Staff talk: diversified and updated textbooks and reading lists

The second in a weekly series of blog posts with highlights from the interview data and the national survey.

Last week I gave an overview of some key findings of the research including a selection of quotes from students about their current crop of textbooks.

This week let’s look at an overview of how academics are responding to the opportunities of open textbooks and the need to diversify and update curriculum and texts. Next week I’ll begin a series of more detailed examples from academics in different disciplines.

Do academics think their curriculum needs diversifying?

Well of course there is a lot of variety out there. We spoke to academics and heard from some more in the survey who have been developing more updated and less sexist/racists learning materials for many years, including writing their own textbooks. Then we spoke to many who’d never thought about it until we asked them, and then they had a bit of a lightbulb moment (“What a great idea!”) and began to ponder the possibilities. There were many more in the middle of these two points who had keen awareness about the gender imbalance in their field and were collaborating with women academics as co-writers and developers of texts and inviting them to guest lecture in their units. There was also rising awareness and interest in incorporating the work of indigenous scholars and community members into reading lists.

Even if they had made a good start, most interviewees and some survey respondents thought they could probably do more to diversify the authors and perspectives on their reading lists and ensure students were getting the benefit of both global and local experts from a range of cultural traditions. It was often a matter of searching, adding and removing some items from the reading list in preparation for each semester. Some academics about to embark on major subject, assessment or online redevelopments thought that would be the best time to diversify their materials as part of the already planned for subject or assessment overhaul.

Are academics interested in open textbooks?

Yes! There has been a real increase in writing and publishing Australian open textbooks. We interviewed lots of authors of Australian open textbooks who were part of institutionally supported pilots or services at La Trobe University and QUT. USQ (not one of our research sites) has a great catalogue of open textbooks and recently released a number of excellent local textbooks including an Australian version of the well known OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology text. Great news for all health and medical students who have very expensive and humungous textbooks! We also interviewed an Australian academic who had developed a 6 chapter open textbook with her students which was a spin-off from their major assignment to write a case study on a cultural competence topic. The diversity of contributed student chapters was amazing.

We also spoke to quite a few academics developing open-access reading lists with chapters and sections from textbooks alongside journal articles, video clips and other media (here’s a great example). And we interviewed academics who had gone through the process of reviewing and adopting open textbooks written by others to replace a commercial textbooks that was outdated or just too expensive.

We have yet to see an Australian open textbook project that explicitly set out to diversify the contents and knowledges represented, such as to incorporate indigenous knowledges. However, Australian academics responded very positively to overseas examples (see here, here and here) and we are aware of a major project in the pipeline so watch this space. When it’s done right, the front of the book features an adaptation statement acknowledging the open textbooks used as a basis for the new text, what was changed, whose experience was incorporated and why. Here’s a great example. Just good academic citation practice, right?

Next week: I’ll talk to Ben Whitburn at Deakin University about how he recently adopted an open textbook for his Masters level education unit.

Category list: academic practice, research

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