Teaching and Learning with Technology

8 Open Pedagogy: Collaborative Open Access Textbook Design

Collaborative Open Access Textbook Design

Stefanie Panke and Israt Jahan Oeeshi

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter you will be able to

  • Describe the potential of open pedagogy
  • Discuss the benefits of open-access textbooks
  • Structure and plan a collaborative writing project
  • Use appropriate technologies to support your project
  • Select applications that help students with writing and research
  • Make effective use of open educational resources
  • Access different OER repositories


Writing is a transformative learning activity: It allows learners to organize their thoughts, communicate effectively, receive feedback from others, correct misconceptions, improve and clarify their understanding, and, as a result, create an artifact that has meaning and value for themselves and others (see chapter Teaching Writing Skills with Blended Learning Approach for Schools’ learners). In their writing, students can draw from a wide variety of sources. Open educational resources (OER) and open-access materials have made it easy to connect students to a world of learning at their fingertips. However, despite the wide availability of video tutorials, open online courses, podcasts, wiki pages, articles, and even textbooks, it is challenging to find the right fit for your students in their specific learning environment, particularly in underserved rural communities or education in emergencies settings (see chapter Education in Emergencies). As educational content is increasingly available for free over the Internet, making effective use of online learning materials has become the new frontier for students and teachers. Information is everywhere; but how can learners actively make sense of their everyday information ecology and contribute to their learning environment?

This chapter outlines open-access textbooks as collaborative writing projects. In short, you enlist your students as textbook authors and editors. The class work can be based on an existing textbook, or your students can research and write their own content. It is an example of project-based learning (see chapter Problem and Project Based Learning) that offers a way to encourage students to engage critically with open educational resources, strengthen their research and writing skills, contextualize learning material to their region, language and culture and enhance coding and web literacy skills. In a multilingual classroom, it can support bilingual learning (see chapter Educating Bilingual learners in Secondary School) and target-language acquisition.

Open pedagogy refers to instructional methods that emphasise openness, cooperation, and student-centered learning. This method challenges traditional, teacher-centered approaches and encourages students to actively participate in their own and one another’s learning. Open pedagogy has been proven to have a number of benefits for students, including increased motivation and engagement, deeper learning and comprehension, and the development of crucial 21st-century skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, and communication (Garreton, 2017). Additionally, it has been demonstrated that open pedagogy increases access to education, especially for marginalised groups (Geser, 2019). Despite these advantages, implementing open pedagogy might bring obstacles, such as a lack of clear norms or best practises, student privacy issues, and problems in assessing student learning in a non-traditional context (Hegarty, 2020). Overall, the existing literature indicates that open pedagogy has the potential to be a transformative approach to education, but additional study is required to fully comprehend its impact and establish implementation best practises.

Figure 1: An Overview of Open Pedagogy E-Book Project Components (see interactive version)

Open Pedagogy, Open-Access and Open Educational Resources

The term open educational resources (OER) was coined in 2002 during a forum held by UNESCO as the open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use, and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes. Leveraging web technologies to equalize access to education has ever since been a core motivation for the OER movement. Similarly, open access describes a publishing model for scholarly communication that makes research journals or textbooks available to readers at no cost. Some open textbooks access textbooks give the option to adapt and distribute an edited version. The idea of educational material, freely and openly accessible on the Web, attracts substantial attention. The concept is as simple as it is convincing: Free access to educational material facilitates learning. In the past two decades, the concept of open education has gained undeniable momentum. Several nations and states have formally adopted or announced policies relating to the adoption of OER and open textbooks (Wiley et al., 2014).

The lack of access to subscription-based books is a commonly cited problem for learners in low-income countries. Open access can help provide students with the opportunity to learn in the international textbook community. Open-access textbooks can reduce geographical distances and have more diverse readers around the world. Authors can address a wider audience without the barriers of paywalls, and increase their visibility and, if applicable, citations. Teachers can easily put together their teaching resources into cohesively structured books and provide access to their students in multiple formats. According to a case study by Wang & Wang (2017) adopting an open-access textbook is more work for the teacher compared to a commercial textbook. The authors suggest discipline-based communities of practice (CoP) to ease the workload problem.

Initially, the primary motivation for open textbooks was to address the high costs of learning materials in higher education, where they can account for a quarter of a student’s expenses. This led to a number of widely successful projects, such as OpenStax and BCcampus. Over time the focus shifted to pedagogic opportunities (Ferguson et al., 2019). Open textbooks can challenge the established relationship between students and knowledge (Ferguson et al., 2019). The open textbook is adaptable. Students can edit and amend an open textbook as part of their study or, as with our case study, create their own textbook as a form of authentic assessment.

Open Pedagogy: 5R Practices

Open pedagogy has emerged as an important teaching and learning practice (Baran & AlZoubi, 2020). It involves shifting from making resources accessible to impacting the practice of teaching (Tietjen & Asino, 2021). In contrast to ‘disposable assignments’ that are perceived as tedious to complete by students and are loathed to grade by instructors students, open pedagogy offers the opportunity to develop lasting, meaningful products (Wiley, 2013).

Wiley  & Hilton (2018) characterized open pedagogy along key dimensions of being free to reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, and retain (5R).

  1. Retain—“the right to make, own, and control copies of the content” 
  2. Reuse—“the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)”
  3. Revise—“the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)”
  4. Remix—“the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)”
  5. Redistribute—“the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)”

Creative Commons

The 5R practices are supported by creative commons licenses. The first Creative Commons licenses were published in 2002 as a set of free, public licenses that allow creators to keep their copyrights while sharing their works on more flexible terms than the default “all rights reserved”. Creative Commons licenses are designed to share digital works globally without being impeded by legal uncertainties. They clearly answer the question: “What can I do with this work?”.

imageCC0 is a public dedication tool, which allows creators to give up their copyright and put their works into the worldwide public domain. CC0 allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, with no conditions.

imageCC BYThis license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.

imageCC BY-SA: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms.

imageCC BY-NC: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.

imageCC BY-NC-SA: This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms.

imageCC BY-ND: This license allows reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.

imageCC BY-NC-ND: This license allows reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. 

Useful Repositories for Creating Open Access Textbooks

When you are creating classroom materials together with your students that you want to make accessible in an open-access format, it is essential that you use creative commons material with appropriate attribution. The best option is: ‘No attribution required’ – you can freely use and edit these materials. In all other cases, check how to cite and link back to the author / source.

Khan Academy is an American non-profit organization created in 2008 by Sal Khan. It offers over 8,000 video lessons teaching a variety of subjects, with a focus on STEM. Teachers can set up a classroom within Khan Academy and assign courses to their students.

Pixabay.com is a free-to-use web repository for photos, illustrations, icons, videos, sounds, and music. The platform uses its own pixabay license that is similar to CC0 public domain but restricts selling unaltered content. All assets can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use across print and digital. Attribution is not required and modifications are allowed.

Pexels.com is a free-to-use web repository for stock photography and stock footage. The platform uses its own pexel license that is similar to CC0 public domain but restricts selling unaltered content. All assets can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use across print and digital. Attribution is not required and modifications are allowed.

MERLOT (Multimedia Education Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) is an online repository and international consortium of institutions (and systems) of higher education, industry partners, professional organizations and individuals. The MERLOT collection consists of tens of thousands of discipline-specific learning materials. All the materials in MERLOT are reviewed for suitability for retention in the collection.

OpenStax is a nonprofit educational technology initiative based at Rice University. Since 2012, OpenStax has created peer-reviewed, open-access textbooks, which are available in free digital formats and for a low cost in print. OpenStax spans educational materials from k-12 to higher education and professional development. Content is organized in modules (pages) that can be connected into larger collections (books).


Open-access textbooks are educational resources that are freely accessible online, with the aim of expanding students’ access to educational materials and lowering the cost of their education. Some of the benefits of open access textbooks highlighted by the experts/education professionals are:

  • Cost savings for students: There are no costs associated with open-access textbooks, which can lower the financial strain on students and enhance their access to educational materials.
  • Improved access to educational materials: Open-access textbooks are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, making them a significant resource for students who may not have access to traditional print resources.
  • Increased customization and flexibility: Open-access textbooks can be altered and customised to match the needs of certain courses or students, enabling a more personalised learning experience.
  • Enhanced collaboration and sharing: Open-access textbooks can be easily shared and collaborated on, fostering the growth of a common educational community.
  • Increased visibility and impact: Increased exposure and influence Open-access textbooks can be discovered and utilised by a larger audience, hence boosting the author’s work’s visibility and impact.

Collaborative Writing for Open acess Textbooks

Collaborative writing of open access textbooks can be employed in different contexts and at various levels. Examples include adapting an existing textbook to a new region or context, rewriting and improving chapters or assignments or creating an entirely new book that is published with an open license. Collaborative writing provides a social context for learning that creates interdependence among peers and a sense of independence among learners. During the collaborative process, students emulate peers to improve writing skills, share knowledge and make decisions together, deal with disagreements and conflicts, use writing strategies, and negotiate teamwork to ensure a positive experience for everyone (Fung, 2010). From the instructor’s point of view, it is crucial to mediate important steps in the process to avoid frustration and scaffold learning.

Structuring The Topic

Mindmaps are an effective tool for structuring the writing assignment, and collaboratively working on ideas. The main topic of the chapter is placed in the center of the mind map. Important themes or questions form branches connected to the center. Any theme may branch off further into subtopics. This visual technique allows writers to explore where their interests lie, and assess what they know and don’t know about the topic at hand. It is a useful prequel to the literature review.

Literature Review and Reference Management

A well-presented review of the literature together with correct citations and references significantly increases the quality of the writing product. It allows learners to engage with the latest research and evaluate scholarly positions and arguments. One of the initial steps in the writing process is the use of suitable academic databases and search engines.

Google Scholar is the biggest database for scholarly work. This frequently accessed source for scientific literature offers an effective gateway to open access publications. It is particularly important in regions that lack access to scientific literature and subscription-based databases such as Scopus and Web of Science (Singh et al, 2022). Two features are particularly useful:

  • Filtering results by date (for example: Since 2020) allows researchers to get a sense of the new developments and trends in a field.
  • The citation count is helpful for identifying the core, standard publication on a topic to include seminal definitions and concepts.

Using bibliographic software can save you hours of unnecessary, tedious work. Shared standards and tools such as BibTex allow writers to export and import references, add them to documents, and easily switch from one citation standard to another. Zotero is a free and open-source reference management software to manage bibliographic data and related materials. It offers an extension for most web browsers with the ability to detect articles on a web page, extract bibliographic information, download available full texts as PDF documents,  and add the material to an offline library with a single click. Especially useful while creating a collection through imports from different sources is the option to consolidate duplicate entries. During the writing-process users benefit from the ability to add notes to each article, and the option to create excerpts and quotes by highlighting and commenting directly in the PDF documents. Zotero can be used to cite correctly within any web environment by copying a bibliography to the clipboard. Furthermore, users can export their collection as a spreadsheet and visualize publications on a timeline.

Expert Corner

Johannes Cronjé is a professor of Digital Teaching and Learning in the Department of Information Technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. He is an expert in academic writing and has supervised more than 140 Masters’ and Doctoral students. His video tutorials contain many helpful links and resources.

Learn more at: https://sites.google.com/site/johannescronje/ 

Five Writing Tips for Academic Writing from Johannes Cronje:

  1. Start with a broad search – you can google your topic, then move to other repositories such as Google Scholar, Wikipedia, etc., and refine your ideas.
  2. Know your purpose. For a textbook chapter, get a sense of what we know (established consensus in the scientific community). For a research paper, find out what we don’t know (gaps in what is covered lead to your research question).
  3. Create an outline and collect material. Color code source material from other authors. Paraphrase and condense their writing and arguments.
  4. Use an electronic citation tool such as Mendeley or Zotero. View your documents in timelines, and analyze the text to establish connections.
  5. Make use of writing helpers for paraphrasing and summarizing  – but use your own judgment. You need to find your own voice and figure out your argument.

Productive Peer Feedback

Fung (2010) observed that successful collaboration depends not only on the learner’s skills, but also on the right attitude and motivation to succeed in the group. Effective feedback is a crucial tool to sustain motivation and volition but can be overwhelming when it is the sole responsibility of the teacher. As an alternative, peer feedback can offer encouragement to the writers, and learning opportunities to the reviewers. The Hillside pattern community has developed an effective writer’s workshop format that can be adapted to other forms of peer feedback. An important rule is to start by presenting the positive aspects of the work, to then discuss how to improve the content and style. Unlike academic peer review, the goal is not to critique the work per se, but rather to give the authors constructive suggestions. Thus, the style for critical comments is to first state the problem followed by a suggestion on how to solve the problem.

Shepherding the peer review for an open access textbook project in a classroom setting can be a daunting experience because it requires moderation, time management, and organization. Holding a writer’s workshop is an effective option, as is the use of online commenting tools that allow students to provide targeted, specific feedback by highlighting a section or paragraph.  The open source tool hypothes.is offers an annotation layer that can be integrated with various web sources and e-book platforms such as pressbooks. Instructors can create a group for their classroom and limit the visibility of feedback to the peer review circle. Students might be reluctant to edit or comment on peer work because of inadequate language proficiency or lack of confidence in their own writing ability. To counter these concerns, online tools such as grammarly can increase both confidence and competence. It reviews spelling, grammar and punctuation, makes suggestions to improve clarity, and offers replacements for any identified errors.

Multimedia Components and Tools for Open Access Textbooks

Digital open access textbooks offer the benefits of supporting multimodal presentation of content. Taken together, open content and multimedia features have the potential to amplify the reach of open access textbook publications, and make them a versatile tool to foster lifelong learning. You do not need to be an advanced website developer or skilled multimedia producer to develop a multimedia textbook with students. You can choose between a wide variety of open-source platforms, free or low-cost tools to collaborate online and develop high-quality material.  These tools can be used separately or in conjunction with one another.


First highlighted in educational foresight studies a decade ago  (cf., Horizon Report 2010, Horizon Report 2011, Innovative Pedagogy Report 2012), e-books have become a staple technology for e-learning. The growing dissemination and the increased ease of use of digital readers and tablets have contributed to this trend. In a narrow definition, e-books are documents specifically designed for mobile e-readers. These readers can be either devices (e.g., Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo E-Reader) or applications (e.g., iBooks, FB Reader, Google Play) that allow for display on iPads, tablets and smartphones. Depending on the functionality of the reader, e-books allow users to interact with the material by searching, bookmarking, annotating, indexing and connecting to external resources like dictionaries, encyclopedias, websites or social media channels. In a broader sense, e-books can comprise a variety of digital documents such as websites, PDFs and mobile applications.

For a collaborative project, it is crucial that the platform offers mechanisms for versioning and allows authors to concurrently work on different parts of the book.

Pressbooks is a WordPress-based platform that allows authors to publish e-books in multiple formats (epub, Mobi, HTML, pdf) from a single source document. The platform is designed primarily for educational institutions, but can also be used by small publishers and individual authors.


Podcasting typically refers to the process of providing audio episodes on a regular schedule with a specific RSS feed that allows listeners to capture the content on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. First coined in 2004, the term podcast was elected word of the year by the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary. A multitude of applications, such as Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Google Podcast, Pocket Cast, Overcast and Spotify allow for disseminating and accessing podcast feeds.  Student podcasting can be an opportunity for authentic assessment of research, language and composition competencies. Yeh et. (2021) conducted a  study of Taiwanese university students’ podcast production. The results indicated significant gains in speaking fluency and accuracy.  In a collaborative textbook project a podcast channel can be included to offer an opportunity for incorporating different genres such as interviews and feature stories.

Anchor.fm is a free-to-use platform for creating and distributing podcasts owned by the company Spotify.

Multimedia Infographics

Infographics visualize topics and data in a compact format, and are of growing importance for learning material and editorial media. The carefully crafted design of icons, arrows, symbols and numbers is visually appealing. They can serve as an advance organizer in a textbook and offer an opportunity for students to summarize information.

Genial.ly is a free-to-use tool for creating interactive visuals and presentations.


Badges are a mechanism to award ‘micro-credits’ online. They are awarded by an organization for an individual user, and can be either internal to a website or online community, or use open standards and shared repositories. In open online learning settings, badges are used to provide incentives for individuals to use our resources and to participate in discussion threads. For example, a user might earn a badge for every ten clicks on blog posts, or for contributing to a discussion thread, or for uploading a video or document, or for completing a course. They can also be incorporated in a textbook to encourage students to reflect upon learning outcomes – for themselves or for their readers.

Badgr/Canvas Credentials is a free-to-use platform that follows the open badge standard.


On the surface, open learning is everywhere. However, it is an easy trap to confound download and registration rates for Massive Open Online Courses with meaningful learning outcomes. As Wiley et al. stated: “Localization is one of the most important and least understood aspects of open educational resources” (Wiley et al., 2014, p. 786). Open repositories, collaborative writing assignments, and peer feedback can increase the quality and diversity of sources. Collaborative writing assignments based on OER materials are effective because they require students to process, arrange, and integrate existing knowledge with new concepts while fostering critical thinking about the course content.

Open-access textbooks can bridge geographical distances and attract more diverse readers and contributors around the world. The lack of access to subscription-based books is a commonly cited problem for learners in low-income countries. Open access models can help provide students in such countries with the opportunity to learn. Going further, open pedagogy can give the students and teachers the opportunity to contribute to the international textbook community. By reimagining education as an activity that serves the needs of local communities the impact of learning can be expanded, making it more inclusive and more valuable to everyone (c.f., Decolonizing Education, Innovating Pedagogy 2019).

Review Questions 

  • Think about a class you are currently teaching. What is missing from your materials? Which section does not seem to work well? is there something you always wanted to do / redo? How could OER help?
  • To what extent and in what ways do you want to engage your students in open learning?
  • How prepared are your students to engage in informal and lifelong learning?
  • What was your last successful example of an informal learning experience? What made you succeed?
  • What happens when you spend less time on creating and preparing content, and more time on creating authentic assessment, giving feedback, and mentoring?
  • When your teaching material is open to change, how can you create assignments that engage students in active learning?What type of materials (videos, podcasts, text, quizzes, research articles, quests, graphics, simulations, animations, charts, datasets) would your students like to have more of / less of for their learning?

Key Terms 

Collaborative Writing: Two or more people working together on a writing project.

Creative Commons: Creative Commons is both the name of a group of open licenses and the non-profit organization that develops and provides them.

Open Educational Resources: First coined in 2002 during a forum held by the UNESCO. Open educational resources (OER) are learning materials that are available for free under a creative commons license.

Pressbooks: Pressbooks is a platform for creating open access textbooks.

Podcast: First coined in 2004, the term podcasting refers to audio that is accessible on the web, is distributed with RSS feeds, and can be downloaded to players on mobile devices.

Textbook Structure: Every textbook has a structure that helps readers follow and process the material.


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About the authors

Dr. Stefanie Panke is an educational technology specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is native German, and holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics and Literature from the University of Bielefeld, which she completed in 2012 with summa cum laude. Her research interests comprise social media, informal learning, open educational resources, and design thinking. As social media coordinator for AACE she is responsible for the blog AACE Review. Stefanie is an adjunct professor for teacher education at the Asian University for Women. She also teaches Web Science at Cologne University of Applied Sciences and Design Thinking at Münster University of Applied Sciences.

Currently working as a Teaching Fellow at the Asian University for Women Graduate Program in Education, Israt recently completed her Master’s degree in Economic Policy in Global Markets from Central European University in Vienna, Austria, with a focus on Higher Education Policy and Development Economics. Israt is also an alumnus of the Asian University for Women batch of 2019 with a Bachelor’s in Economics and a minor in Development Studies. During her Master’s, Israt also completed a fully funded exchange certificate programme at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, USA, on the topic of “Inequality Analysis.” Israt’s research interests include post-covid inequalities across developed and developing countries, the comparative analysis of social costs and benefits of higher education, and future of the investments in EdTech programs. Israt aspires to make a difference in the unequal society by working on the development of sustainable policy alternatives supported by evidence-based solutions, solid research and green approaches. Israt is an avid traveller who enjoys learning about history, diverse cultures, traditions, and cuisines. Israt enjoys photography and admires creativity!



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Open Pedagogy: Collaborative Open Access Textbook Design Copyright © 2023 by Stefanie Panke and Israt Jahan Oeeshi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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