Unleashing the Power of Open: Adopting and Adapting LibreTexts for Use in Your Classroom

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

You are convinced that now is the time to adopt OER. Where do you begin? Learn how to use LibreTexts to find OER your colleagues have authored and "remix" customized OER texts with state-of-the-art annotation, computation and homework system capabilities that will best serve you and your students. 

Extended Abstract

Open Educational Resources (OER) are more than free to your students, they give instructors the freedom to customize the learning experience for them. Have you always hated the way most texts cover a topic? Been frustrated by the lack of diversity exhibited in images, examples, and research? Or simply wished your text was more human – and engaging? Join this session to learn what LibreTexts has to offer – whether you are looking for existing high-quality OER with readily available print options and easy import into Learning Management Systems or ready to create your own.

The LibreTexts community focuses on creating and curating online libraries that are easy to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute, fulfilling the 5R dream of OER. Since inception 13 years ago as the ChemWiki, the LibreTexts project has grown exponentially and currently reaches more than 120 million students per year with 14 libraries that extend across the curriculum, horizontally from business to physics and vertically from secondary to graduate school. LibreTexts meets the UNESCO condition for OER of no-cost access under open, mostly CC, licenses. Instructors can use the OER in the repository without registering and expense or they can request free UserIDs and build custom LibreTexts in individual or team sandboxes. Student teams assist with importing other open materials into the system for use. After completion these can be moved to campus hubs in one of the libraries. Beyond ten texts a small ($500) institutional fee is required to join the LibreNet consortium. 

The site is globally available online and all texts can be printed-just-in-time through a low cost online bookstore. Acrobat files are available for all pages and complete books. An ebook app will soon allow downloading in that format. A nice feature of the books are QR codes attached to videos and applets which can be linked by readers over their cell phones. Work started in August 2020 on a smartphone app which is vital in this COVID age as more students have cell phones than computers and more have phone connectivity than internet.  A group is developing LibreTexts-in-a-Box, a Raspberry Pi based system for use in remote locations, the only limitation of which is that certain functions such as a Jupyter notebook that requires internet connectivity to the server will not work.

Attendees will be able to access and test drive most of the features described here and those intrigued can register as instructors, gaining access to them for their classes and institutions. Office hours are available for further discussion and special times will be made available for the three time zones of the conference.

LibreTexts’ technology enables faculty members to easily and rapidly create OER textbooks and more, optimized for their courses and students. The structure of LibreTexts solves two of the central problems limiting OER adoption: the time and expertise that faculty need to find appropriate OER from which to assemble OER materials for their classes and dissemination to others. Libretexts platform is augmented by incorporating content from an extensive (largest on the net and growing) network of over 1000 textbooks extending across higher education that faculty can edit, enhance and add to to meet their needs. Teams of students help with transferring open materials to the site. A simple to use drag-and-drop “remixer” application allows rapid textbook creation using materials from any library. Automatic renumbering of figures, tables, equations and page labels greatly reduces the soul numbing necessity of doing this by hand. 

Uniform formatting allows automation of key functions such as import into LMSs using the Common Cartridge, accessibility optimization in collaboration with the Student Disability Center at the University of California Davis, inclusion of extensions including annotation (hypothes.is), computation (Jupyter notebooks) and other features. Because of the uniform formatting all  services extend to every book in the library. For example every LibreTexts is available for just in time low cost printing through the online bookstore and the files are updated weekly to reflect any edits or corrections made by authors. The bookstore itself functions as a petting zoo similar to online bookstores such as Amazon, but linking directly to the table of contents, sections of the text or the entire book. Books in the bookstore are searchable by subject, institution or autor at this time but this will be upgraded to allow searching by meta-information. 

Accessibility is a major issue for OER. For LibreTexts accessibility includes students and other users being able to reach content as well as getting it in forms that they can understand. This is driving LibreTexts’ thrust to provide all materials in multiple formats in ways that they are automatically current as discussed above. Among other features that make LibreTexts available, a sidebar app allows enlarging text and the size of margins using sliders. Other services include the BeeLine Reader which improves readability and focus by adding color gradients to text as well as providing an inverted view. Testing shows that this improves performance by those with reading difficulties such as attention deficits, vision impairments and dyslexia. LibreTexts is developing bots to scan pages and improve accessibility by editing the underlying HTML5.0 code. Identification of problems is currently done with other bots as well as other software. Testing with SiteImprove for JAWS and  NVDA screen reader optimization has increased scores from 40 to 70% and more and other software used by LibreTexts’ Accessibility Team include Claro Read and Dragon for speech recognition.

In addition to creation of original material a principle feature of LibreTexts is to act as an abstraction layer between the various formats that OER comes in, such as pdf, eprint, Pressbooks, etc, and users, both students and instructors, by providing a uniform format for the OER with a rich set of features LibreTexts improves the ability of students and other users to access materials and for instructors to create them. Nowhere is this more important than for homework systems, which are known to drive adoption of texts. At this time LibreTexts provides access to libraries of questions from WebWork, H5P, and IMathAS, the latter being the system that MyOpenMath and Lumen’s Ohm are built on. By storing these in the system format LibreTexts has made them available for inclusion in any text by reference for formative assessment and into quizzes and other summative assessments. While the general approach is to build question libraries so large that they cannot be memorized there is secured storage for questions that any instructor wishes, (at least for a short time until they get out) to keep private. By design other question libraries can be added to the Query system. LibreTexts is working with WeBWorK, and Rederly to build a standalone WeBWorK problem renderer that will improve access to WeBWorK problems across the OER ecosystem. This will free WebWork problems from the need for dedicated servers, using Rederly’s standalone renderer WeBWorK problems are available as a  micro-service for integration with OER including LibreTexts.  

A complementary approach is the Adapt system built on the Query database and the Libretexts content. The hierarchy of organization within the Adapt system starts with bit sized building blocks that are classified as either assessments nodes (using Query assessments) or remediation nodes (text, video or simulations in Libretexts or available to it). Trees are then a series of nodes for a specific area connected with a specific topology which can be created by instructors or accepted or modified by them and modules are a series of trees which comprise a problem set. Adapt is currently being used in a pilot course and release is anticipated in January 2021.

OLC Innovate is an exciting opportunity to showcase LibreTexts technology to the community