The Open Textbook Cookbook

Untitled [women dancing] by Herbert Green, 1919. New Zealand. Reproduced courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. No known copyright restrictions. (O.009829)

In November last year, a team of academics, librarians and students got together to hack a media studies textbook – in a weekend.

The textbook was published online earlier this year as an open textbook under a Creative Commons Attribution licence, and is available at no cost for educators and students to use. The licence also enables anyone to share, adapt and rewrite the textbook, as long as credit is given to the original creators.

Achieving this over a weekend was obviously an extraordinarily ambitious project – and like any extraordinarily ambitious project, it didn’t always go according to plan.

Happily, the project team, led by Erika Pearson, Bernard Madill, Richard White and Simon Hart at the University of Otago, decided from the beginning to assiduously document the process of hacking the textbook.

The team have now published the Cookbook, a “discussion on the process, pitfalls and successes of hacking an open textbook.”

The Cookbook walks readers through the texthack process, and outlines some of the issues that the team faced, including finding local open materials to embed and locating appropriate infrastructure.

Despite these difficulties, the Cookbook’s authors conclude that the “curation of this text, and the hack process that drove it, was deeply worthwhile and a highly valuable experience that led to a useful and important output for both those who wrote it and the students and classes that continue to use it.”

The Cookbook itself has the potential to help open textbook projects around the world.

White says “this cookbook will hopefully guide and inspire others to produce their own open educational resources. Just like the textbook we’ve released the cookbook under a Creative Commons Attribution licence. This means that others can add to and improve the recipe using their own experiences with text hacks, without having to ask our permission in advance.”

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

As White points out, “From my perspective, as a project organiser rather than someone working in the academic discipline, the cookbook represents the most important aspect of the whole project.  While others will be working in different contexts, hopefully everyone who reads the cookbook will find valuable lessons about what worked and what didn’t for us.”

White adds that the team have “already had interest from others who are thinking about what they could do in their own areas, both inside our own university and other national groups.”

The site itself has received thousands of hits from dozens of countries, and feedback had been received requesting the adoption of sections in both secondary and tertiary programs.

The Cookbook is available online here. If you want a short introduction to the process of hacking an open textbook, Erika has kindly provided her hugely popular GIF-heavy recap.

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