Open Textbooks

The Innovating Pedagogy 2017 Report included Open Textbooks as one of its innovative trends that has the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice. This post discusses educational benefits to using open textbooks, as well as educational strategies surrounding open textbooks and open pedagogy.

Open textbooks are a form of Open Educational Resources where books can be modified and adapted by educators and students. Open textbooks are helping to reduce textbook costs, and are also leading to increases in recruitment, retention, and pass rates. Using open textbooks can help to further student learning through their ability to actively engage with and add to the learning material. Research has found that student performance using open textbooks is as good, if not better, then when using traditional textbooks.

What are the benefits of using open textbooks?

  • Using open textbooks is a much cheaper alternative to using traditional textbooks, as the digital format of these books is usually free, and the print version has a low cost, a lower cost than the burdening cost of traditional textbooks. The cost savings was the initial motivation for creating and initiating the use of open textbooks.
  • Using open textbooks can lead to better student outcomes. A pilot study was conducted at the Virginia State University School of Business, where nine core courses replaced traditional textbooks with openly licensed books and other digital content. In this study, it was found that there was the appearance that student outcomes had improved, which could be related to students having greater access to learning materials for the course (Feldstein et al., 2010).

What is Open pedagogy? At first, most open textbooks were used in mostly the same way as traditional textbooks. Over time, it has become evident that courses using open textbooks can lead to a shift in pedagogic opportunities. David Wiley argues that open pedagogy is possible when educators make use of the ‘5Rs’:

  • Reuse
  • Remix
  • Revise
  • Redistribute
  • Retain

What are the educational opportunities of Open Textbooks and Open pedagogy?

  • With open textbooks, the relationship between students and knowledge can change. The open textbook is adaptable, which means that students can edit an open textbook as needed. Having multiple authors and editors can lead to a greater diversity of perspectives is disciplines. Students having the opportunity to edit an open textbook can allow them to have more ownership over the curriculum, as well as over their learning.

Projects and tools:

  • OpenStax produces textbooks on a variety of subjects in many areas, including Math, Science, Social Sciences, and Humanities. Some of the specific subjects that OpenStax has textbooks for include Pre-algebra, Astronomy, American Government, and U.S. History. They also produce textbooks for several AP courses. All of OpenStax’s textbooks are written by authors who are experts in their fields, and undergo a rigorous peer review process. All textbooks also meet the standard scope and sequence requirements which allow for them to be easily used for courses. All of their textbooks are free. More information about OpenStax can be found here:
  • BCcampus is based in Canada, and has an open textbook project, with goals to increase access to education by decreasing student costs, enhance control over instructional resources for faculty, and improve learning outcomes for students. BCcampus’s open textbooks are created and reviewed by educators, and there are textbooks available on the top 40 subject areas in British Columbia. More information about BCcampus can be found here:
  • Tidewater Community College in Virginia implemented a program entitled the Z-degree program, which enables students to use open textbooks for all courses, therefore allowing students to earn a degree without paying anything for textbooks. This program led to a redesign of the curriculum, with open textbooks providing course content for students. These courses have seen increases in recruitment, retention, and pass rates. Over 38 community colleges have followed Tidewater’s lead and have implemented a similar program for their courses. More information about Z-Degree programs can be found here:


Feldstein, A., Martin, M., Hudson, A., Warren, K., Hilton, J. & Wiley, D. (2010). Open Textbooks and Increased Student Access and Outcomes. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 2,. Retrieved April 20, 2018 from

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