The UK Open Textbooks Report

Pitt, Rebecca; Farrow, Robert; Jordan, Katy; de los Arcos, Beatriz; Weller, Martin; Kernohan, D and Rolfe, V (2019). The UK Open Textbooks Report. Open Education Research Hub.


Open Textbooks are openly licensed academic textbooks, where the digital version is available freely, and the print version at highly reduced cost. They are a form of Open Educational Resource (OER) that has seen signi cant impact and success in the USA and Canada.

The UK Open Textbook project was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation with two main aims: firstly to promote the adoption of open textbooks in the UK, and secondly to investigate the transferability of the successful models of adoption to the UK. The project was led by The Open University (UK) OER Hub team in partnership with 2 US based open textbook providers and champions, OpenStax and the Open Textbook Network, and WonkHE and the University of the West of England (UWE).

Initial research into the differences between the US and UK context highlighted that textbook use in these two contexts varies considerably and that there was little existing research into UK textbook use. The UK Open Textbook project carried out both an initial literature review and a survey of UK educators during the project. The cost of textbooks is a more significant barrier in the USA, and their usage tends to be more heavily mandated. However, participation costs for UK students are increasing, and textbooks represent a contributing factor.

In our 2018 survey with UK Higher Education (HE) educators, it was noted that whilst there is an initial low awareness of OER, respondents had a strong interest in pursuing their adoption.

UK Open Textbooks was a project focused on engagement. Through a number of workshops at a range of higher education institutions (HEIs) and targeted promotion at speci c education conferences, the project successfully raised the pro le of open textbooks within the UK. The project focused particularly on STEM subject textbooks and in spite of contextual differences between UK HEIs and their counterparts in North America there was considerable interest and appetite for open textbooks amongst UK academics. This was partly related to cost savings for students and institutions, but more significant factors were the freedom to adapt and develop textbooks. Open textbooks were also viewed as a possible means to counteract the disinterest of commercial publishers in developing books for smaller markets.

This report reflects upon the current use of textbooks at UK HE level and the potential for open textbooks. It contextualises and presents the tried and tested methods used to engage with stakeholders at events and workshops and reports back on our findings and outcomes from this activity. Finally this report also presents some of the case studies curated and created during the project; illustrating current best practice and use of open textbooks.

The UK Open Textbooks project successfully raised awareness of open textbooks and OER over a one year period, and through the project’s activity discovered that higher and further education is a potentially fertile ground for the use of open textbooks and further development in this area.

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