Open Textbooks are a recent innovation in free, digital texts. During UTS’s Open Access week, they were the topic of an exciting panel discussion with experts Sarah Lambert, Mais Fatayer and Amanda White. We explored the challenges of adoption, adaptation and creation of Open Textbooks. We also looked at the Australian context and how Open Textbooks are addressing the rising costs of textbooks and UTS’s global outcome for social responsibility and Indigenous knowledge recognition.

So what has Amanda been up to?

Well, Open Textbooks first pinged on Amanda’s radar during another LX.lab event: Benefits and challenges of OER. During that event, Mais invited three international experts to blow our minds on the potential or Open Education Resources. Following that, Amanda was asked to developed a new subject for Accounting and so the opportunity was there to take a new approach. The result is that she is writing two Open Textbooks which are co-created, freely editable, and given-away for free.

Top tips for Open Textbooks:

Be brave enough to start

It’s easier than you think – you may think you’re not total subject matter expert but in fact writing the book uncovers knowledge you forgot you knew and helps you discover more.

“Small is beautiful”

You can go big but you can also go small. That’s the beauty of Open Textbooks. As teachers we can only use a few chapters in a standard 38 chapter book anyway – so going small with Open Textbooks is just as viable as going big. Iterative over instantaneous is the way to go, small is beautiful. Make it part of the teaching cycle. Write one chapter one year and the next later on. You can start with three case studies of student work, top and tail it with an introduction and a reference, and boom! There’s the start of your Open Textbook.

You don’t have to write it all yourself

Remix and edit existing open texts. Check out Revise, reuse and improve: an OER approach.

Talk to your library

Talk to your library – at UTS, you can publish Open Textbooks through UTS ePress. The UTS Library also provides detailed resources on publishing, and help with using and creating Open Educational Resources.

Talk to more people

Talk to some experts – contact Mais Fatayer and Sarah Lambert. Talk to more people (as many people as you can in your organisation) – because people are really supportive and want to get involved. Those already working in the OER space are very keen to help and even collaborate.

“An open textbook is the purest form of academic work because we’re not doing it for the money, or the prestige, but to support student learning and to support our peers and colleagues.”

Amanda White

Dig into diverse perspectives

A lot of textbooks on the commercial market don’t really reflect our local context or even the current zeitgeist. For example, in accounting textbooks: women always have cake shops or dress shops, men always had engineering or accounting businesses.

But we want UTS students to see what the world is actually like in all its diversity. We also want students to be able to see themselves in the textbooks. Another major part of the complexity of Australia’s business environment includes Indigenous perspectives.

Students as partners

If students see something in the book they don’t understand, this can be discussed and then incorporated into an Open Textbook. Students are then actually cited for their contribution. With funding, you can also pay students to part of your review team.

That’s so cool, I can come to Uni and $200 worth of books is something I don’t have to worry about.

AND students know the product is up-to-date, it’s the most relevant material, for example Australian Accounting Standards are so unique that it makes adoption of this new textbook a no-brainer. 

What is specific about the Australian context for your discipline?

What did the audience say?

There is a great groundswell of interest in Open Textbooks in Australia at the moment. We found that most of the audience felt strongly that they would like to use an Open Textbook in their subject.


The thing to remember about funding is that you’re saving your university library a lot of money by using or writing an Open Textbook.

Amanda’s Accounting Open Textbooks were funded by the UTS Library and UTS Business school. The Council of Australian University Librarians offers a free Pressbooks platform so any University can use this and they don’t need to pay for their own digital authoring system.

Resourcing requirements are different from project to project. It may be part of your normal teaching cycle, or if you have a curriculum review underway already, that can be a good time to consider an Open Textbook. The size and scale of your project will also determine what extra resourcing you need. Do you want a graphic design to do all the diagrams, can you get someone to research more up-to-date work for you?

Open textbooks support social justice

Open Textbooks have double-pronged approach to social justice:

  1. The cost to get the book (it’s free!)
  2. The way things are represented in the book.

UTS is leading the global outcome of social responsibility and Indigenous knowledge recognition. This really makes adapting textbooks to fit that context very timely.

OER is iterative. In terms of representation you don’t have to put everyone’s voice in your textbook on the first run. Acknowledge where there are still gaps and allow students and colleagues to help you fill those gaps.

Watch the event: How Open Textbooks will change your life

Feature photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

  • I am also glad that you found this talk informative. There are great opportunities in this area, and I guess the recent changes in educational systems created room for new innovations. I am hoping that we will benefit from the potential of OER/OEP to adance the learning and teaching experiences here at UTS.

  • Thanks you Mais, Amanda, Sarah and David for such an informative talk. This sounds like a great summer project – and one that you break down into small chunks so it’s not a mammoth task. Working with students as partners on this is also an excellent idea. Thanks for your insider intel 🙂

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