Whether tracking open textbook adoptions for a department, post-secondary institution, region, or country, first determine the parameters to be collected and definitions to be used. Without these, it is impossible to clearly and accurately track and interpret adoption data. Additionally, look for a balance between compiling data that’s useful and making it onerous for faculty who are submitting adoption information. Here are questions that can guide these decisions.
- How will this information be used?
- Will the numbers be manipulated in a formula or as part of a statistical analysis? If so, what information is required?
- How difficult is it for those filling out an adoption form to obtain the information?
- How important is it that requested values be exact? Are estimates acceptable?
- Does it make sense to offer a range of values for particular values?
- Will adoptions be reported for a typical school year, starting in September, or the calendar year?
BCcampus Open Education uses the below terms in its adoption reports. Definitions of these terms are provided on its Known Open Textbook Adoptions in B.C. web page for reference.
Adoption: Each adoption refers to a course section within a specific term and year for which an open textbook has replaced a a primary textbook or educational resource that must be purchased.
Book (open textbook): A comprehensive compilation of content organized into chapters that includes a table of contents, learning outcomes, and learning activities created to meet course objectives in a specific subject area and is assigned an open-copyright licence or released into the public domain.
Faculty: The number of individual instructors who have adopted one or more open textbooks for one or more course sections. A faculty member is only counted once.
Savings: Savings include a range. The number at the lower end is calculated as follows: number of students (see “Students”) × $100. (This number was derived by OpenStax based on a formula that takes into account used textbook purchases and rental costs as well as new textbook costs.)
The number at the upper end is calculated as follows: number of students (see “Students”) × actual cost of the textbook being replaced if purchased as hard copy and new.
Students: The total number of students in all course sections within which an open textbook is used as the primary educational resource.
From the beginning, BCcampus has taken a conservative approach to adoption tracking by determining it was better to under-report open textbook usage rather than overestimate, especially in cases of uncertainty. Well-defined parameters were established early in the process, making statistics collection easier. For example, it was decided that:
- Only open textbooks would be counted, not other open educational resources
- Open textbooks must be adopted as the primary course resource, and open textbooks assigned as optional, supplementary, or secondary readings were not to be included
- Course registration numbers must reflect enrolled students, not seats available
Based on these decisions, any instructors using open textbooks are asked to fill out the BCcampus Adoption Form and provide the following information. (However, only information provided by B.C. faculty are published as adoption stats on the BCcampus OpenEd website.)
- Instructor’s name and email address
- Institution name
- Name of adopted open textbook
- Cost of textbook replaced by the open textbook
- Course name and code for which the open textbook is used
- Number of sections for this course
- Number of students enrolled per course section
- Terms (past, current, future) used (reporting retroactive adoptions is encouraged)
Adopters are also asked if their information may be shared with other faculty interested in open textbook adoptions and if their information may be published on the BCcampus OpenEd website as part of adoption reporting. Before submitting the form, it is disclosed that: “By submitting this form, you give BCcampus permission to share this information with faculty, staff, and students at your identified institution.”
Submitted information is automatically calculated and posted on the BCcampus Open Textbooks Stats page. Here are some of the statistics posted on that page.
- A range of student savings based on the number of participating students where the textbook displacement cost is set at $100 to the actual retail price
- Number of B.C. students using open textbooks
- Number of B.C. institutions adopting open textbooks
- Top five adoption institutions (in order, starting with that with the highest number of adoptions)
- Number of known B.C. faculty using an open textbook in their course
- Total number of known adoptions
BCcampus publishes province-wide anonymized statistics; public records are not provided for individual colleges, institutes, or universities, instructors, courses, years, or terms. Numbers are cumulative and cover adoptions for the duration of the BCcampus Open Education project. Individual institutions may request adoption statistics for their specific community; these records mark each adoption by term and year, along with other details.
Round peg, square hole
Even when an adoption collection system is ideal, situations arise that challenge the status quo. For example, BCcampus must collection information from dozens of institutions—colleges, institutes, universities—some with an academic schedule that does not follow the common semester or term system. Courses that use the continuous intake model are also a challenge. Recognizing that one adoption form (and the technology behind it) does not—and in some cases, cannot—fit all situations, BCcampus does its best to adjust these “round pegs” to fit in its adoption form’s square holes.
Another situation is how and when to count students. Is it best to use the number of seats available in a course section, or to wait until a final number is available for enrolled students? If so, at what point in the term should this information be collected? At one B.C. institution, student numbers used too late in the term do not include students who have withdrawn. Does this matter? Is it assumed that a student who enrols but withdraws has purchased a textbook? Again, learning to roll with the punches and doing one’s best to capture these data can be the solution without making it too difficult or complicated for faculty to report their usage.
One university that identifies classes using some or all free resources wondered if these tags would serve as useful adoption markers. As their system was currently set up, there was no easy way to differentiate between hybrid usage (OER and fee-based commercial material), free resources that are not OER (such as library resources), and course sections that solely used open textbooks or other open educational resources.
Remember the “why”
Regardless of the approach taken to report stats, it’s important to remember the why behind tracking adoptions. If the purpose includes engaging instructors, then there’s value in tracking both primary and supplementary usage of open textbooks as well as those that are offered as optional reading. Several B.C. institutions participating in the Ongoing Adoption Program operate this way.