Dr Ben Whitburn: the process of adopting an updated and more accessible open textbook

Dr Ben Whitburn is Senior Lecturer of Education (Inclusive Education) responsible for course leadership and teaching pre-service teachers at Deakin University. Here is an edited version of what he had to say about the process of reviewing and adopting an open textbook (OER) as a major course resource.

What courses and cohorts do you teach? Ben teaches both pre-service and in-service teachers, mostly at post-grad level, to prepare or enhance their teaching in primary and secondary schools. Students need to learn about inclusion in education, the legislation and frameworks for teaching inclusive education, and how to go about teaching diverse kids in the classroom.

What do you mean by inclusive education? “It’s about bringing opportunities to learn for everyone no matter their ability or background. It used to be about bringing kids with disabilities in to classrooms, but the definition has broadened”. Ben encourages all his students “to think about what inclusive means depending on their role and location. It might be indigenous inclusion for example.”

What’s important about OER texts from your perspective: “Firstly, inclusive education is a fast moving area, the unit I was interested in drawing on an open access textbook was using a commercial textbook published in 2012. It’s out of date, it lacks a number of elements including indigenous education, it lacks focus on curriculum. There is a great opportunity with OER texts to pick up a resource that grows with the knowledge of the field. Secondly, asking people to pay $65 for a textbook published in 2012 is not great.” Ben believes knowledge should be free. So adopting a textbook with no costs and no digital limitations on access is the other important factor.

What book are you adopting?  “Opening eyes onto inclusion and diversity” is a free OER text book written by a team at the University of Southern Queensland.

Where you surprised to find an OER text that was suitable and aligned to your topics?

“I was surprised by what we found, the book is written by a group of scholars that I’m not particularly familiar with even though they are local.” Ben had heard of one of the authors work but had not met at conferences and upon reflection, noted that “that speaks to an elitism in what is published.” Since then, with regard to other units, he has been trying to find contributions from people he doesn’t already know. Ben said that having authors from different places is an important part of diversity. So it should be modelled when teaching about diversity and inclusion!

How did you evaluate the new text? While very busy with teaching during Trimesters 1 and 2 during of COVID disrupted 2020, Ben was “able to not teach and just focus on course leadership in Trimester 3, so that gave me the opportunity to review and embed this OER textbook into teaching for T1 2021. I went back to the learning outcomes and the assessment. What I did was to compare both books and compare one framework against the other. There is some content that is non-negotiable, this unit must have information about the legislative frameworks for students with disabilities for example. I also ticked off the bits of the material that I really like that is in the new book, and then I saw what was missing. The new book has a great chapter on the problems of naming and labelling people for example.”

What did you do about the gaps?  Ben said he would make up for the few gaps with papers and maybe even a few chapters from the current textbook which can be provided electronically under existing digital rights through the Library. 

What about provision in accessible formats? Ben noted that the accessibility of the USQ text was an important feature. The USQ text is downloadable in different formats including html, which for people with screen-readers, is a lifesaver. Ben also noted that during a 2020 LMS upgrade Blackboard Ally was introduced at Deakin. Ben will be experimenting with using Ally to offer resources in multiple accessible formats. Ben intends to see if he can use Ally to make more accessible the few chapters of the old text that he wants to keep in his reading list.

Category list: academic practice

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