Open content,  open textbooks,  OU

The OU as your new favourite open textbook provider


TL;DR – the Open University has an excellent range of free ebooks on Amazon or from the OU which you should check out.

What’s in a label? To absolutely no-one’s surprise, the answer is, ‘quite a lot it seems’. The Open University has a very successful (even more successful since the pandemic) OER site, OpenLearn. We tend to think of this in terms of individual resources and short courses. It comes in a number of different download formats, including ePub.

What triggered my ‘what’s in a label’ comment is that we also list all the ebooks on Amazon in Kindle format. These should be available in most countries if you go to your local Amazon site and search of ‘Open university ebooks” (there are some paid for ones also, so you can filter price Low to High to make sure you get the free ones). These are mostly openly licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) – a quite restrictive one true, but you can do a lot with it still.

The OpenLearn site lists 98 pages of these, with 10 on each, and a similar number in Amazon, That’s nearly 1000 openly licensed ebooks, just sitting there, waiting to be loved. Creative writing? We’ve got it. American Civil Rights? Check this out. Forensic Psychology? Why not. Babylonian Mathematics? What kind of provider wouldn’t?

So why don’t we think of the OU as an open textbook provider? Partly it’s our fault – we don’t really promote them, even in the OpenLearn site they don’t talk about open textbooks. Instead we tend to view ePub as a just another format. This brings me onto the label aspect – these have been devised as courses, often from OU course material so we don’t think of them as ‘books’. But increasingly publishers like Pearsons are trying to make their books more like courses. So by simply rebranding our existing content as textbooks, you reach a different market.

When I tweeted out the Amazon link during the week, lots of people were amazed by this rich, free content. It’s no different to what exists in OpenLearn, but by siting it in Amazon it reaches new people and makes them think of the content differently.

This is relevant because, as the eBook SOS campaign highlights, publishers are using the pandemic for profiteering, dramatically increasing the cost of ebooks to libraries, with fake scarcity licences. Their model is: “Here’s an ebook, it’s price has increased by 200% and you can only have 3 synchronous user licences.” That’s a nonsense in an age of digital abundance. So, if you are an educator who is accustomed to listing textbooks for your courses, you don’t need to go cold turkey on textbook use, but please, take a look at the OU offerings first. It could save your library and your students a lot of money (it’s also damn fine quality learning).

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