Media Release: Open Textbook Project

[This is the media release for the Media Text Hack, completed on the weekend of 16-17 November. The project was covered by the ODT, Techday and Idealog]

On the weekend of 16-17 November, a group of academics across Australia and New Zealand are getting together at their respective campuses to collaboratively write – or ‘hack’ – an open textbook.

Led by Dr Erika Pearson, Richard White and Simon Hart at the University of Otago – with assistance from Bernard Madill – the open textbook project will be an experiment in the production of open educational resources in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This textbook will be for undergraduate students in Communication and Media Studies around Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

With contributions from academics across New Zealand and Australia, the textbook will be free of all technical and legal restrictions on access and reuse. This means that it will free for by anyone in the world to read, distribute and adapt.

As Dr Pearson, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Media, Film and Communication, says, “Textbooks currently available for New Zealand first year students are often produced overseas, usually the US, and can have a cripplingly high price tag.

“Open texts are not only more affordable for students, they also are more flexible for teachers, who can pull apart open textbooks to find the more relevant and useful materials for their classes.”

University of Otago Copyright Officer Richard White agrees. “I often get questions from staff about using various types of materials for teaching purposes.  Often with closed resources, restricted by all-rights-reserved copyright, staff get frustrated that they can’t provide a good resource to students in the way they want because of cost or difficulty in contacting – or event identifying – the rights holder.”

White sees the open textbook projects as a return to the “core principles of academia: sharing knowledge, learning from and building on the work of others.”

The open textbook will use a Creative Commons Attribution licence, enabling anyone to share, adapt and rewrite the textbook, as long as credit is given to the original creators. Creative Commons International is partially funding the project, through a grant to Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand.

White says that Creative Commons licensing “is the perfect vehicle. It ensures our rights as creators are preserved while at the same time enabling others to share our work as widely as possible.”

“Open textbooks, using Creative Commons licensing, are flexible. They don’t force you to fit other people’s pedagogy,” says Dr Pearson.

The team was inspired by a group of Finnish mathematicians who successfully wrote an open mathematics textbook in a weekend.

The team hopes that their project will inspire other open textbooks in the region. As Dr Pearson puts it, “This is why we are producing in parallel a ‘cookbook,’ to give detailed tips and advice for anyone who wants to attempt a similar project.”

For White, the project will “allow students in our region to access a work in their own cultural paradigm and for others to build on it.  And we think that recording the process and telling people what worked and what didn’t is just as important as the text itself.

“This is a new way to produce work like this and we’ll all be learning a lot as we go.  It’s a real challenge but really exciting at the same time.”

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