From Proprietary Textbook to OER: A Case Study of Designing, Developing and Implementing An Open E-Textbook

Concurrent Session 11
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

This session presents the case study of how an open e-textbook was designed, developed and implemented across multiple sections of an undergraduate course at a large research university. The completed course text, templates used for development, integration of renewable assessments, and pilot evaluation data will be shared.


Dr. Vanessa Dennen is a Professor of Instructional Systems & Learning Technologies in the Department of Educational Psychology & Learning Systems. She joined the faculty at FSU in 2003. Vanessa's research investigates the cognitive, motivational, and social elements of computer-mediated communication. Specifically, she concentrates on three major issues: (1) learner engagement in online discussion activities; (2) identity development, knowledge management, and knowledge brokering within online networks and communities of practice; and (3) ethical issues related to computer-mediated learning. Her research is situated in both formal and informal learning environments and focuses on communication technologies ranging from discussion forums to social media to mobile technologies. She has authored more than 50 journal articles and book chapters, which have appeared in publications such as Instructional Science; Distance Education; Computers in Human Behavior; Educational Research Technology & Development, The Handbook of Distance Education; and The Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology among others. Additionally, in 2013 she co-edited (with Jennifer B. Myers) a book, Virtual Professional Development and Informal Learning in Online Environments. Vanessa currently serves as co-Editor in Chief of The Internet and Higher Education. Additionally, she is a an Associate Editor for Educational Researcher and has edited special issues for Distance Education and Technology, Instruction, Cognition & Learning. She is serving a 3-year term (2016-2019) on the board for the American Educational Research Association's Instructional Technology special interest group.

Extended Abstract

From proprietary textbook to OER: A case study of designing an open e-textbook

This session presents the design and development story of an open e-textbook for a multiple section undergraduate course at a large research university, including sharing of the completed course text and early evaluation data. The textbook authoring team consists of one professor, who has designed and overseen the course for a decade, and four graduate students. Of the graduate students, three are doctoral students who have taught the course for at least a year and the fourth is a masters student who assisted with the project as part of her required internship.

Session Overview

The objective for this session is to help other instructors and instructional designers explore the possibilities of open textbook creation and sharing through our case study. In this session we will:

  • Discuss the rationale for switching from proprietary textbooks to open options.
  • Share the design and development process for one open e-textbook.
  • Demonstrate an e-textbook as implemented both in a learning management system and on a web server. 
  • Present the early evaluation outcomes of the implementation of the open e-textbook. 
  • Discuss options for sharing an open e-textbook both as a whole collection as well as individual resources.

We will encourage attendees to interact directly with our e-textbook during the session, and to ask questions throughout the session. 


The course for which the open textbook was developed is an applied technology integration course taught both on campus and online. We will refer to it as TI200 throughout this proposal. TI200 students meet in a computer lab where they learn how to use specific software programs to meet different learning needs. Although it is easy for students to focus on the software learning portion of the course, equally important are the learning objectives focused on technology integration knowledge and design skills. Course assignments both require students to perform specific skills on the computer and to reflect on how computers can be used to support a variety of activities (e.g., learning, organization, management, communication, professional development).

The TI200 course historically has used a paper-based textbook from a major, for-profit publisher. The textbook has changed three times during the last decade, each time with a focus on finding a text with better alignment with the course learning objectives. In addition to the textbook, instructor-created learning resources have been used. Additionally, the supervising professor has created a collection of technology integration podcasts that are used.

The Problem

The course textbook has continuously been a weak spot in the curriculum. The primary advantage of assigning a textbook has been providing consistency across course sections; graduate student instructors have varying levels of prior experience with technology integration practices. The disadvantages have included:

  • Cost of textbook, which has steadily increased with each passing year
  • Student willingness to purchase and use a textbook
  • Partial alignment of existing textbooks with course needs
  • Textbooks rapidly becoming out of date

Because this course is taught by graduate students, instructor turnover is high and prior knowledge and experience varies. The course team has previously considered teaching without a textbook, but that solution would leave new instructors with relatively few content-based materials. Additionally, the course team has considered using existing online materials which might be linked from the learning management system, but this approach would leave the instructors dependent on external resources that might be deleted, moved, or otherwise altered by other people in the midst of instruction.

The Solution

The solution has been to design and develop our own e-textbook for the course. We chose to create an open textbook using Creative Commons licensing, choosing an option that allows others to adopt and adapt our materials to suit their own educational needs. Will others use it? We don’t know for sure, but if nothing else this solution allows the graduate student instructors who teach this course to continue to use these materials when they graduate and move on to teach this course or similar courses elsewhere.

The Design and Development Process

The design and development process was undertaken with the assistance of the University Scholarly Communications Librarians and other librarians who work with open educational resources. The librarians provided support for understanding open access options and selecting open access platforms. 

Needs Analysis

We began with an online survey of students during the last term we used a third-party textbook in this course. This survey, to which 52 students responded, helped us better understand how students are using textbooks and their preferences in this area. For example, we learned that only 32 (62%) purchased the book, and 42 (81%) said they did not read or refer to the text, meaning that some who purchased it did not use it. Comments suggested that students felt they could find the information they needed via the course podcasts and their own Internet searches.

When asked about what they would like in a future textbook, low cost was cited as a key concern (45; 87%). In terms of access, 42 (81%) said they would do readings online, and 9 (17%) said they wanted a low-cost, bound, print-on-demand version. 19 (37%) felt mobile access was very important. In terms of what should be included, they most cited items were videos (44; 85%), reading materials (39; 75%), podcasts (31; 60%), and integrated practice activities (26; 50%).

Design and Development

The e-textbook is currently being developed; the project began in March 2018. The bulk of the work is being done Summer 2018, with a planned pilot launch in the Fall 2019 TI200 courses. The e-textbook will be anchored around key concepts taught within the course. The content for each concept will be presented via text, videos, and podcasts. Transcripts will be available for videos and podcasts for learners who need accommodations or prefer reading materials. The videos focus primarily on demonstrating concepts in action, and the podcasts provide informative first-person stories, similar to brief interviews one might hear on a radio show.

This version of the text provides richer integration with course assignments than the previously adopted textbook. In particular, it includes examples of the types of projects that students might create to fulfill course requirements. Because this is an open textbook and we can edit it at any time, long-term we plan to invite students to submit their work examples created for the course to be included in the textbook. This approach will allow us to always have current examples of projects, which is particularly important given the rapid changes in software programs. In this sense, we are not only using an open e-textbook, but also incorporating renewable assignments (Wiley, Web, Weston & Tonks, 2017) into the TI200 class. 

We are building the e-textbook in Canvas, which is the learning management system being used by the university. When complete, it will be a full course shared within Canvas Commons, and other instructors and students will be free to use all or part of the learning content and other materials. Additionally, we are building a parallel version of the e-textbook to be hosted on our own server. This version will be available to individuals who do not have access to Canvas. Our team is currently exploring other options for sharing, and will be able to report on those at the conference.

The team met to consider the project content and technology needs, and then set forth to develop content based on individual interests and expertise. We developed templates to provide continuity across chapters of the e-textbook, and these will shared at the conference.

During the Fall 2018 semester, when the e-textbook is being piloted across 7 sections (both online and on campus), its use will be evaluated. We will have preliminary findings to share at the conference, both from user analytics, addressed the question of how much the different components of the e-textbook are being used, along with student surveys (brief end-of-chapter/module feedback surveys and an overall user experience survey).


Wiley, D., Webb, A., Weston, S., & Tonks, D. (2017). A preliminary exploration of the relationships between student-created OER, sustainability, and students' success. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 18(4). doi: