Tracking Where Open Textbooks Go

In different conversations this past months with two colleagues who authored or help support publishing open textbooks at their institution, an issue came up that I have no answer for (that is the norm).

This is, what I truly hope OEG Connect is used for.

Both of these colleagues mentioned they typically know of an adoption of an open textbook when:

  • An adopter emails with a question
  • A web search on the title of the book lands links at other organizations/institutions

Just doing a quick look at two collections I know, both at eCampusOntario and at BCcampus they ask for adopters to let them know via a web form.

I would hope that gathers some reuse, but always, always, in terms of open content, the elusive question is being able to track where a digital item is reused.

My question is: Is tracking reuses possible with open textbooks? Who is doing this? How?

Do You Do DOI, ISBN?

My guess is possibly the ways people might do it (and confirmed from the Council of Australian University Libraries) it might be done via Digital Object Identifiers and/or ISBN numbers.

I do know that Pressbooks allows entry of these metadata into a published content item,. I am unsure if other publishing platforms support this (I am counting on experts here hello @delmar) to let me know.

What I do not know is how easy it is (and what are fees) to get such a thing? Is this a way to track adoptions? It might get a bit trickier of an open textbook is remixed and modified, and woah now it gets slippery. How much change merits a new identifier? Does a new version include the source identifier as credit?

I have no idea what is possible, and I would wager a dog biscuit that someone thinks this is something that should be Put on The Blockchain.

A Cheap Non Viable Solution

I would not necessarily recommend this, but it’s something I have found interesting from a collection of custom WordPress themes I have built-- I have gotten in the habit of putting a unique phase in the footer – for example the SPLOTbox theme in every version has the same text in the footer (initially to give credit)

which in turn offers a web searchable phrase I can use to find where else my theme has been used.

Again, this is by no means a solution, but a hack that works for me.

Anyone have ideas what might work to track reuse/adoption of open textbooks? Maybe @clintlalonde @GinoFransman @opencontent @OpenLearn @Pressbooks-Leigh ???

Thanks for posting this question. I am very interested in what others are doing to solve this issue. I have interest from people willing to open up their work if they could be provided information such as downloads (but I don’t want the barrier of point of sale process even if it is zero cost), refer information at the chapter/web page level (we use Pressbooks for OER), the citations counts in other work, and as Alan has described when it has been remixed and modified. My experience is the adoption forms are not completed consistently or regularly. Particularly, if the adopter/remixer has found the OER through Pressbooks directory instead of eCampus Ontario.

@cogdog - I’m curious about what drives the need to know about reuse. Isn’t unencumbered use of open resources supposed to be the goal? Why do we need to know who is using and how, and wouldn’t it be better to invite voluntary sharing of information about reuse, as is the custom?

Every tracking hack seems like a steamship-with-sails solution to me, where we somehow do not trust the reuse/r and want to have a just-in-case feedback loop.

@Kcarte02 - Re. “I have interest from people willing to open up their work if they could be provided information such as downloads…” Hmm. This seems another form of the steamship-with-sails argument, but posed as an engagement gate.

Happy to hear more…

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Hi @davidp, Great question. People tell me that they need this information for tenure, promotion, and when applying for employment opportunities.

I am not familiar with the steamship-with-sales argument. Please would you clarify what you mean?

Sails, not sales. As in sailing ship. A steamship is self-propelled, by a steam engine. A sailing ship relies on the wind. “Steamship with sails” is a metaphor for perhaps-unnecessary redundancy. A similar analogy would be “belts-and-suspenders.”

Hi Kim. Yes, I get those arguments. The questions I would have is whether 20 downloads make a difference in the instances cited, and would a voluntary response carry the same weight. Do those figures really count?

I the early days of steamships, there was not a lot of trust in the technology, so many ships were fitted with sails, too - just in case. Many of these requests for post-facto download information seem to be just-in-case arguments, to me at least. They convey a sense of minimal trust in the actual design of the concept and process.


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Hi David,

I see, and thank you for explaining the metaphor. Your point is taken, and it is true there is minimal trust in what (for some) is a new way of thinking about publishing their work. I wonder if the precarity of work that many experience, exacerbates this feeling and subsequent requests.
I am not sure what the answer is, but I see the benefits of engaging because, at the same time, we are talking about UDL, accessibility, and the needs of marginalized learners. I am not sure those conversations would have taken place otherwise. I am fairly new, so I am happy to listen and learn from those more experienced than I am.

I do not know for sure David, that was just what I heard in a few conversations, less about collecting data and stats, and maybe more to have a sense of what that unencumbered work is doing in the world.

Yes, the custom of gratitude and voluntary notification ought to work (I have no idea how often the adoption forms return results).

It’s not quite the same, but your question has been my personal approach/experiment with my flickr photos since 2016, when I put them all under CC0 to see how often people would acknowledge and send thanks on reuse when a license said it’s not required- and the response has been quite a bit.

How about a surfboard with a jetpack motor? :wink:

@Kcarte02 @cogdog

Thanks for engaging. We’ve definitely been having these discussions from the start in early 2000s. And, I totally get the feeling of wondering whether the resources are being used, innovated further and distributed widely. Knowing the answer would surely be a big part of recognition both professionally and personally.

@cogdog, I know Scott Leslie was experimenting with an OER Call Home strategy way back when he did a practicum at the OU with Martin Weller and team. I’m thinking about 2008. Not sure it was even technically feasible back then without multiple hacks, and did not land in the mainstream.

The locus of optimal effort has been a question for me for some time now - broadly supporting the OER contributors and users (the trusting believers) or trying to convince those around the margins of belief, who for reasons like Kim has stated re. precarious work (genuine issue), require lots of convincing along with some key technical gymnastics to satisfy their needs.

At this point my gut tells me that widely distributing good OER, or working to adapt ones that are closer to fine to fit a localization need, feels like the better expenditure of effort and promises the most value for learners and instructors.

One human’s opinion, only.

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@davidp - In response to , “Isn’t unencumbered use of open resources supposed to be the goal? Why do we need to know who is using and how?”

Here are a few considerations from my perspective:

The curiosity to know about reuse is driven by a recognition that open resources entail “sharing + reuse”. Unencumbered use is insufficient without continuous sharing. Sharing and reuse are inter-related.

Knowing about reuse provides feedback to sharers. Feedback shapes subsequent sharer creation and sharing of open resources. Knowledge about reuse leads to more, and better sharing.

The curiosity to know more about reuse is driven by a recognition that every sharer has their own motivation for creating an open resource. Knowing about reuse enables a sharer to know whether their motivations are being met. The more motivations are met the more subsequent sharing.

Humans are naturally curious about how something is being used. Reuse data has a long history as a key metric by which we measure the value and impact of a resource.

Knowing about reuse allows for social connection around an open resource. Some reusers share a similar interest and motivation with the sharer. They frequently are users of the open resource itself or want to contribute to it, enhance it, translate it, adapt it, … Such contributions can be accelerated by connecting sharers to reusers forming connections that further a sharer’s motivations and engage reuser(s) with the sharer in collective efforts to use, enhance, and evolve the open resource(s). Building a community of people engaged in using and evolving an open resource adds value and makes open resources higher quality, more resilient, and sustainable.

An open resource is as much a verb representing a network of people collaborating than a noun representing a commodity of exchange. In that context knowing about reuse matters - a lot.

It’s not about trust. It’s about generating the network effect.

Maybe, Paul. But I think trust plays a bigger role than you are acknowledging.

Trust is a visceral human trait, and contributes to generating a “network effect” through its ability to stimulate engagement. The factors are complementary, not binary.


Point taken.
For sure trust is inherent in and plays a big role in generating a network effect.

Good challenge on the binary presentation which I had not intended.

But, you were asserting that those who create open resources don’t trust downstream reuse/r’s.
I’m not sure that is always the case.
I think creators / sharers want an ongoing relationship with their open resource as it is used and reused downstream.
Knowing about reuse keeps them informed and provides opportunities for engagement with others and playing an active role in generating network effects - big and small.

I think knowing about reuse has a positive effect on precarity of work rather than a negative effect.

I wasn’t clear enough. My bad. Not sure we are far apart.

I think we spend a lot of time trying to convince reluctant producers to play, and some seem to want the downstream stats as a precursor. I think that effort wastes time. I’m not opposed to stats, just the need to generate them as a gateway to playing. I don’t disagree that there are plenty of benefits for producers through reuse - it builds recognition and personal professional presence - a good thing.


Trust in the good intentions of other commoners is paramount in the open commons, but I think there are some other considerations.

When an open resource can indicate it’s upstream source (“parent”), users of that open resource might also find new information about updates to the source. I’m thinking here of more complex open works like an open book or course. Imagine if I’ve cloned an open book or course and later significant updates were made to my source. I’d sure like to know about those updates to my source and so might other users who come across what I’ve shared.

Recently I’ve also been pondering the perhaps timeworn idea of a registry for open works, where one could essentially register a new open work, or a work newly opened, or work newly released to the public domain, clearly establishing key metadata like date, attribution, license, and access location. Interestingly, all-rights-reserved (ARR) copyright — at least in the USA — doesn’t require registration (although an optional mechanism exists for rightsholders to register works for greater legal legitimacy for their rights). I can’t say that I think ARR copyright works all that well for individual creators overall, which has made me wonder if open/PD works would actually be better off with a broad registry that ARR copyright doesn’t really have. Ideally such a registry would of course be optional, without cost, and perhaps open for crowdsourcing registration.

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