Open textbook authorship, quality assurance and publishing: Social justice models of participatory design, engagement, co-creation and partnership

Growing inequity continues to manifest within and between higher education institutions of the Global North and Global South, highlighting the plight of the disadvantaged versus the advantaged in the system (Holscher & Bozalek, 2020). In addition to the challenge of high university fees impeding access, there are challenges related to the cost and appropriateness of textbooks in higher education (Cox et al., 2019) – all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the widening inequality that has manifested as a result (Hargreaves, 2021).

Internationally, research has highlighted the importance of providing access to textbooks and online educational resources in order to maximise returns on remote learning necessitated by the pandemic, particularly in the context of unequal access to learning materials and curricula (Mishra et al., 2020; Reimers & Schleicher 2020).

At the University of Cape Town (UCT), academics are exploring the affordances of open textbooks and alternative content creation approaches in order to address limitations around the accessibility and relevance of traditional textbooks.

This presentation is framed by the work of political philosopher Nancy Fraser (2005), who aims to illuminate the injustices of gender inequality, racism, colonialism and neoliberalism. In order to do so, she proposes a multi-level theory of justice, in which she describes three dimensions of social injustice: 1) economic maldistribution; 2) cultural misrecognition;and 3) political misframing. These “species” of injustice are objects that need to be dismantled (Fraser, 2005, p.92). Fraser provides a set of tools and principles that can be used to examine the current injustices in higher education.

The central norm of Fraser’s theory is “parity of participation”. This is a principle of “equal moral worth”, in that justice requires social arrangements in which all are able to participate as equal peers in social life (Fraser, 2009, p.16). Overcoming injustice, therefore, means dismantling the institutional obstacles that prevent people from participating on a par with others. This parity of participation can be both an outcome “where all relevant actors participate” and a process “in fair and open processes of deliberation” (Fraser, 2005, p.87).

Fraser (2005) provides two “frames” or “remedies” for injustice (p.98). An affirmative remedy may redraw boundaries, or even create new ones within the existing political frame, and accepts the “who” (that is, the given collection of “subjects” in an established hierarchy) of the current political community. It does therefore not challenge the underlying “deep grammar” of injustice (Fraser, 2005, p.99). A transformative remedy challenges the underlying frame-setting or grammar, which is “out of synch” and causes injustice. A transformative approach to misframing goes beyond changing the boundaries of “who” is included, to questioning “how” those boundaries are drawn. Fraser (2005, p.100) suggests the “all-affected principle” as a frame to aspire to: “all those affected by a given social structure or institution have moral standing as subjects of justice in relation to it.”

The work of Bovill (2020) is used in conjunction with Fraser (2005) in order to examine the manner in which open textbooks enable collaboration and co-authoring with peers and students. Bovill proposed a framework that can be used to describe the range of activities and roles that colleagues and students take on, namely: participatory design, student engagement, co-creation (in the capacity of co-researcher, co-designer, co-designer and/or representative) and partnership.

The work shared in this presentation emerges from research conducted within the Digital Open Textbooks for Development (DOT4D) project, an open textbook research, implementation and advocacy initiative which investigates the current ecosystem of open textbook publishing and provides implementation support in open textbook publishing activity at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The project operates with an underlying social justice agenda, in that it interrogates economic maldistribution, cultural misrecognition and political misrepresentation in the context of open textbook provision using Fraser’s (2005) social justice framework.

The data presented draws from a mixed-method research and implementation approach conducted in the Digital Open Textbooks for Development (DOT4D) project over a three-year period with 11 open textbook authors at the University of Cape Town (UCT). These activities included a survey administered to all 11 authors; grant proposals submitted by 10 of the authors in the DOT4D grants programme, and two rounds of in-depth interviews with five authors from the study sample. These specific activities were supported by the DOT4D project field notes tracking interactions with the UCT open textbook community.

Analysis of the data involved identifying key aspects of open textbook production and publishing, namely authorship, quality assurance and publishing, that emerged in each of the authors’ initiatives and examining the various approaches undertaken. Each author’s approach is analysed against Bovill’s (2020) framework of inclusion.

The presentation demonstrates how academics at UCT are embarking on open textbook initiatives in response to a largely mutual set of social injustices they witness in their classrooms related to affordable access, curriculum transformation and multilingualism. With a focus on student co-creation and inclusion, it presents models that address social (in)justice in the classroom and explores ways in which institutions can address sustainability in order to support open textbook development activity.

Four models are identified and positioned in Fraser’s continuum. In order to rate the extent of the “remedy” using the affirmative and transformative frames of Fraser (2005), a heat map will also be introduced to illustrate the positioning of models on the conceptual spectrum. An affirmative remedy is the participatory/engagement model, while the participatory/engagement/co-creation model has components of transformative justice. Two models are transformative: a co-creation model and a partnership/co-creation model. These transformative “remedies” restructure (and potentially destabilise) the underlying principles of textbook creation to allow for true representation and reframing.

This presentation will provide insights into inclusive approaches towards the authorship, quality assurance and publishing of open textbooks. It will also be of interest to anyone interested in social justice-driven models of open educational resources and mechanisms for how to support this activity in a resource-constrained environment as part of an institutional transformation agenda.


:eye_in_speech_bubble: Presented by:: Glenda Jayne Cox
:sun: Conference Track: Thematic Session: Pathways to Opening Up Education
:spiral_calendar: Track Date/Time: 2022-05-24T12:00:00Z (your local time)
:speech_balloon: Language: English
:calling: Pretalx link: Open textbook authorship, quality assurance and publishing: Social justice models of participatory design, engagement, co-creation and partnership :: Open Education Global 2022 :: pretalx

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Bianca and I are looking forward to talking through our models of open textbook development.
We will share our slides tomorrow

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I enjoyed your presentation very much Glenda and Bianca. I can see a lot of potential in sharing these collaboration models with faculty in the Open for Antiracism program in California colleges which focuses on collaborating with students on course content and classroom practices. Although these faculty do not create an entire textbook, many are involving their students in updating open textbooks with more diverse and inclusive images and including voices and historical events that were omitted or originally documented from a colonial perspective. Thanks again!


Hi Una
I am so sorry I completely missed you at the conference! not sure how that happened. We would love to help you or contribute in any way.
Please keep in touch.

Open textbook authorship, quality assurance and publishing: Social justice models of participatory design, engagement, co-creation and partnership

OE Global 2022.pptx.pdf (4.7 MB)