Creating Open Educational Resources with Book Sprints

Credit: iStock.com/Chinnapong
Credit: iStock.com/Chinnapong
Open educational resources (OER) are gaining traction as a way to address the high cost of textbooks and students’ subsequent reluctance to purchase them. But there are still relatively few OER textbooks in many subject areas, possibly due to the lack of incentive for producing them. Authors do not get royalties, and many departments look askance at OER textbooks as professional publications for tenure or promotion.

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Open educational resources (OER) are gaining traction as a way to address the high cost of textbooks and students’ subsequent reluctance to purchase them. But there are still relatively few OER textbooks in many subject areas, possibly due to the lack of incentive for producing them. Authors do not get royalties, and many departments look askance at OER textbooks as professional publications for tenure or promotion.

One way around this problem is for a department to use book sprints to collaboratively develop OER for common classes. A book sprint is a short, intensive OER development project by a group of experts in the subject (Zapata, 2020). These projects generally last no more than a week, and they distribute the work among a group of individuals, such as department faculty or graduate students, thus allowing departments to develop free textbooks tailored to their most popular courses. Not only does this spread out the development load, but also helps create faculty buy-in for OER in general. Plus, it gives graduate students some experience in writing for publication.

For instance, in 2012 a group of researchers, instructors, and students in Finland developed a 130-page open math textbook over a weekend. In 2014 a group of faculty at the University of British Columbia produced a 200-page open geography textbook in four days. In 2015 a group of modern language experts put together an open textbook on digital humanities and literature in one week. Finally, in 2018 six graduate students attempted to create an open textbook for a beginning Spanish class in a week. Ultimately, they fell short, but Zapata documents their challenges, and these provide guidance for departments looking to create OER for their courses.

The six graduate students in the Zapata study were put into three groups of two by the faculty member running the project. Each pair was assigned certain topics to develop for the book and given specific instructions on how to develop the work. These instructions included guidance on the format of the book, such as that it would involve “activities [that] promote authentic, real world use of language,” as well as a “variety of tasks” and that the “language is presented in meaningful communicative contexts” (p. 8). The students worked six hours per day and were monitored by a faculty member in charge of the project.

Unfortunately, none of the groups completed their sections, and none included all of the required elements in the instructions. Clearly there was not enough time to do the work. This was partly because of the amount of work given to each group, partly because textbook development was a new experience for graduate students.

But despite the problems, all of the students had positive opinions of the experience. They learned about OER and authoring a textbook and believed their involvement would improve their curriculum vitae. For these reasons similar projects, structured correctly, are a worthwhile endeavor for departments.

Here are some suggestions that I draw out of the study:

  1. Time: Zapata never asks why these projects must be produced as sprints rather than over a longer period, such as a year. Perhaps a short, intensive experience make it easier for participants to collaborate with one another as each knows that all others are always available for consultation during the project. It’s true that giving a long-term project to a large group of people makes it vulnerable to delays caused by people going on vacation or getting busy with other things. But clearly the one-week time was too compressed. One solution would be to schedule sequential sprints of a week each. A department could use three sprints over the summer, putting a few weeks between each for participants to review one another’s work and make revisions from the feedback.
  2. Number: Six members working in three pairs, each responsible for one-third of the project, was obviously not enough for the time given. A department might use 20 or more faculty and graduate students for the project, reducing the total work for each person to 10 or fewer pages of content. Each person would be expected to create a draft of their initial section by the end of the first week; then each person would be assigned to provide feedback on two or more sections from others during the period between sprints. Everyone would use the next sprint to revise. A three-sprint timetable would allow for two revision cycles, which should be enough for the initial project. Keep in mind that the document can be revised at any time, perhaps by future developers, and so there is less of a need to go through multiple revisions as would a print publication.
  3. Instructions: Participants need to be given instructions on both the technology and pedagogy of OER. There are a number of free or inexpensive digital publication systems for making open textbooks. iBook is good for Mac users, while Book Creator and Lucidpress are excellent products that work on all devices. These can all be learned with a few YouTube tutorials.

To teach the pedagogy of OER design, I would suggest starting by reviewing the Creative Commons attribution and licensing information on the Open Professionals Education Network site. This information will show you how to incorporate Creative Commons licensed material found elsewhere in the work and how to license the work itself. I would then review a variety of OER examples found at the OER Commons and on the Open Professionals Education Network and OpenStax sites. Participants can use these examples to design their own OER.

Book sprints are an excellent way to both create free, customized textbooks for courses and allow graduate students to dip their toes into the publication process. The result will not only save students money and increase textbook usage but also broaden the school’s and department’s name recognition in their discipline as other institutions use the resource. These benefits make book sprints a win for all involved.

Reference

Zapata, G. C. (2020). Sprinting to the finish line: The benefits and challenges of book sprints in OER faculty-graduate student collaborations. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(2), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v21i2.4607


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