#SRHE2017 Friday 8th December 2017
Exploring textbook use and
culture with Higher Education staff
Vivien Rolfe, UWE Bristol @vivienrolfe
David Kernohan, Wonkhe.com @dkernohan
Presentation to the Society for Research into Higher
Education (#SRHE2017) Conference, 6-8th December 2017
April 2017 -18
Open textbook schemes in South Africa, Poland,
America and Canada are providing access to high
quality textbooks providing better access to learning
and countering high textbook prices. (1, 2, 3).
● Open educational resource (OER)
● Openly licensed textbooks in a range of subject
● Collaborative author / peer-review process
● Multiple formats (free for students) plus low-cost
● Easily ‘adopted’ and ‘adapted’ by staff
● About ‘access’ and ‘reuse’
OpenStax.org open textbook publisher at Rice University
What is an ‘open’ textbook?
Poland, Digital eSchools Programme 2012
Africa, Siyavula open education project 2007
BCcampus Open Textbook Project 2012
52 texts - mixed CC licenses
(part of Jisc e-textbook publisher
+Nottingham, Liverpool, Highlands
and Islands, Edinburgh Napier)
110 texts - mixed CC licenses
(University of Cambridge)
Variety of books and articles - CC licensed
(Global initiative led by
University of the West of England)
+ other ‘open access’ book publishers
with Gold routes and book publication charges.
What is a textbook?
“A coursebook, a formal manual of instruction in a specific subject,
especially one for use in schools or colleges”
● Coursebook - a textbook has elements that make it suitable to underpin a
course of study. These may include - but are not limited to - a structure
that introduces concepts in an order suitable for learning; structural
aspects such as summaries, questions for revision, diagrams, a glossary
and an index.
● Instruction - a textbook is designed to support learning, and may be
presented in a way that provides for a complete “learning experience” for
the independent learner
● Specific subject - a textbook focuses on a clearly demarcated subject of
study. It does not range freely across multiple disciplines or approaches.
● For use in schools or colleges - although it may be written in a way that
could support independent learning, a textbook is nearly always used
formally to support a course of study delivered by educators.
How do staff and students use
Very little research exists.
- (compulsory sector and US) as learning
- use of reading lists (varying staff and student
- Academic choice
- Decline in textbook market globally
- Decline of UK campus bookshops
High study costs and students?
• 31% of US students chose not to take certain courses
because of high prices of recommended texts (4).
• In the UK 77% of graduates claimed to be worried about
their levels of debt, with many stating their degrees
were not worth the cost of tuition fees (5).
• Open textbooks replacing commercial texts are well
received by US staff and students - books were more
up to date, allowed for flexibility in delivery and provided
accessible content to meet learner needs (6).
Growing textbook costs in the UK
Data from annual survey of final year students by “Save The Student”
over 5 years?
Aim of this research
• Part of the UK Open Textbook Project aims to
understand current patterns of textbook use in the UK,
and explore awareness of open textbooks by staff and
• This presentation details the development of
questionnaires and some early findings.
Audit of student attitudes
• 2015 textbook audit of n=69 science students at 2 UK
• Year 1 (n=18); Year 2 (n=7); Year 3 (n=39) and returning
placement students (n=5)
• Questioned on their textbook purchasing habits and
attitudes to books.
• (Core science textbooks are around £150 - 200).
Book spending and attitudes
• 57 students (estimated or itemised book costs) and 12
purchased no books = average spend was £183.
• The maximum spend was £900.
• One student listed they had purchased 13 different
• 80% thought purchasing textbooks was an important
part of their studies but 88% claimed to have skipped
purchasing certain books.
• 6 students claimed to have changed their course
because of the cost of books associated with it.
74% are working during term-time or holidays to support their studies.
Staff questionnaire development
• Aims to target teaching staff in HE / FE in HE in UK and
Republic of Ireland.
• Questions including those of the 2016 ‘Babson’ survey in
the US plus informed by a literature review and project
team discussions (8). Also informed by SRHE October
‘Questionnaire Design’ workshop with Victoria Bourne. :)
• Survey piloted through to analysis with 10 people
representing target group and modified for validity.
• Publicised as a ‘textbook’ survey via email, Twitter and
project blog (with links to ethics documents).
• Survey open now.
Awareness of open
• 39% (University teaching staff) were not
aware of open textbooks, and 20% were
not aware of open educational resources
• Compares to 66% and 58% respectively
in 2016 US survey of higher education
• 28% claimed to use open textbooks
Other insights from project workshops
• “Open brings options” (UWE academic, July 2017). A
recognition that openness can enhance teaching
practices and pedagogies.
• Campus bookstores are closing - how will this impact on
student immersion into academic culture?
• What is a reading list? Need for policy and clarity?
• How to leverage the expertise and passion of library
staff and learning technologists?
• We know little about textbook contexts and
cultures of use and further research is needed.
• Students surveyed want books as part of their
education experience but are confused which
to buy and are disappointed they then aren’t
used by lecturers.
• Early survey results shows encouraging levels
of staff awareness and use of open textbooks.
• Open textbooks have the potential to
increase equity, empower teachers and
reduce the cost of college and university.
• Is it our moral obligation to provide students
with learning resources - particularly if they
are available to them for free and research
shows they are of good quality and
beneficially pedagogically (9, 10).
(1) US Department of Education (2016). Open Education. Retrieved from http://tech.ed.gov/open-education/
(2) BCcampus (2016). Open Textbook Project. Retrieved from https://open.bccampus.ca/the-project/
(3) KOED.org.pl (2017). Retrieved from: http://koed.org.pl/pl/english/etextbooks-in-poland/
(4) Donaldson, R. Nelson, D. & Thomas, E. (2012). 2012 Florida student textbook and OER survey. Florida Virtual Campus.
Retrieved from: http://florida.theorangegrove.org/og/items/10c0c9f5-fa58-2869-4fd9-af67fec26387/1/
(5) National Union of Students (2015). Retrieved from:
(6) Delimont, N., Turtle, E., Bennett, A., Adhikari, K., & Lindshield, B. (2016). Research In Learning Technology, 24.
(7) Rolfe V (2017). Could open textbooks improve the experience of all students? University of Plymouth 6th Annual PedRIO
(8) Allen E and Seaman J (2016) Opening the Textbook: Open Education Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-16 . Babson
Survey Research Group
(9) 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).
(10) Robinson, J., Fischer, L., Wiley, D., & Hilton, J. (2014). The Impact of Open Textbooks on Secondary Science Learning
Outcomes. Educational Researcher, 43(7).
Vivien Rolfe @vivienrolfe
David Kernohan Wonkhe.com @dkernohan
+Beck Pitt, Bea De Los Arcos, Rob Farrow,
Martin Weller, Natalie Egglestone, David Ernst (Open Textbook Library),
Daniel Williamson and Danni Nicholson (OpenStax)
+Huge thanks to the Hewlett Foundation
April 2017 -18
Talk for the Society for Research in Higher Education (#SRHE17) conference, December 8th 2017.