All posts by Christina Hendricks

Open Textbook for Intro to Philosophy

Drawing of a book with "open textbooks" on it, and arrows pointing out to people using the book in various contexts

Open Textbooks, by Giulia Forsythe on Flickr, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


After talking about it for a few years, I am finally able to start working on an open textbook for introduction to philosophy courses. There are a few of us working on it already, and we’re going to need all the help we can get…so this post is to introduce the project and talk about how others can get involved.

Open textbooks

First, what is an “open textbook”? The easiest way to think about it is that it is like any other textbook except in two crucial respects:

First, it is free of cost to students. There is no price tag. This comes with another implication: we are doing this for free ourselves. There is no publisher who is paying us to create the textbook, and there are no “royalties.” But frankly, I can’t imagine ever making much off of a textbook anyway (how many new textbooks are there a year, and how many actually make money? I don’t know but I am skeptical of it being terribly lucrative in philosophy).

Second, open textbooks have an “open license” that allows others to reuse, revise, remix it with other things and release new versions publicly for others to use, revise, etc. The most common open licenses for educational resources like this are Creative Commons licenses, which come in several versions. See this CC page for a general discussion of the licenses and different license types; the University of British Columbia Creative Commons Guide has further information, including a comparison chart. The license we will be using for this textbook is the most permissible of the CC licenses that require attribution of the original content creators: CC BY, which lets content be used and revised by anyone for any purpose as long as the original creators are attributed.

Why do this?

I can’t speak for others, but I myself have two main motivations, having to do with the two characteristics of open textbooks given above.

  • Saving students money
    • Textbooks are expensive, and getting more so as time goes by. There is a good deal of research on open textbooks that explains the costs to students and how this affects them not just financially but pedagogically (e.g., when they go without textbooks because they are too expensive, or choose what courses to take based on textbook costs). I am co-author on an article whose literature review details some of this literature; I’ll try to remember to link to it here when it comes out (it’s in press right now). Or you can check out this 2016 research review on open textbooks by John Hilton (open access), though it doesn’t have information on costs.
    • I also get frustrated that students are paying a lot of money and I might not be using the whole textbook. Which leads to…
  • Ability to revise the book
    • Only want to use Chapters 3 and 8? Great–delete the rest.
    • Want to add in some of your own interpretations, or change what you think might be misleading, or add in a graphic you have created that helps illustrate an idea? Excellent–go ahead and change what’s there.
    • Can’t understand why the textbook excerpted Mill’s On Liberty in a way that leaves out that crucial part? Put it in!
    • Dislike the example used to illustrate a point because it only speaks to a limited audience of students and may not make any sense to others? Change it!
    • etc.

Basically what an open textbook does is provide a starting point that you can adjust if needed…or not. You can use it as is, or you can make it fit your course or context better. I want to be involved in a project that provides this starting point for myself and others.

For some, creating educational resources that are used by others can be considered for merit, tenure and promotion. That is going to depend on your college or university context.

Rebus open textbooks

We are working with an organization called The Rebus Foundation, a Canadian non-profit that is made up of wonderful people who are doing great things with digital publishing and open textbooks. We are part of several open textbook projects that are creating new models for publishing open textbooks, through connecting people into a community to collaborate on shared projects.

The Rebus open textbook projects are all being discussed on the Rebus Community Forum. There you can see and contribute to multiple textbook projects. Each is going to need help in the form of reviewing and copyediting as well as writing, so even if you just want to contribute a little without writing anything, that’s possible too. All help is appreciated.

Some basic parameters

Please see this document for an explanation of some of the basic parameters of the intro to philosophy open textbook, some of the ideas of what, generally, it should be like and why. The following is copied and pasted from part of that document:

This Open Textbook “Introduction to Philosophy” should be, firstly, an accessible introduction to philosophy, suitable for college or university students taking a philosophy class for the first time.

As such, the book should:

  • cover a broad range of the fundamental ideas in philosophy
  • present these fundamental ideas in a clear and accessible way
  • focus (first) on presenting existing arguments, rather than making novel arguments

As an Open Textbook, this Introduction should be considered the starting point: a reasonably complete (eventually), and relatively accessible “map” of the important intellectual traditions of philosophy.

But it should also be considered a framework upon which further (open) explorations could easily be built, further sections or additional materials added, by a professor for a particular class, by students as part of course work, or by future contributors (or current contributors) to the project itself.

Note that there is a table of contents on that document; we are not saying nothing else could be there. That is what we have come up with at the moment. As new people are added to the project, new sections might be created.

The process

I am serving as the main editor for the whole thing, but mostly what that means is being the central organizer. I will be writing some parts, but this is a joint venture that will come to fruition from the work of many people. That way, no one person has to do a great deal of work but it can be spread out. We’re all doing this on a volunteer basis, after all.d

Here is a list of tasks for the book.

I will be the overall editor, but each section of the book (e.g., ethics, social and political, metaphysics, philosophy of mind) will have a section editor who is responsible for that section. That means helping to find people to write subsections, arranging for others to review/comment on what has been written, ensuring those texts are copyedited (by themselves or by volunteers), etc.

Here is a post describing what we are envisioning for section editors.

We have already started discussions on general topics to include in a textbook for introduction to philosophy courses, and we found that we were rather scattered…so we have decided to start by focusing in on two sections. I asked the group who would be willing to be section editors, and we came up with two volunteers:

Ethics section: editor George Matthews (see here for a discussion board devoted to that)

Aesthetics section: editor W. Scott Clifton (see here for a discussion board devoted to that)

So those are the two sections we’re making a push on at the moment, but I would also love to hear if anyone else would like to volunteer as a section editor.

How do I get involved?

Does this sound intriguing? Or even better, are you excited to get started? Here are your next steps:

  1. Join the Rebus Community!
  2. Peruse the conversations we’ve had so far on this textbook if you want, and add your thoughts. It’s a long thread, but you can skim it! Introduce yourself and what you’re interested in about this project.
  3. Add your name and interest area to our spreadsheet (go to the ‘people’ tab at the bottom)
  4. If you would be willing to write something for the Ethics or Aesthetics sections, we are particularly interested in hearing about that right now. You can go straight to the discussion threads for those:
  5. Email me if you have questions:
  6. Spread the word!!



Literature on open textbooks: COUP

[Updated Dec. 11, 2016]

I am working on a literature review for an article I and a couple of other people are writing about a survey about open textbooks in a course at UBC, and as part of that effort I created a table of some of the research literature on open textbooks. I thought it might be useful to others.

This table is based on the “COUP” framework explained by the Open Education Group (with whom I have an OER Research Fellowship at the moment): Cost, Outcomes, Use, and Perceptions. See here for an explanation of each element of this framework as it relates to research on open textbooks and other Open Educational Resources.

The Open Ed Group has a great list of literature using this framework, here: The Review Project. What I’m trying to do with this post is present at least some of that literature in way that clearly shows which articles connect to which aspects of the COUP framework. The Review Project, though, is updated more often!

The table is not an exhaustive list of literature; for one thing, it doesn’t include an article I found that is not open access (and I don’t have access to it):

Petrides, L., Jimes, C., Middleton‐Detzner, C., Walling, J., & Weiss, S. (2011). Open textbook adoption and use: implications for teachers and learners. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 26(1), 39–49.

I also only included studies that focused on open textbooks, specifically. There are other studies that talk about other OER in the Open Education Group’s Review Project.

Oh, and unfortunately the table doesn’t work on a mobile phone…I tried using a table plugin but it was messing up the format, and the table below is copied and pasted from a word processing doc, which doesn’t work on mobile. Boo.

Here is a MS Word version, though, that you could download and edit for your own purposes if you want!

There are probably other studies about open textbooks that I’m missing at the moment. Please add them in the comments!

Article Cost Out-
Use Perce-ptions
Allen, G., Guzman-Alvarez, A., Smith, A., Gamage, A., Molinaro, M., & S. Larsen, D. (2015). Evaluating the effectiveness of the open-access ChemWiki resource as a replacement for traditional general chemistry textbooks. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 16(4), 939–948. X
Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2016). Opening the Textbook: Open Education Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-2016 (Babson Survey Research Group). Retrieved from F
Allen, N., & Student PIRGs. (2010). A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks are the Path to Textbook Affordability. Student PIRGs. Retrieved from X X
Belikov, O. M., & Bodily, R. (2016). Incentives and barriers to OER adoption: A qualitative analysis of faculty perceptions. Open Praxis, 8(3), 235–246. X F
Bliss, T. J., Hilton, J., Wiley, D., & Thanos, K. (2013). The cost and quality of online open textbooks: Perceptions of community college faculty and students. First Monday, 18(1). Retrieved from X S, F
Bliss, T. J., Robinson, T. J., Hilton, J., & Wiley, D. A. (2013). An OER COUP: College Teacher and Student Perceptions of Open Educational Resources. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 0(0). Retrieved from X X X

S, F


California Open Educational Resources Council. (2016). White Paper: OER Adoption Study (April 1 2016). Retrieved from
 X  S, F
Feldstein, A., Martin, M., Hudson, A., Warren, K., Hilton III, J., & Wiley, D. (2012). Open Textbooks and Increased Student Access and Outcomes. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 15(2). Retrieved from X X S
Fischer, L., Hilton III, J., Robinson, J., & Wiley, D. A. (2015). A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students – Springer. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 27(3), 159–172. X

Florida Virtual Campus. (2012). 2012 Florida Student Textbook Survey. Retrieved from

Florida Virtual Campus. (2016). Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey. Retrieved from

X X S, F
Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(4), 573–590. X S, F
Hilton III, J. L., Gaudet, D., Clark, P., Robinson, J., & Wiley, D. (2013). The adoption of open educational resources by one community college math department. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14(4). Retrieved from X X S, F
Hilton, J., & Laman, C. (2012). One college’s use of an open psychology textbook. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 27(3), 265–272. X
Hilton III, J. L., Robinson, T. J., Wiley, D., & Ackerman, J. D. (2014). Cost-savings achieved in two semesters through the adoption of open educational resources. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(2). Retrieved from X
Jhangiani, R., Pitt, R., Hendricks, C., Key, J., & Lalonde, C. (2016). Exploring Faculty Use of Open Educational Resources at BC Post-secondary Institutions. BCcampus. Retrieved from X F
Kimmons, R. (2015). OER Quality and Adaptation in K-12: Comparing Teacher Evaluations of Copyright-Restricted, Open, and Open/Adapted Textbooks. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(5). Retrieved from X F
Lindshield, B. L., & Adhikari, K. (2013). Online and Campus College Students Like Using an Open Educational Resource Instead of a Traditional Textbook. Journal of Online Teaching and Learning, 9(1). Retrieved from X



Pitt, R. (2015). Mainstreaming Open Textbooks: Educator Perspectives on the Impact of OpenStax College open textbooks. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(4). Retrieved from X X F
Robinson, T. J. (2015, May). The Effects of Open Educational Resource Adoption on Measures of Post-Secondary Student Success (Doctoral dissertation). Brigham Young University. Retrieved from X
Robinson, T. J., Fischer, L., Wiley, D., & Hilton, J. (2014). The Impact of Open Textbooks on Secondary Science Learning Outcomes. Educational Researcher, 43(7), 341–351. X
Senack, E. (2015). Open Textbooks: The Billion Dollar Solution. The Student PIRGS. Retrieved from X
Senack, E., & The Student PIRGs. (2014). Fixing the Broken Textbook Market | U.S. PIRG (pp. 1–18). Retrieved from X


Open Case Studies sprint


I have been working with a number of people at UBC on open education projects, and we recently held a sprint for one of them: a set of open case studies on sustainability topics.


Last year I worked with Daniel Munro and Jenna Omassi from the AMS (student government at UBC) on numerous open education projects, and Daniel had an idea: in addition to trying to raise awareness and adoption of open educational resources (OER) like open textbooks (and others), why don’t we try to create our own OER at UBC that others could use? Of course, many people here are creating OER (though more resources are just public and free than are open in the sense of having a license that allows reuse and remixing), but we wanted to start a larger project that numerous people could contribute to, including students.

Daniel was inspired by the ChemWiki project, which has now expanded to a bunch of other science wikis, and wondered if we could start creating something somewhat like that–where numerous people contribute to a resource that can be used in on-campus courses as well as beyond. We decided it might be good to create a set of case studies that both instructors and students could author and edit, and that could be used in courses (either with students adding to them, or doing assignments based on them, or writing entirely new case studies). And since we wanted the project to involve people from different disciplines, we thought sustainability and environmental ethics would be a good topic because those are approached from numerous disciplines.

We applied for and received a TLEF grant from UBC to get this project going. It paid for:

  • a 2-day sprint to start writing the case studies, plus a prep workshop beforehand to get people used to writing on the UBC Wiki (where the case studies are hosted)
    • all the support staff to help with these, plus the food! :)
  • graduate research assistants to help instructors design and implement assignments using the case studies for their courses, and to write up a toolkit for teaching with these case studies, so others can benefit from their wisdom!

We found several instructors who were interested in writing case studies and got everything going for the sprint, which happened May 19-20, 2016.

I have to say: this was mostly Daniel’s idea, and he did a great deal of the work for it, so congratulations to him!

The Sprint: May 19-20, 2016

The sprint was in this funny-looking room in the UBC Student Union Building--the Nest

The sprint was in this funny-looking room in the UBC Student Union Building–the Nest

We invited instructors who were able to come these two days to write case studies, as well as students who wanted to help as well. Many of the students worked as partners with the instructors: they were in charge of finding openly licensed images, diagrams, or other resources for the case studies and citing them correctly, as well as helping with formatting on the UBC Wiki. Thus, for part of the sprint we had instructors and students doing different things.

Facilitators for the sprint:

  • Lucas Wright and Cindy Underhill from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC
    • They were in charge of doing most of the facilitating of the activities during the two days, though Daniel Munro and I did some too
    • They are also really knowledgeable about the UBC Wiki so could help with any questions or issues with the platform


  • Erin Fields from the UBC Library
    • Erin worked mostly with the students on finding and citing openly licensed materials for the case studies, but she was also on hand to answer any questions about licensing and copyright for all of us
    • She is also expert at the UBC Wiki!


  • Daniel Munro from the AMS (student government) and me
    • We did some facilitation of activities, and then generally helped wherever needed. I did a little help with the answering Wiki questions, and I also spent a good deal of time finding images that might be used for some of the case studies


Lucas Wright on Day 1

Lucas Wright on Day 1

Day 1


We introduced ourselves and talked about the various roles of the people in the room. We also outlined the sprint process and determined what we wanted to have completed by the end of the two days, and what kind of map we would need to get there (what we’d need to have completed at various checkpoints).


Finalizing case study principles and template (instructors)

We had tried to get, before the sprint, a finalized list of principles for the case studies (what audience should one write for? what kinds of things should be emphasized in these case studies?) as well as a template (what sections should they have?). We started that process at the prep workshop, but didn’t finish it so we did so during the sprint itself.

First, we asked people to look at the draft list of guiding principles we had created together during the prep workshop–we posted these on large pieces of paper at the front of the room.


Instructors then worked in groups to see if they still agreed with these and whether they wanted to add anything. What was added were the questions off to the right.

Daniel Munro putting up the template charts

Daniel Munro putting up the template charts

Then we worked with the draft template that Daniel and I had come up with to see if people thought the headings on the template for the various sections would work for their case studies. We posted those headings on pieces of paper on the wall and then asked each person to use sticky notes to brainstorm what they would put under those headings. Through this process we asked them to consider whether anything in the template needed to be changed or added.

Student workshop

While the instructors were working on the principles and template for the case studies, the students were in a workshop in another part of the room, learning about open licenses and how to find and cite openly licensed resources for the case studies. See this student sprint guide for information about what they learned about and what their role was during the two days of the sprint.

Starting writing

Working on the case studies, day 1

Working on the case studies, day 1

Instructors then began writing their case studies, and students worked with them in various ways. Some instructors wanted students to search for openly-licensed visuals or other content for the case study.

The students then started putting those resources on a “resources” page for each case study. Here are a few of the resources pages that students and instructors added materials to:

Students also helped with the wiki; for example, one instructor ran into issues with the UBC Wiki and lost some content, so he wrote his text in Word and then a student transferred that to the UBC Wiki later.


We gave everyone a full hour break for lunch so they could leave and get some fresh air, take a walk, whatever!


Checkpoint: giving feedback

After lunch we stopped to talk about what people had been able to write so far, and what they’d like help with from others. The instructors shared with the group what they had done and whether any questions had come up for them that they wanted to talk about, or whether they wanted any particular sort of feedback from others.

IMG_2032During this time the students were reading over the drafts and putting comments on them on the “talk” section of the wiki pages where the draft case studies were. The idea here was to see if the case studies are understandable from a student perspective. You can see the questions students were addressing on the “talk” pages, in the image to the left.

The discussion amongst the instructors took longer than we had thought it might (though it was a good discussion!), and though we had hoped to have more time for writing at the end of the day, we ended up just wrapping up after this discussion.

We finished by revisiting our roadmap for the sprint, seeing what we had done out of our plan, and saying what we would start the next day with.



Day 2


We started off day 2 by revisiting some of the feedback from our discussion, and from the talk pages, from day 1. Then a good deal of time was spent working on the drafts of the case studies, with instructors writing and students doing the same sorts of things as the previous day–e.g., helping with finding and citing resources, helping with formatting on the wiki.

Students working with Erin Fields (near blue bottle), Lucas Wright (standing), and Cindy Underhill (blonde hair)

Students working with Erin Fields (near blue bottle), Lucas Wright (standing), and Cindy Underhill (blonde hair)

Fewer people could attend on day 2, so the room was a little emptier, but there was still a great deal of work going on!


IMG_2041We had some suggestions for day 2 that we put up on a sheet of paper, including reminding people of some feedback we had discussed the day before: it’s helpful to include a specific scenario or example in the case study, and to think about the student perspective when writing the case study.


We had another full hour break for lunch…

What would an X do?

After lunch we asked instructors to take a look at two other draft case studies and approach them from their own disciplinary perspective. The questions we asked them to consider are:

  • How would an XX approach responding to the problem outlined in this case study, and what are some responses they might offer?
  • What elements of the case would they be most likely to focus on and why?
  • What kinds of questions would they ask?
  • What kinds of disciplinary approaches or methodology might they use?
  • In answering these questions, draw from existing literature from this discipline where possible, considering especially how similar problems have been approached.

We assigned each instructor to answer these questions for two other draft case studies. They did so on a dedicated section of each case study. For example, see the “What would an X do?” section on the Forestry case study.

Wrap up

I had to leave early on day 2, but I think the group wrapped up by talking about next steps. They asked instructors to finish their draft case studies on their own if they weren’t done already, and talked about how we were going to hire graduate teaching assistants to work with them over the summer to incorporate the case studies into their teaching.


Finished products?

I’m not sure how many of the draft case studies are finished yet, as of mid-June 2016, as I’m still checking in with instructors (summer break means not everyone is around!). Here, though, are links to the case studies that were at least partly completed during the sprint:

There are also a few other people who are interested in the project and writing a case study or two, but who couldn’t make it to the sprint. So more will be added later!

Making the case studies look nicer

Having them on the UBC Wiki is great for collaborative authoring, but finding them and displaying them on the wiki isn’t the best. So I’m going to apply for a grant from BCcampus to set up a WordPress site where we can showcase the case studies. They will still be editable from the wiki and then the edits will just automatically show up on the website through the magic of wiki embed (at least, that’s the plan). So stay tuned!


We have posted many of our process documents on the UBC Wiki, in case they are of use to anyone. They include:



Survey of BC faculty on OER & open textbooks

While I was one of three Faculty Fellows with the BCcampus Open Textbook program, we conducted a survey of faculty in BC and beyond, focusing on their use of and attitudes towards Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks. We got over 70 complete responses from faculty at various institutions, most of them from teaching institutions rather than research institutions.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 4.47.23 PMWe published a white paper about the survey, which was released in January of 2016. You can read a brief summary of the report here.

Here is a link to the PDF of the full report.



We also presented the results of this survey at two conferences before the white paper was finished:

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit, May 2015, Vancouver, BC. Here are the slides from that presentation.


The 2015 Open Education Conference, November 2015, Vancouver, BC. Here are the slides from that presentation.

Open Education Week 2016 panel at UBC

I like to keep track of various things I’ve participated in, such as giving talks, facilitating workshops, etc., and this post is part of doing that.

On March 10, 2016, I was part of an amazing panel of people talking about “Engaging Students in Open Education,” as part of Open Education Week at UBC.

Here is the description and panelists:

Open education is a hot topic on post secondary campuses these days. This year UBC saw the #textbookbroke campaign led by the Alma Mater society – advocating for the use of open textbooks and open practices in the classroom to reduce costs for students; the adoption of open textbooks and resources in large multi section physics and math courses; and the continuing development of open teaching practices with Wikipedia projects and student produced, openly published content.

How do we engage students with open educational practices that go beyond making their work public to making it re-usable or available for others to build on? Why is open education important to students and to what extent can it enrich the teaching and learning environment?

Lighting Talks: Each speaker will present for 8 minutes and respond to questions for 5 minutes. This will be followed by a broad panel discussion about open practice.


Christina Hendricks: Senior Instructor Philosophy
Jenna Omassi: VP Academic & University Affairs
Arthur Gill Green Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Geography, BC Campus Faculty Fellow
Rajiv Jhangiani, Psychology Instructor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Leah Keshet, Mathematics Professor
Eric Cytrynbaum, Associate Professor Department of Mathematics
Stefan Reinsberg, Physics instructor


This even was live-streamed and recorded, and I’ve been waiting for the recording to show up on YouTube. But I decided to just post the link to where it is now, in case I forget:

Link to the recording on the Ike Barber Learning Commons website.


I love doing these sorts of things because I get to learn about what interesting things others are doing on our campus and beyond!

A series of workshops on open education

One of the challenges in our "Open for Learning" challenge bank

One of the challenges in our “Open for Learning” challenge bank

I have been one of a team of facilitators for a series of workshops on open education that we’ve run at UBC from December 2015 to May 2016 (we haven’t done the last one yet!). The idea behind having this series is that we might be able to go into more depth into various topics than we could cover in a single workshop on the broad topic of open education. It has worked well for that, though of course the people that come to the later ones are not always the same as those who came to the earlier ones, so we still always have to do some intro work at the beginning. Still, I think this model works pretty well.

One thing I really like about what we’re doing is that we have used the model of the “assignment bank” from #ds106 and the challenge bank from #udgagora to create challenges that participants can do during the workshop. We were able to do this because Alan Levine kindly put some code up on Github to set one of these banks up as a WordPress theme. Now, I didn’t use that code to set up our challenge site (I only wish I could do that), but Lucas Wright of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC did.

Here’s the challenge bank we’ve been using for our workshops–super cool!

We will keep this challenge bank and have people add their answers as we do this series again in the future (and we have one more workshop to go!).

Here is a PDF with the descriptions of our workshop series for 2015-2016: Open for Learning Workshop Final Descriptions

And I wanted to embed our slides, too. Here are the slides for the first three workshops (I’ll add the fourth when it’s done, if I remember).


Workshop 1: Open for Learning: Exploring the Possibilities for your Classroom

This was an introductory, overview workshop covering a number of things in open ed.


Workshop 2: Using and Remixing Open Resources in Your Courses


Workshop 3: Teaching in the Open

Post on renewable assignments

Earlier this term I wrote a post for a blog on UBC’s “Flexible Learning” site, about “renewable assignments”: assignments that add value to the world beyond just earning students a mark, and that can be revised and remixed later by others (thus the “renewable” part).

I wanted to link to it here because this is the place where I keep track of a lot of my professional work and thoughts, and if I don’t have a link here I might forget where the other post is!

Here is it: “Renewable Assignments: Student Work Adding Value to the World

Report on my time as a BCcampus Open Textbooks Faculty Fellow


Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 11.33.52 PM



For the past year I have served as a Faculty Fellow with the BCcampus Open Textbook program. The provincial government of British Columbia provided funding for BCcampus to find, adapt, review, and develop open textbooks for the 40 highest enrolled subjects in BC postsecondary educational, and then providing more funding for open textbooks for skills and trades. You can see the amazing success of the program so far in these stats.

Last year BCcampus started a program of having “Faculty Fellows” who would do three things:

  • increase awareness of and promote Open Textbooks on their campuses and beyond
  • engage in research on Open Textbooks and other OER
  • provide feedback to BCcampus on their Open Textbooks program

I, along with Rajiv Jhangiani from Kwantlen Polytechni University and Jessie Key from Vancouver Island University, were the first three BCcampus Open Textbook Faculty Fellows (you can see a post about this from BCcampus here).

Now that we are coming to the end of our terms, we have been asked to write a report on the time spent as Faculty Fellows. I thought I’d make that report public here on my blog. I am organizing it according to the questions we were asked to address (not quite in the same order they were asked, but they’re all here).


Coming into the Faculty Fellows (FF) program, what were your expectations about the FF program? How did you envision the year unfolding? Did the FF program meet those expectations and match the vision you had of the year? Why or why not?

I must admit that I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect coming into the program. I felt a little under-prepared, as my two colleagues Rajiv and Jessie had both done much more work with open textbooks than I had, when we started. I had never been involved in adapting an open textbook like they both had, and had never used one either. I felt somewhat worried that I would be called upon to be an advocate for open textbooks without having enough knowledge. Those fears were quickly allayed as I began to learn about the BCcampus Open Textbook program, how it worked, what was involved in adopting and adapting an open textbook, and as I began to read research into open textbooks (kindly provided by Clint Lalonde and Amanda Coolidge from BCcampus). I was also happy to hear that I could review slides from presentations others had already given on open textbooks, to help me prepare for any presentations I might give.

I was also concerned about doing research on open textbooks, in the sense that I not only didn’t know a lot about open textbooks but I am also not well versed in empirical research methods (having been trained in philosophy, where we don’t learn much if anything at all about social science research methods). Fortunately, there was a research project with the OER Research Hub that was already begun but still in early enough stages that those of us not already involved (Jessie and I) could contribute to its design.


Is there something you were hoping to do more of with the FF program that you were not able to do? Why?

There are two things that didn’t quite meet my original vision of the year.

1. I had hoped to do more in the way of spreading awareness and advocacy on my campus. I did several presentations on open education and OER at UBC during my year as a Faculty Fellow, and in each one I managed to talk about OT (open textbooks) even where this wasn’t the focus. I also spoke to two student groups about OT. One thing that I wanted to try to do was to contact departments for which there are a number of good open textbooks and make a short presentation at department meetings about the availability of these textbooks. I honestly just ran out of time to do this. I only briefly spoke to my own department, to ask for a volunteer to review an OT on modern philosophy, and to point out that OT in philosophy exist. There wasn’t much (in fact any) interest expressed, but partially the issue there is that there aren’t very many open textbooks in philosophy (and the ones that exist are fairly specialized: logic and modern philosophy; if there were a good one on Introduction to Philosophy, things might be different).

2. I also didn’t do as much research on open textbooks or OER as I would have liked. Partly that was up to me; if I had come up with a research project separate from the one we were all working on, I expect I would have been able to get help in designing and implementing it from people at BCcampus and from Jessie and Rajiv. But my lack of knowledge about open textbooks at the beginning of the program, plus lack of connections to people using them, meant I wasn’t sure quite where to start in thinking about researching them. Now, at the end of the year, I feel much more ready to begin my own research project(s). This is in large part due to the chance to participate in the research project on faculty attitudes towards OER and Open Textbooks that all of us were a part of. I learned a great deal through that process.


What resources did you need to do your FF that you did not have?

I think to do the research portion of the role I would have needed more time and more training in just what sort of research would be good to do and how to do it. As there was a research project already in progress, I just helped with that one; but I didn’t have enough knowledge to have been able to run my own research project well, I think (as noted above). However, again, if I had really pushed myself to run my own project I expect I would have found help from BCcampus and my colleagues in the FF program, who would have been able to fill in my knowledge gaps or help with data analysis (as that is something I feel particularly unprepared to engage in).

Please provide a synopsis of your activities in 3 areas: Advocacy, Research, Support.


  • Rajiv Jhangiani and I spoke at the 2015 meeting of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), on “Enhancing Pedagogy with Open Textbooks and Other OER,” Vancouver, BC, June 2015. In this workshop we spoke about benefits of OT and OER beyond simply cost savings, and asked participants to brainstorm other benefits as well as possible drawbacks and how to address them.
  • I spoke about OER and open textbooks at several faculty professional development events at UBC:
    • I participated in a debate about the value of MOOCs for higher education during Open Access Week at UBC, Oct. 29, 2014. During my presentation I also spoke briefly about open textbooks. Slides from this presentation, and a description of the event, can be found here:
    • I co-presented with others from UBC on “Increasing Student Engagement with Open Educational Resources,” once in May 2015 and once in August 2015. The two presentations were actually fairly different, because they were with different groups of people, but both focused on the value of OER and open textbooks beyond simply saving students money. The slides for one of these presentations can be found here:
  • I spoke to two student groups at UBC about open textbooks: the Arts Undergraduate Society and the Science Undergraduate Society (both in Spring 2015). I talked about what open textbooks are and told them about the BCcampus Open Textbook program. I also asked for suggestions on how to get the word out more widely about open textbooks. Slides for both of these presentations can be found here:
  • I connected with student leaders at UBC and at Simon Fraser University, which, over the course of the year, has led to some very fruitful activities by students at UBC. When I first contacted a student leader in the Alma Mater Society at UBC, though he was very interested, he couldn’t get the rest of the AMS terribly interested in open textbooks and OER. But after their subsequent election, there were more people interested, and that initial meeting plus subsequent meetings have led to:
    • UBC and SFU students working together on a #textbookbrokeBC campaign on social media (some information about that campaign can be found here:
    • UBC students working with our Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology to get discussions of OER and OT into more professional development workshops for faculty.
    • UBC students pushing to get mention of the creation of OER and OT into a document that explains various examples of “educational leadership” that teaching-focused faculty at UBC can engage in to help them achieve tenure and promotion.
    • UBC students working with me to develop a “sprint” to create an OER resource on environmental ethics, that will have case studies that cross disciplinary boundaries. We are in the process right now of putting together a grant proposal to try to fund this project. We envision that the sprint will provide a beginning point for the resource, but that students in various classes at UBC will work across disciplinary boundaries to continue to add to it.


I worked with Jessie, Rajiv, Clint Lalonde and Amanda Coolidge (BCcampus) and Beck Pitt (OER Research Hub) on a survey of faculty in BC and beyond, asking about their attitudes towards, use, adaptation and creation of OER and open textbooks. We had One thing that is particularly valuable about this survey, I think, is that we were able to break down the results according to: amount of teaching experience, full-time vs. part-time employment status, what sort of institution the faculty teach at (research, teaching-focused, community college), and more. We had data from 78 participants from 17 institutions in BC in the survey.

  • Jessie Key, Rajiv Jhangiani, Beck Pitt and I presented some of our findings on this survey at the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit in May, 2015. The slides from this presentation can be found here:
  • Rajiv Jhangiani and I will also present on this research at the Open Education Conference in Vancouver in November, 2015.
  • Jessie, Rajiv, Beck, Amanda Coolidge (BCcampus) and I are also currently writing a white paper based on the results of this survey.


  • We faculty fellows met monthly with BCcampus to talk about our activities in advocacy and research, and also provided feedback to BCcampus on the open textbook program during those meetings whenever advice was solicited.

Other activities related to my role as a faculty fellow

  • I engaged in an extensive review of an open textbook under development, Ethics in Law Enforcement, by Steve McCartney and Rick Parent. As the book was being written, I provided a great deal of feedback on draft chapters.
  • Jessie Key and I spoke about our experiences with open textbooks at the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit in May, 2015. I spoke about reviewing an open textbook (Ethics in Law Enforcement), and Jessie spoke about adapting an open textbook in chemistry.


How much time did you devote to FF? Did we ask too much, not enough of your time? Was the amount of money provided adequate compensation for your work?

It’s difficult for me to quantify the amount of time I spent on the FF program. It came in fits and starts, with some periods being very busy with the research or preparing presentations on the research, or with the advocacy activities, and some periods during which things were much less hectic. I felt very satisfied with the amount of time that was asked of me–not too much, not too little. I appreciated the monthly meetings because they allowed us to keep up with each others’ activities (and some of those activities then provided new ideas for me on what could be done on my campus). Meetings once a month was just right, I thought. I also feel the compensation provided was definitely adequate for the amount of time spent. At no time did I feel I was doing more than I was being compensated for.


What kind of orientation do you think is needed for future incoming FF?

Meeting in person at the beginning of the year was very, very important. Since most of the rest of the year we met on Skype, it was crucial to feel like you had already gotten to know others a bit before working together in this more “distanced” fashion. So the first meeting being an face-to-face orientation was very important.

I particularly appreciated learning about the Open Textbook Program generally, how to adopt and adapt textbooks, and about resources for those who want to look into the literature on OT and OER. Knowing that there were slide decks already available for consulting before one creates one’s own for advocacy purposes was also really useful (maybe having those available in a shared cloud folder, for example, would be good).

I suppose the only thing I would add that I didn’t feel I had at the orientation was help in designing a research project if one doesn’t already have one in mind. I’m not sure how this would work, but if at least there was someone who would be the designated person to talk to if one has questions about how to design and carry out a research project, that would help. Or maybe some sample ideas for research projects to get people thinking. Now, honestly, I can’t remember all that happened at our orientation, so there may have been more of this sort of thing than I remember! But it’s the one thing I felt I wasn’t fully prepared for.


What advice do you have for future FF?

One thing that comes to mind is to take advantage of all the help and support provided by BCcampus and your fellow faculty fellows as much as you can. It’s such a great opportunity to learn and collaborate closely with a fantastic group of people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice, as in my experience, it was willingly and enthusiastically given.

Also, I think it would be good for each fellow to be clear for themselves about their goals for the year. I had a vague sense of goals rather than setting out clear goals for myself to begin with. Of course, those can change as time goes on, but if you start with a good set of reasonable, achievable goals you might be more likely to keep yourself on task for all of them. I might have done more research on my own if I had done this!


Has the FF program been a worthwhile program for you to participate in? Why or why not?

It has definitely been a worthwhile program to participate in. Besides the fact that my knowledge of how to do research on OER and OT (open textbooks) has expanded greatly, I have been able to do many other very valuable things. One is to connect with more people working on OER and OT through my work as a faculty fellow. My connections with Jessie, Rajiv, Beck Pitt at the OER Research Hub, and Clint Lalonde, Amanda Coolidge and Laurie Aesoph at BCcampus been invaluable for learning about OER, OT, and research on these as well as for the possibility of collaborations I would not otherwise have had. In addition, through them and through my role as a faculty fellow and my participation in events such as the Open Textbook Summit, I have meet numerous other people involved with open education, OER and OT. These connections are continuing to prove fruitful for my own learning and for, hopefully, future collaborations.

I have also had the privilege to help with a new movement on my campus, led by students, for OT and OER advocacy. I am particularly excited about that; of all the advocacy work I’ve done through the FF program, I feel like the work with students has had the most rewards. They have had the energy and the drive to push for things I had only thought of but hadn’t followed through on by myself. Their excitement and their perseverance is contagious and inspiring.

Honestly, I have been so inspired by my colleagues in the FF program, by my colleagues at BCcampus, by the students I have worked with, and the others I have met through my FF role, that I can’t imagine the work I have done as an FF this year really ending. I have become one of the main leaders on my campus in regards to open education, OER, and open textbooks, and my leadership work in those areas will most certainly continue. Being a BCcampus Faculty Fellow has been (and will continue to be) an invaluable experience.


Non-disposable assignments in Intro to Philosophy


Remixed from two CC0 images on Pixabay: trash can and No symbol

Disposable assignments

In the past couple of years I’ve really been grabbed by the issue of “disposable assignments,” as discussed by David Wiley here:

These are assignments that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading. They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away. Not only do these assignments add no value to the world, they actually suck value out of the world.

A non-disposable assignment, then, is one that adds value to the world beyond simply being something the students have to do to get a grade. A similar idea is expressed by Derek Bruff in a post on the idea of “students as producers”–treating students as producers of knowledge, rather than only as consumers: Bruff talks about students creating work for “authentic audiences,” beyond just the teacher.

Wiley gives an example of a non-disposable assignment: students taking instructional materials in the course (which are openly licensed) and revising/remixing them to create tutorials for future students in the course. Other examples can be found in this growing list of examples of open pedagogy. One that I often hear about is asking students to edit or create Wikipedia articles. Or students could post their work more locally, but still have it be publicly visible, such as what Judy Chan does with her students’ research projects at UBC (click on “team projects” in the various years). Simon Bates has his physics students create learning objects to help their peers (see this story for more).

Students as producers in philosophy courses

I have already started to ask students to do some activities that could add value to the world, whether to their fellow students and/or beyond.

  • In a second-year moral theory course I asked them to sign up for 1-2 days on which to do “reading notes” on the class wiki page: they had to outline one of the main arguments in the text assigned for that day and write down questions for their small group to discuss. You can see those here (organized by group number).
  • In a first-year, introduction to philosophy course I have asked students to:
    • blog about what they think philosophy is, both at the beginning and end of the course–this, I thought, could provide some interesting information to others about what our students think “philosophy” is. I don’t have those blog posts visible anymore because I didn’t ask students if I could keep them posted after the course was finished (d’oh!!).
    • write a blog post describing how they see philosophical activity going on in the world around them, beyond the class–I thought this could be useful to show the range of what can count as philosophical activity. I do still have those posts up (but not for long, because again I forgot to ask for permission to keep the posts up after the course is finished…I will do that this term!): (click on “philosophy in the world”)


But now that I’m working on my Intro to Philosophy course for Fall 2015 (see planning doc here), I’m trying to think through some other options for assignments with authentic audiences and that add value to the world. Here are some ideas (not that I’m going to implement all of these; I’m just brainstorming).

  • Editing Wikipedia articles on philosophy
    • This is a big task; it requires that students learn how to do so (not just technologically, but in terms of the rules and practices of Wikipedia), plus determining which articles need editing, etc.
    • I would prefer to start with students creating Wikipedia-style articles on philosophers or texts on the UBC Wiki first. Then other students (in future classes) could edit those, and then maybe eventually we could move to doing something on Wikipedia itself (the content would be good, and maybe students would be motivated to move some of it over to Wikipedia at that point).
  • Creating tutorials or other “learning objects” for their fellow students and for the public
    • As noted above, Simon Bates does this in his Physics 101 course, and I can pretty easily see how one might ask students to do so for basic physics concepts. But why not do so for some basic philosophy concepts too?
      • e.g., find something you find difficult in the course, and once you feel you have a handle on it, create something to help other students
    • could be done in groups (probably best, with a large class like Intro to Phil (150 students))
    • could be text based, but better if also incorporates some other kinds of visual or auditory elements (e.g., a video, or incorporating images, or slides or something)
  • Creating study questions or suggestions of “what to focus on” for the readings
    • students often get lost in reading primary philosophical texts, and I haven’t yet managed to write up study questions or suggestions for what to focus on for each reading. This would definitely be useful to other students.
    • But wouldn’t it be cruel to ask students to do this for later students when I haven’t done it for them myself? and do I have time to do this before the Fall term this year? Unfortunately not.
  • Creating lists of “common problems” or advice for writing, after doing peer review of each others’ work and self-reflecting on their own
    • I do provide quite a lot of writing advice to students, but I wonder if advice coming from students’ direct experience in my courses might be helpful to later students?
  • Creating possible exam questions
    • I ask students to do this informally, in groups, as part of the review for the final exam. But why not formalize this somehow so their suggestions are posted publicly? The course page on the UBC Wiki seems like a good place, at least to start. Then students could see them from year to year.
    • A number of instructors at UBC use PeerWise as a tool for students to ask and answer questions. It seems like an interesting thing, but:
      • It’s not public; but it could be used to generate questions and then the best ones could be made public somewhere
      • It’s limited to multiple choice questions, which I hardly ever use (and never on exams)


Those are my ideas for now. Have any others? Or comments on any of this? Please comment, below!

All my open education activities to date in one award application

Well, the title kind of says it all. I referred to a teaching award I had applied for in an earlier post, and I am now posting the entire application. I applied for the Brightspace Innovation in Teaching and Learning Award, granted by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. I didn’t get the award, unfortunately, but having this record of all my work in open education so far is helpful for other things, such as a teaching and learning portfolio I’m working on (still under construction!).

In the interest of open sharing, and because at least one person found the “what is open education” part of this application useful, I thought I’d post the whole thing. It’s got some references to research on open education, OER and open textbooks towards the end, in case that’s useful for anyone.

Here it is (I’m posting as a PDF b/c it’s quite long). I’m 99% sure this is the final version I submitted. Brightspace Innovation Award Application Narrative (Feb. 2015)