Why I wrote an #OER textbook #amwriting #highered #onlineed

26 09 2015

I’ve been interviewed a few times about the OER textbook I wrote last year for my Concepts of Biology course.  In each interview, I’m asked some version of the question “aren’t students excited when they find out they don’t have to buy a textbook?”. Like most things, it depends.

In my experience, students see new commercial textbooks as an unnecessary expense that they forego if possible.  They expect access to low-cost options and free internet resources, and they will seek them out. Back in the day, when I was in college, the internet as we know it did not exist in an accessible form and the main ways to obtain information were from printed materials and/or lectures.  In those days, textbooks were often seen as a long-term investment, a start to building a personal professional library. That is no longer the norm. Bibliophiles will most certainly always exist, but I have found them to be the minority among today’s current generation of college students.

My decision to write the open textbook for my course was the result of increasing numbers of students asking me for website recommendations that they could use in lieu of purchasing textbooks.  For today’s students it’s not so much a matter of saving money (although that is a part of it) as much as it is that they view the internet as a more convenient and up to date source of information when compared to print materials.  As digital natives come to dominate the classrooms, they bring with them an increasing attitude that textbooks are stale, heavy, and expensive whereas the internet is fresh, free, and always accessible.  Unfortunately, what these students often lack is the experience to establish the accuracy of the sources they are using to access information.  Choosing to write the textbook was the result of a mixture of all of these things.  By writing the textbook, I was able to provide for my students a free, portable, resource I could ensure contained accurate and scientifically reliable information.

From a personal perspective, the book was an experiment in writing – to see if I could successfully complete a book.  Having now done so, I am excited to proceed to write books for my other courses.  It is my hope that, over the next five years, I can convert all of my courses to open resources.  Along those lines, I’m currently working on my next project – an open textbook with open interactive Articulate Storyline review and self-assessment resources for my pharmacology course.  My graduate work was in physiology and pharmacology and those are the areas of my deepest interest.  Writing for those subjects is a more in-depFreshPaint-0-2014.10.24-03.35.47th project than writing for general biology, but the general biology book was a great place to gain practice writing a textbook.  In writing the pharmacology text, I am working with the nursing staff at my college and within the Dakota Nursing Program, to make sure the book I develop meets the needs of our students as they progress into clinical coursework.  Nursing program books and materials can easily exceed $1000 per term.  Reducing that burden, while maintaining access to quality information, is my ultimate goal.

The sands are shifting.  The baby boom generation bought textbooks and kept them proudly in their offices after graduation for reference, and for a bit of showmanship.  The millennial generation, in general, isn’t as focused on attaining an office lined with bookshelves.  Their office is more likely to be global and mobile.  Heavy, expensive, outdated textbooks simply don’t fit into that lifestyle.

On writing #OER textbooks – moving ideas from simmer to boil #amwriting @ScrivenerApp @mindmeister

29 08 2015

mind map pns

Last year, I published an OER textbook for one of my biology courses.  Writing the book was a linear project.  I started with an outline and sat for a few hours a day a few days a week to pound out the words.  I inserted simple pictures I had drawn or photos I had taken.  When I wrapped one chapter, I moved on to the next.  I composed the book in Word and distributed the final project to my students as a .pdf.  Linear progression.

This past spring, I started my second book – for my pharmacology course.  I wrote the outline.  Then, I stalled.  Pharmacology is an entirely different beast than is general biology.  So many pieces… so many interlocking threads… an exponentially larger project per page.  I turned to my old standby organizational tools – OneNote and Excel.  I made a bit of progress.  And, stalled again.  Summer term began – through the roof enrollments and the grading demands that go along with full classes.  Still, the “how will I…” and “what if I…” book construction questions simmered on the back burner.

August arrived.  Professional development season.  I attended a conference week followed by a week of faculty inservice.  Energized and motivated by the interactions and connections inherent in bouncing ideas around with colleagues, I pulled together the bits and pieces of outline from here and spreadsheet data from there.  I assessed my progress.  I realized the old ways just weren’t going to work this time.  I had to move beyond the Office sandbox.

I needed something fluid – so I headed to Target for the biggest pieces of paper I could find.  I started to draw out connections.  And, realized I was mind mapping – and that there were probably apps that were more flexible than my big pieces of paper could be.  Once I found MindMeister (www.mindmeister.com) I lost an afternoon to med math map development and was encouraged by the progress.

But, I was still stuck with the transition from map to paragraph.  Yesterday, I found Scrivener.  (www.literatureandlatte.com/) Where has this program been all my life??  It even has index cards!  Color coded ones!!  Spending an afternoon with the program I was completely hooked.  Did I mention the index cards??  The more I played in the demo, the more sure I was my free trial period was going to be just the start of a long, productive, writing union.  I bought the program.  I started setting up my notes.  I’m thrilled to take the book off the back burner and to have the ideas bubbling up again, my brain firing at full boil.

And, for the times my sentences run on and my words get too pedantic? There’s an app for that too… Hemingway will be there to gently remind (in bold red highlighting) that perhaps the writing would be improved with a few tweaks here and there.  (www.hemingwayapp.com)

Excited to be writing again!

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