involve faculty in role of trainer and advocate of their fellow faculty members about open textbooks. These Advocate/Trainers are reimbursed for their travel to a workshop where they received training, and they are paid a stipend for the development and delivery of a faculty workshop on their campus. As of August 2010, the 35 Advocate/Trainers had provided a total of 42 adoption workshops. Since then, more training has occurred and more Advocate/Trainers have come on board. For a comprehensive review of the training provided by CCOTC through August 2010, see Appendix B.


As the stakeholders with the most to gain immediately, students are the primary beneficiaries of an open textbook initiative. Lower textbook costs have the potential to open opportunities to students, whose financial aid is insufficient to cover the costs, allowing them to take courses they might not otherwise be able to afford. Students do not have to work as much at low paying jobs to pay for the cost of textbooks. Furthermore, they can help to reduce the burden of student debt, making loan repayment feasible. Student performance might be improved because the text can be tailored to the course by the professor and because the professor engages directly with the text, perhaps with great investment in student success. Students might benefit not only financially, but in the quality of the education they receive. If students were more knowledgeable about the potential benefits offered by open textbooks, relatively small contributions of Student Government Associations’ funds to support the development and delivery of open textbooks could significantly reduce students’ textbook costs. In November 2010, the Florida State University Student Senate passed a resolution vowing to support faculty in seeking and considering open textbooks when they best fit the needs of the course (see Appendix C).


Parents who pay some or all of a student’s expenses have a good deal to gain from open textbooks, and parents who are affected financially can be a strong vocal force for change. If the cost of a textbook breaks the budget, parents paying the bill are likely notice, and they are also willing to notice that open textbooks are free or available at a minimal cost. Especially when organized as a group, they can become powerful influencers of opinions.

National Initiatives

When initiatives occur at the national level, all states can reap the benefits, and typically states may be invited to join in the effort.

The Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) are an association of state groups which launched a national campaign called “Make Textbooks Affordable” in 2007. Although the organization recognizes the potential of partial, short-term alternatives such as renting to reduce textbook costs, they have championed open textbooks as the long-term solution that can accommodate the preferences of all students (Allen & Student PIRGs, 2010). Headed by Nicole Allen, this group effort has obtained more than 2,500 signatures of faculty on a Statement of Intent pledging that they will seek, consider, and give preference to low or no cost resources such as open textbooks if they fit the needs of the class (Student PIRGS, n.d.).

This national initiative required the coordination and active participation of state and campus-centered groups of students with minimal financial resources but substantial human assets. The strong will and determination of their members make them powerful allies in statewide initiatives as well as national ones. Indeed, the Washington Student Association, in cooperation with the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges’ (SBCTC) Open Text Library, managed to pass five bills in the Washington legislature aimed at lowering textbook costs during a four-year period (Long, 2010). The work of Student PIRGs convinced Florida State University Student Senator Fred Drake to sponsor Resolution 11 (see Appendix C), which affirmed the Student Senate’s responsibility to help establish a program to seek affordable and accessible course materials for the students of The Florida State University whenever possible.

The Community College Open Textbooks Collaborative (CCOTC) is a non-profit organization funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and is comprised of 18 member organizations from around the U.S., including for-profit businesses, non-profit organizations, two prestigious universities, a community college district, and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. The goals are to raise awareness about open textbooks and facilitate their adoption. The organization is affiliated with more than 200 colleges and is focused on driving the awareness and adoption of open textbooks in community and other colleges. CCOTC has funded and coordinated peer reviews of over 100 open textbooks and identified hundreds of others. Their personnel developed and sponsored 16 workshops in 8 states in 2009-2010, training over 300 college faculty and staff. This national initiative combines the resources and talents of dozens of professionals to create training and promotional resources to foster open textbook initiatives.


In the interest of using intellectual resources and scarce funds efficiently, Florida’s digital repository project and university press are establishing a partnership with Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee to coordinate the development of college open textbooks. Each state has committed through their university presses and digital repositories to share in the development of open textbooks, building off the strengths of their different colleges and universities to bring together the best knowledge and information for students. The goal is for each state to produce at least three open textbooks for general education courses. By coordinating which courses each state will focus on, duplication of effort can be reduced and greater efficiency can be realized. Within two years, the majority of open textbooks will be developed.

The first step in organizing such a partnership is to plan and conduct an informational meeting for the executive directors of the university presses and state level repositories within each identified state. It is important to develop an understanding of open textbooks. What role can a state play in developing open textbooks? What is the impact of open textbooks on students and learning? How can open textbooks become part of the business model of the repository and university presses? If the participating leadership is supportive, the next step is to discuss the strengths and resources each state can contribute. This discussion will most likely require a follow-up meeting. An agreement could take the form of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). An example of the MOA between The Orange Grove Digital Repository and the University Press of Florida is provided in Appendix D. Finally, a project plan can be developed with follow-up tasks and due dates. The leadership should be established for each state. A web resource for project communication can be established such as Google Groups, Yahoo! Groups, Wikibooks, or enotes.

Establish a Representative Steering Committee

The establishment of an influential steering committee consisting of representatives from the wide range of stakeholder groups is essential for coordinating statewide efforts and securing commitment from leaders who can spearhead the implementation of activities. In Florida, such a steering committee was formed in 2009 to fulfill the requirements of a statute passed by the legislature (1004.091(2), Florida Statues), which required several activities involving participation by the state’s colleges and universities. The principal responsibility of the Open Access Textbook Task Force (OATTF) was to present a plan to the Florida Legislature to promote awareness and sustain open access textbook use in Florida. The 23 member task force had broad representation from Florida’s university and college communities – faculty, administrators, student government leaders, business officers, bookstores, and staff from the State University System’s Board of Governors, the Division of Florida Colleges, the Florida Distance Learning Consortium, and the University Press of Florida. Susie Henderson of the Florida Distance Learning Consortium chaired the task force.

The committee met via web-based conferencing and telephone conferencing to save time and travel costs. During the nine meetings between July, 2009 and February, 2010, background information was presented to ensure common vocabulary, understanding of issues, legislation, existing initiatives, and market developments related to open access textbooks. A statewide workgroup provided recommendations to the Board of Governors for developing a regulation to guide each of the state’s 11 universities in compliance with federal and state legislation. OATTF members collected and compiled data from Board of Governors and Division of Florida College databases to determine the courses with the highest demand for textbooks and other instructional materials. This work led to the prioritization of courses, using the Florida Statewide Course Numbering System, for which development and adoption of open textbooks would have the greatest impact.

Numerous organizations and committees contributed research reports and other resources to design and develop two statewide surveys, one for faculty and administrators and the other for student government leadership, to assess the climate for acceptance and current use of open access materials. The results of these surveys can be found in Appendix B and Appendix C of the OATTF Final Report. The OATTF provided 11 recommendations to the Board of Governors, which are presented in Appendix E. The committed stakeholders, especially when bolstered by the statutory requirements of their work, were able to not only represent their constituency’s perspectives, but also motivate their constituency to provide data and participate in surveys.

Branding the Project

The choice of a project name, a tagline, and a logo is part of building a brand. Branding entails communicating a purpose and an identity, and the look and feel of the website and other marketing materials should be consistent with that identity. The name, tagline, and logo should be meaningful and memorable to the target audience. The URL of the website should be sufficiently consistent with the project name that its identity is clear. For examples of open projects, their logos, names, URLs, and taglines, see Appendix F. For a more thorough overview of branding, see Kevin Lane Keller’s (1999) The Brand Report Card.

Develop Awareness

Faculty, even if knowledgeable that open textbooks are available, may not be aware that they are peer reviewed and professionally edited, or that they can be customizable to complement their specific learning outcomes and pedagogical style. The diffusion of an innovation has long been understood to involve the reduction of a potential adopter’s uncertainty about the innovation (Rogers, 1995). Some faculty are uncertain about the quality of open textbook. Others are unfamiliar with the process of modifying a text to better suit their course. To address these concerns, multiple means of communication can be used to repeatedly make faculty aware of open textbooks.

Among the means of communication are text-based materials, web-based information, broadcast media, and face-to-face communication. The types of message and intended result or action on the part of the receiver of communication guide the choices of means of communication and media selected. For example, information targeting a specific group would be a better candidate for a webinar than for broadcast media; video is a poor choice for extensive text but a good option for emotional appeals.


Text is ideal for representing and communicating complex, abstract ideas. Text-based media can take the form of print materials such as brochures, posters, whitepapers, research reports, and even open books. Sharyn Fitzpatrick of the College Open Textbooks Community published the open book #Open Textbook Tweet in 2010 to distribute Twitter tweets about the principles of open textbooks and their benefits to students. A prominent notice on open textbook covers is another way to create awareness of open access licensing. Direct mail is an application of text that can be useful for certain audiences and a single page of talking points can provide legislators and system-level staff with information for supporting an argument. Eric Christensen, a Physics professor at South Florida Community College, created an open textbooks brochure, as did Robin Donaldson and Eric Camil, Jr. of Florida Distance Learning Consortium (see Appendix G). Text can also be published on the Internet through Facebook, Twitter, newsletter articles, blogs, websites, and wikis. Examples of Facebook sites include The Orange Grove, College Open Textbooks, and Connexions. An excellent blog, WA Open Educational Resources, is maintained by Cable Green, Director of eLearning and Open Education at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. A wiki on Open Educational Resources provides a comprehensive resource on the topic, as does WikiEducator. Advocate/Trainer Erik Christensen created the Open Textbooks Wiki for sharing information about where to find open textbooks.


A Web and social media presence is fundamental to a statewide initiative. Regular updates announcing events, activities, publications, legislation, or results of a survey, for examples, are needed to maintain the interest of those searching for information about open textbooks. (For an example, see the site.) Attractive print and digital marketing materials such as brochures are useful to convey messages to faculty at meetings and special events. For example, Orange Grove Texts Plus developed a flyer publicizing the open textbook Collaborative Statistics (see Appendix H). One way to build a community of practice around open textbooks is to conduct a regular series of webinars featuring presentations by authors, reviewers, publishers, and others associated with open textbook initiatives. Building and maintaining a list of contacts is an important strategy for the effectiveness of email and webinar communication.

Broadcast media

Public service announcements (PSAs) on television and radio stations can have potential for communicating compact messages that raise awareness. Campus radio stations are good outlets for raising student awareness of open textbooks because their audience is largely college students. PSAs are usually most effective when they elicit a specific action, such as calling a phone number or signing a petition. When planning a public service announcement, it is important to decide specifically what you want the listeners to know or do. Modeling of the desired action, whether authoring or adopting, by a likable character can stimulate the empathic impulse to behave similarly.


The most effective and convincing approach can be through talking face-to-face. An efficient approach to face-to-face communication is speaking at conferences where you can communicate to a large number of people at once. Large sessions are great for planting the basic idea, but one-to-one discussions or training sessions with small groups are often more effective for helping people think outside of the constraints of the current textbook business model. The fewer the people you communicate with at a given time, the easier it is to answer all of the questions an individual might have. Speaking to large groups at conferences often leads to one-to-one exchanges or small group discussions. People who are interested and have questions seek you out either during the session, immediately afterward, or later, sometimes by email or phone. To encourage this dialogue, be sure to make yourself available and offer your contact information.

Design, Develop, and Implement Training for Faculty and Administrators

An extensive training effort to prepare faculty, administrators, and staff for the adoption of open textbooks conducted by the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER) and College Open Textbooks (COT) has been underway for several years. The effort involves Open Textbook Advocate Trainers.

Training sessions and workshops tend to draw faculty who are seriously considering using or authoring an open textbook. They can be designed to inform faculty about what open textbooks are and are not, how and where to search for open textbooks, and creative commons licenses and how to use them. Training materials could include handouts such as the tutorial on Creative Commons licenses created by Kenneth Leroy Busbee (see Appendix I).