Rethinking and recasting the textbook with open educational practices :async:

Michelle Harrison (Thompson Rivers University), Tannis Morgan (Vancouver Community College), Irwin Devries (Thompson Rivers University), Michael Paskevicius (University of Victoria)

The UNESCO recommendation of “encouraging effective, inclusive and equitable access to quality OER” signals an evolution of the OER movement to more explicitly and conscientiously consider both epistemic and representational justice. The broader movement towards open education, including open educational resources (OER), open educational practice (OEP), open-source, and open access, has provided us with new ways of designing learning experiences in higher education, but at the same time has been mapped onto many of our existing legacy artefacts and systems, such as textbooks, design processes, and traditional course publishing models. As learning design professionals and faculty strive to adopt OEP, including more collaborative and open ways of sharing, there is recognition that many of the traditional tools and spaces that shape our educational systems will not meet these pedagogical and epistemological shifts. The traditional textbook form can lack the interactivity, agency, and accessibility needed to enable spaces that honour multiple voices and perspectives, co-create knowledge and challenge traditional roles and hierarchies supported in open pedagogical approaches. For this project, we have adopted a critical lens to investigate educators' understanding of both traditional and alternative textbook forms, and examine how critical instructional design and open pedagogy may call for a rethinking. In addition, we are hoping to build a model for an “untextbook” that aims to include multiple perspectives and participatory architectures that allow for diverse voices and knowledge co-creation. A prototype platform is under development that is focused on inviting/honouring multiple voices and decentering and co-constructing knowledge. In this interactive workshop we invite participants to become active contributors to this open platform and resource development, by engaging with the current platform/resource, contributing voices/ideas and providing feedback on the experience and model in an active discussion activity.

Extended abstract: OE_Global_2021_paper_126.pdf 📄

Activity Details

UNESCO OER Action Area: Inclusive and equitable OER
Format: Asynchronous Interactive Activity
Language: English


This activity can be completed at any time during (or after) the conference.

Instructions and materials for the activity will be added below by the authors. They will provide specific details on how to participate and what to share back as a response to the activity.

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Hi everyone! We are four learning designers based in British Columbia, Canada. We acknowledge this land out of respect for the Indigenous nations who have cared for it, from before the arrival of settler peoples until this day.

In the past few years, in the context of our broader project we have been rethinking and recasting the open textbook, challenging traditional (and open) teaching and learning resources, and considering the impact of openness on learning design.

We invite you to engage below with any or all of the following questions. Please indicate the number(s) of the question(s) you’re responding to:

  1. What are the key questions that learning designers need to consider, in light of open educational practices, post-pandemic pedagogy, and social justice pedagogy, going forward?
  2. What ideas and practices from traditional learning design do we need to revisit and rethink?
  3. What contributions would you imagine as part of a teaching and learning resource on learning design in light of open education?

If you would like, you can respond via audio using the Vocaroo service. Simply hit the red record button, capture your audio, hit save and share, then post the audio link in a reply below. We would love to hear from you! Thanks to @cogdog for the tip!


For me, critical learning design is about challenging our assumptions about instructional design processes, the teaching and learning environments that we build, and the artefacts that we’ve come to expect in a teaching and learning experience. What are the practices that need to be challenged ? What aspects are timeless, and what aspects no longer make sense when we embrace openness? How can we challenge these things in an inclusive and participatory way?

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Applying a learning design to education essentially generates an educational course or resource suitable for the masses. This “standardizing” of learning is often done so we can pump as many learners through as possible. Learning design as a form of efficiency. However, applying a learning design in advance prevents learners from controlling the design of their own learning and makes them passive consumers. It amazes me how little we teach learners about how learning works and how little control we give them in terms of designing their own learning. I think an untextbook ought to let learners choose and sequence their own materials and learning activities in ways that are optimized for them. But to do that well they need to know some of the underlying principles of how learning works and how to design learning effectively. In this context I suggest open practices be thought of as not just for educators but for students too. In this light open practices entails opening up and revealing the inner workings of how learning works to learners themselves so that they have some agency over their own learning.

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Much instructional design today is embedded in thought structures and processes of an earlier era. Too often we remain bound up in a project management mindset and an instructional development process focused on highly predetermined learning activities and outcomes in a world that demands creativity and critical insight. In addition, many of the resources available to instructors and students in instructional design are based on traditional course structures and set faculty and learner roles. My hope is to be part of the development of a living resource for instructors, students and practitioners that both explores and models alternative approaches to instructional/learning design, in the form of an untextbook. The term “untextbook” is a placeholder for an open, creative, community-developed and -maintained resource that advances theory and practice in critical instructional/learning design.

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I think it is worthwhile to revisit the past 50 years of literature on open education and information literacy. I had read Breivik and Gee’s 1989 book, Information literacy : revolution in the library (Information literacy : revolution in the library : Breivik, Patricia Senn : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive) a few years ago, and was impressed with the way their conceptualization of information literacy aligns with open education. They point to a long history of criticisms of teaching practices that could be described as “closed,” practices based on instructor-determined content (lectures, reserves and textbooks) at the expense of student research and student-initiated questions. Given the abundance and accessibility of information, perhaps what is needed is less textbook content and more guiderails and supports.

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HI Paul,

Thanks so much for sharing this resource. Your point about providing more “guardrails” and supports is such a good one. In one of our workshops sessions one of our contributors shared the idea of a “foraging” literacy, where we help students become foragers. She pointed out that to forage well you need supports and knowledge, but once you have that knowledge (like which mushrooms not to pick :)) you can use it to go out and then start your own pathways and searches. I was in a session yesterday where @josielm was talking about considering learning design through the metaphor of desire lines - considering how we design courses with the idea that there needs to be space to allow for these different pathways. I think that is always a challenge in our digital spaces - how to make them more permeable.

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I believe that openness can provide a stimulus for innovation in teaching and learning. Certainly in my practice, it has changed the way I design my pedagogical approaches, strategies, resources, and assessment methods, and perhaps most importantly, how I interact with students. Open resources and technologies can be used to support and enable active learning experiences, by presenting and sharing learners’ work in real-time, allowing for formative feedback, peer-review, encouraging learner contributions, and ultimately, promoting community-engaged coursework. I joined this project to explore how critical instructional design might be used to rethink course resources and design methods, and further the maturation of instructional design in light of open educational practices.