1 Understanding Open Texts

As a prospective open text author, it’s important to understand the differences between an open text and a standard textbook, and how these contrasting characteristics might affect the open text author and publishing process. Open texts are a type of open educational resource (OER). Firstly, let’s define what an OER is.

What is an Open Educational Resource?

OER are teaching, learning and research materials that are published under Creative Common licences. These licences specify how content can be used. OER can include textbooks (called ‘open texts or textbooks’), curriculums, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and software.

One of the best things about OER is how flexible they are, allowing you to:

What is an Open Text?

Open texts are a type of OER, created and published in ways that allow anyone to freely access, (re)use and share the text. They are released under open copyright licences, which permit use, access and even repurposing by others. This model is different from how copyrighted materials are typically managed. Open texts are licensed to give users free and perpetual permission to engage in what is known as the 5R activities[1]:

  1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).

As a future author, you’ll want to contemplate what it means to develop an open text. For instance, consider how the concepts of and responsibilities for writing a textbook are different than they were before open texts appeared. You might think about how:

  • Open text authors are members of the sharing community where knowledge is freely and openly distributed so that others can build upon it. The open text becomes community property rather than the property of a single owner.
  • An open text author must accept that their work will be used and changed (often without their knowledge), actions over which they have no control.
  • Open text authors should be willing to share editable files of their text to allow others to make changes and/or add to it in the form of an adaptation.
  • Open text authors should remain open-minded and unafraid to receive and respond to feedback. In turn, you can use the input to begin conversations that will hopefully lead to knowledge sharing and building, and opportunities.
  • An author should seriously consider maintaining their completed open text by updating content when necessary and correcting mistakes. These steps are necessary for the ongoing quality, relevance, and sustainability of their book and OER in general.

Blog post: ‘Why I started writing an open text and why I’m glad I did!‘ by Dr Bronte van der Hoorn, who authored the open text Visual for Influence: in project management and beyond.

Adapting or Authoring an Open Text?

Before you commit to writing a new open text, it’s worth evaluating some existing open texts to see if you could adapt them to suit your needs.

Some points to consider when evaluating an open text for adaptation:

  • Relevance – How well does the content align with your course?
  • Effectiveness – How well does the text present content?
  • Copyright – Does the book have an open licence that allows modifications?
  • Organisation – Does the text follow a logical structure?
  • Balance – Does the text balance text with visuals and theory with real-world examples?
  • Inclusion and diversity – Is the content (text, images and resources) inclusive? Does it present diverse perspectives?
  • Accessibility – How well does the text follow accessibility standards?

If an open text meets most of your criteria, consider whether you could make some modifications to improve its quality and usefulness (for example, through editing, revising or replacing content).

You will need to weigh up the scope of these changes with the work involved in producing a new open text to help you decide on the best option for your project.

Adapting an Existing Open Text

One of the hardest parts of adapting an open text is maintaining consistency across existing and new content.

When modifying or adding new content to an existing open text, you will need to try to match the style, structure and layout of the original text, or edit the whole book for style consistency.

Some areas you will need to watch out for are:

  • Style – Edit the style to match the UniSQ style, or style of your choice (for example, change Americanisations for the Australian context).
  • Language and tone – Authors need to be aware of language use, and spelling between national contexts.
  • Layout – Pedagogical features (learning objectives, exercises, summaries, recommended readings, etc.), list style (a bullet or numbered) and heading styles.
  • Resources – Types of resources, placement, and use of labels, captions and attributions.
  • References and citation style – Choose a citation style for in-text references and reference lists, and use a consistent placement (e.g. at the end of each chapter, at the end of the book or as footnotes).

Designing an Open Text

Some general rules of design to keep in mind when you’re planning your open text:

  • Begin with the end in mind – What are you trying to achieve? What is the scope of the text? What knowledge should a student have before and after they use the text? What are the learning objectives?
  • Sketch out the general parameters of your open text – What types of media do you want to incorporate in your open text?
    Make a plan for the future – Who will review your open text? How often do you anticipate the content will need updating?

Have an idea for an open text?

If you have an idea or a manuscript for an open text, please email open.content@usq.edu.au or use the Contact Us form to arrange an initial consultation.

The UniSQ OEP team will prioritise works that are high impact, have Australian content, rebalance representation, and cover emerging disciplines. Specifically, we favour works that meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • There are no alternative resources with suitable subject coverage. Additionally, if the open text will replace an existing, expensive commercial text, the team will prioritise the project.
  • The resource fills gaps in content specific to the Australian or New Zealand context, such as law or where content is influenced by local regulations or protocols.
  • The resource will be used in core courses in several programs.
  • The text is being developed for a first-year course.
  • The subject matter supports areas of strategic importance for UniSQ, such as UniSQ Graduate Attributes.
  • The resource is interdisciplinary and/or is created by a cross-disciplinary team.

Chapter Attribution

This chapter has been adapted in parts from:

  1. Wiley, D. (2014). The access compromise and the 5th R. https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3221


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Open Publishing Guide for Authors Copyright © 2023 by University of Southern Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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