Landing : Athabascau University

open textbooks

I wish that more instructors would consider cost as part of  quality. Too many just go with the proprietary text (rarely an open text) with little consideration of the price, which can be exorbitant. The cost of a text is one aspect of quality. An important one in my opinion that is all too often ignored by instructors who choose them. There are a growing number of excellent quality controlled open texts. Instructors should keep their eyes open. Like proprietary texts some of the open texts lack quality. If that is, the case then pick another one or just use the good parts of it if any, but don't just presume that the costly text is better. Quite often it isn't. Also, there are growing open online  alternatives to texts. At least check the open texts out before considering a high priced text that may be unnecessary.


  • Carmen Southgate July 18, 2012 - 1:34pm

    One consideration brought to me by faculty members is that quality in certain disciplines is actually framed/perceived in relation to the particular textbook you use and the author(s), so in trying to create an image of AU's courses meeting professional standards of "quality" (or even the old equivalent-to-classroom argument/concern for DE), faculty choose the book that "everyone uses" despite the cost.

    I find it's difficult to argue for OER books based on this reasoning...any comments?

  • Jon Dron July 18, 2012 - 1:56pm


    If all else is equal and the objective quality is similar, or the OER is better, I'd first ask whether we wish to be trend setters or trend followers. We are (or should be) leaders in our fields.

    I'd then observe that the quality of OERs is demonstrable because anyone can see whether they are good or bad, unlike closed texts, and the fact that they can be modified means they can be improved. I have never, in all my years in academia, found a textbook without errors or that perfectly suits the methods, content, vocabulary and emphases needed for my courses.

    If that weren't enough, I'd go on to observe, probably with the hairs standing up on the back of my neck because it's so obvious, that this mentality is precisely what makes mobs stupid. A decision of this kind made early sets path dependencies in motion and leads to preferential attachment, which in turn nearly always leads to sub-optimal solutions. For example, Duncan Watts has done some great experiments using pop songs that show chart position has very little at all to do with quality (perceived by individuals independent of the perceived opinions of others) and a great deal to do with the recursive reinforcement caused by chart position. It's a path to mediocrity. The process almost never chooses something that is truly dreadful and, every now and then, luck will lead to something genuinely excellent coming out on top but, most of the time, it doesn't.


  • Carmen Southgate July 18, 2012 - 2:46pm


    Yup...agreed although not every faculty member aspires to taking up their research time writing teaching & learning materials for their fields in order to be a trend setter in online learning/OERs for their discipline.  

    Publishing in peer reviewed journals is what supervisors look for in faculty annual performance assessments, from my understanding of AU's faculty assessment process.

    Maybe a way to avoid mob stupidity here at AU in relation to gaining a value perspective about OERs is to start some type of Moodle community hub where people can submit copies of non-live courses where the design specifically incorporates the use of OERs.

    Every devel. server in our AU centres could have a default link or block on the main page of their site that links to this OER course sample repository.  Personally, I am only aware of Dr. Martin Connors Science course that uses OERs from MIT as we invited him to come and chat with us last year about it.

    I think you are right when you mention that mentality is a key issue since it's not just a particular OER resource that we're talking about when trying to offer other options for online learning - people need to see the whole package of how someone has shaped an entire course around the OER(s) in order to begin to believe in the value for themselves.

    Perhaps one of your courses could be the first submission to the repositoryLaughing  

  • Jon Dron July 18, 2012 - 3:26pm

    I'm in! None of my courses use closed textbooks and all rely primarily on OERs, though I confess that, in a couple of graduate courses, I have included a very few (optional) links here and there to things behind our paywall that is provided by the library.

    In SCIS, we have already made courses on our dev servers available to one another as there are many benefits to sharing, whether we use OERs or not, but that's just for internal use. I'd be most happy if we made all of our courses available to the whole world, rather than internally or in the few bits and pieces that are online at That way we'd be able to prove to any doubters that our courses are not only on a par with others but significantly better than most, as well as better fulfilling our mission as an open university with an obligation and a fundamental mission to increase the knowledge in the world.

  • Carmen Southgate July 18, 2012 - 3:41pm

    I agree re: samples for the world to see, but even cross-center internal sharing would be a nice startLaughing

    We don't store copies of our business courses on our devel server so there's issues with role overrides trying to give everyone blanket access to production courses.  

    We haven't resolved this issue yet as far as I'm aware, and are just doing things on an ad hoc basis to give business faculty peer access to each other's courses when we discuss specific design elements.

    I'll ask the Moodle people - Daryl/Colleen - where this internal sample OER course repository could be stored so it can be accessed from all AU devel. servers through a link/HTML block etc.  

    Too bad we couldn't add an RSS somehow so it can automatically update the info. on the individual devel servers when a new course has been added to the showcase repository.

    Again, I agree with you - the quality will be judged on the complete package, not just the bits and pieces.

    I'll send you an email when I get the answer from the Moodle gurus about where we could house this showcase repository.

    What are the names of your courses that could be copied over there (I'm assuming it would be similar to the archive process)?

  • Jon Dron July 18, 2012 - 4:00pm

    COMP 266, COMP 470, COMP 602, COMP 607, COMP 650. All have additional and dynamic Landing components that are protected by whatever permissions I or the students have given - those can't be shared unless the owners have allowed it. But that's kind of the point, because engagement with a learning community, along with the assessment/feedback process, is one of the main places where we can add value. The versions on the development server are not necessarily identical to those in production - most were tweaked a little bit here and there to add finishing touches when they were put in place - so it would be best to get an archive (not student work or contributions!) from there.


  • Rory McGreal July 19, 2012 - 3:04pm

    An interesting discussion. Of course, "the book that everyone uses" shows a crowd mentality approach which, as Jon points out can lead to mediocrity. But, I understand the problem - it's easier to take what's available and what others are using then no one can criticise the quality.However, as Martin Connors has discovered there are excellent OER available from the top universities and so it would be difficult to criticise them on the quality of the content. has 60 courses as OER fully developed. Nearly all of these have a list of up to five qualified professors who attest to the quality of the course. We can use this material. But, the real arbiter of quality is the professor responsible for the course. They should be able to judge the quality of any materials for their courses. I would just ask that faculty be open minded and at the very least look at available OER in their discipline and know what's available AND that the cost of the mateiral should be one of the criteria for judging quality.

    We do not have a critical mass of open content at AU yet. We do have a repository that Jon has given the link to and we hope to grow it. We also have all our courses on AlFresco, so it should be easier for us to share the material and open it as needed. But we should not be looking at the OER ecosystem as being within AU, but rather worldwide. Some faculty are doing so and making their life easier by adopting OER rather than creating them homegrown.

    All the best


  • Carmen Southgate July 19, 2012 - 4:20pm

    Thanks Rory.  I definitely agree...cost should be considered in the quality judgement. 

    Perhaps whenever a course revision happens, AU's Materials Management could provide the course team members with some cost figures (e.g., total cost of books used for the current version, total shipping costs for current version - since heavier books cost more to ship etc.). 

    I don't know how many professors are even aware of these numbers for their courses. Some comparisons could then be done with enrolments for current version. 

    One point: I think many of the "top universities" you mention are in the US so their OER focus in some disciplines - such as business - may not be as appropriate for Canadian students who take certain types of AU courses to learn about our national context of laws/policies/regulations/perspectives/information. 

    But you've probably heard that concern before and it's certainly NOT a relevant argument for a large number of AU courses.

    However, I will definitely pass along the Saylor resource to our business faculty as I see the economics and business admin course reading lists seem to incorporate readings from various sources including the OUUK - not just American.  Excellent!

    Would you happen to have a list somewhere you could share of Canadian universities that are venturing into OERs?