Open Now: The USask Open Textbook Authoring Guide


By Jordan Epp, Instructional Designer, Distance Education Unit (DEU)

The adoption and adaptation of open textbooks at the U of S has been an organic process up until this past year, with faculty and departments independently making use of open textbooks and resources to fulfill their own course needs. In 2015 the U of S announced the Open Textbook Creation/Adaptation Fund managed by the GMCTE. At that time the Distance Education Unit’s (DEU) Instructional Design (ID) Team was tapped on the shoulder to officially support these funded activities as well as the growing number of grassroots developments taking place on campus. The DEU’s busy ID team helps design, develop and maintain literally hundreds of online and distance delivered courses for a variety of colleges, departments, units, and centres across campus under the leadership of director Cheri Spooner.

With the Open Textbook Creation/Adaptation Fund’s call for proposals closing, DEU worked with a tight timeline to ensure everything would be ready to support these upcoming initiatives. Preparations for these new open textbook projects included the installation of a new online open textbook publishing platform, Pressbooks (, and the adaptation of the BCcampus Open Textbook Authoring Guide for use at the University of Saskatchewan. The USask Open Textbook Authoring Guide piloted the Pressbooks platform to transform the BCcampus guide to focus on the needs of faculty and staff here at the U of S. Contents of the guide include information on;USask Open Textbook Authroing Guide

  • Adopting an open textbook
  • Adapting an existing open textbook
  • Creating a new open textbook
  • Pressbooks – Online Publishing Platform
  • Writing tools
  • Guidelines for Text Editors
  • Copyright and licensing information
  • Accessibility Toolkit and resources
  • And a Learning More section of Supplementary resources.

This book is a practical guide to adapting or creating open textbooks using the Pressbooks online publishing platform. It is continually evolving as new information, practices and processes are developed. The primary audience for this book is faculty and post-secondary instructors who are developing, adapting or adopting open textbooks at the University of Saskatchewan. However, there may be content within this book that is useful to others working on similar Open Educational Resource initiatives. This guide is openly available for download as a PDF and EPUB or is viewable online in its entirety at

The DEU is looking forward to supporting the upcoming U of S open textbook initiatives as well as continuing to support Online and Distance Education developments across the University of Saskatchewan.

Open Education Week Coming to USask


Open Education Week LogoDuring the week of March 7 the University of Saskatchewan will be offering several sessions related to open textbooks and other open educational resources (OER), along with a session on the Tri-Agency open access publishing requirements as part of International Open Education Week.

“Open Education Week is a global event that seeks to raise awareness of free and open sharing in education and the benefits they bring to teachers and learners. Coordinated by the Open Education Consortium, the event showcases projects, resources, and ideas from around the world that demonstrate open education in practice. The open education movement seeks to reduce barriers, increase access and drive improvements in education through open sharing and digital formats.  Open education includes free and open access to platforms, tools and resources in education, including learning materials, course materials, videos, assessment tools, research, study groups, and textbooks, all available for free use and modification under an open license.” (Open Education Week website)

The integration of open textbooks has grown considerably in the past couple of years at the U of S, with at least seven open textbooks now being used in courses, effecting more than 900 students. Sessions related to this will include one providing introductory information, another on what supports (financial, pedagogical, and technical) exist at the U of S for those interested integrating open textbooks or other OER, and one on the role librarians, instructional designers, and others on campus who support those interested in using, adapting, or creating open materials.

A session will be offered aimed at students on how to find and use open resources, as well as opening up their own work. Faculty may also find this a useful session to hear about ideas for creating “non-disposable” assignments.

A session will also be offered on the Tri-Agency policy that now requires those receiving funding from any of those three agencies – SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR – to publish a version of their articles in either open access journals or institutional repositories.

Registration is now open for all of these sessions. You can find a complete schedule and register through the Open Education Week page on the Open USask website.

Open Textbooks Provide Financial Savings and Pedagogical Benefits for Students


By Noreen Mahoney, Associate Dean, Students & Degree Programs, Edwards School of Business and Brooke Klassen, Director, Undergraduate & Certificate Programs, Edwards School of Business

We have been instructors of Comm 119 Business Competencies for a number of years and the course has evolved significantly during that time. We are constantly adapting and experimenting to add value for our students.  Initially the intention and objectives of the course were to ensure that students had the foundational skills necessary to succeed in their other courses within Edwards and to ensure that students felt a sense of identification with the Edwards School of Business as well as some fundamental computer application skills and foundation knowledge of business concepts. We wanted to have students taking classes in our building interacting with our support staff (particularly our IT staff) early on in their academic careers.

While the course continues to be a way to introduce students to business and business concepts it has expanded to include skills relevant to their overall success in University, mentorship and teamwork. In essence this is a catch all course to ensure students are well prepared for all of their University courses. Because of the diversity of materials required it has been very difficult to find resource materials to support the broad objectives of the course.

For the 2015/2016 academic year we determined that the best way to bring together a diverse set of materials was though a custom publication. We spent several weeks piecing together several texts to form what we felt was the best combination of materials. The quote for this textbook was in the $80-$90 range. Given that the material was very straight forward, non-technical material that was mostly available online in a variety of formats for free, we were unhappy with the cost to the students.

During that time we were made aware through the staff at the Gwenna Moss Centre that there was a repository of on-line open source publications that could be used for educational purposes without charging students through Creative Commons licensing.

This introduced us to a world of information that we could put together and provide as reference to students without requiring they pay significant textbook costs.

We selected a College Success open source book out of the US as our base material and edited it to include Canadian references and information relevant only to our School. We also put together chapters from other open source textbooks to enhance the materials as needed.

For the current year our goal was to simply get started using an open source textbook and to find ways of improving and adding to it over time.

The task was daunting at first as the editing process was quite cumbersome. We learned early on that converting the document into an editable word processing format was much easier than trying to work with the document in pdf format. I’m not sure that had we anticipated the amount of work required to get the chapters ready we would have undertaken this in the timeline that we did.   We set a goal of having all of the chapters ready to go prior to the start of the class. However, it has ended up that we are releasing the textbook one chapter at a time. We surmised that if you asked a student whether they would prefer to pay $80 or wait for the information to be released chapter by chapter as they needed it to prepare for each week’s lecture they would select the latter option.

We also were able to secure funding from the Gwenna Moss Centre to hire some help to create ancillary materials. We originally planned to have an assistant prepare the PowerPoint slides, practice questions and exam materials, however we discovered that we needed to focus all of their time on preparing exam materials. It was too difficult to have someone else prepare the slides as we are both very particular about how we present and wanted to have control over the materials. That meant extra time for us to go in and incorporate the textbook materials into our slides.

We are three quarters of the way through the term and the class has been very successful, albeit a lot of work. In the midst of adopting an open source textbook we also significantly revamped our pedagogy in order to address some gaps in assurance of learning objectives established at the program level.

For anyone thinking of adopting an open source textbook I would strongly suggest starting with a well-researched book and building on it. Look for books that already have the ancillary materials created… and start early!

Don’t think too much about the possible work required or you won’t do it. Change is hard but it comes with its rewards. We are providing more targeted and relevant materials that meet our course objectives very well; there are no extraneous chapters that we have to tell students to ignore. And we know that getting over the hurdle of editing the first edition will make next year much easier. We also saved our students over $25,000 and this makes us (and them) very happy.

Our hope is that once we have finished adapting the book to our standards, we can provide it back to the Canadian marketplace as a valuable and free resource for others to adopt.

Open Textbook Integration Catching on at USask


A year ago we ran a reprint of a blog post by Professor Eric Micheels who teaches in the College of Agriculture and Bioresource. As far as I know, Eric was the first instructor on campus to adopt an open textbook instead of having students buy a commercial textbook. He saved the students in the class about $27,000 by doing so.

Open textbooks are free, digital textbooks that instructors can customize to meet their specific needs, or use them as is. These open texts are written by instructors and many go through a peer review process. The book that Eric adopted includes a test bank and other ancillary resources, as do many open textbooks.

In the year since Eric wrote that blog post, five other instructors on campus have adopted open textbooks for courses in the Edwards School of Business (ESB), and the Departments of Chemistry and Economics. Eric is using the same open textbook again this year along with another for a different course. As a result of all of these adoptions, approximately 900 students are saving around $100 each for a total of $90,000 in savings for students at the U of S this academic year.

One of the adoptions in ESB is by co-instructors Noreen Mahoney and Professor Brooke Klassen for the required course Business Competencies, which has about 350 students between two sections. These instructors are taking an existing open textbook and revising it, combining it with other open materials to create the textbook that will best meet their, and their students needs.

Karla Panchuk, an instructor in the Department of Geology contributed a chapter to a new open geology textbook produced through BCcampus. This book, Physical Geology was released in late September.

Other instructors on campus are reviewing open textbooks to provide feedback to the OpenStax College open textbook project (the same organization that created the book Eric Micheels is using) and to determine if the book would be appropriate for their own courses. BCcampus offers instructors in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba $250 to review textbooks within their expertise that are currently in the BCcampus open textbook collection.

To assist in keeping the momentum going for an increasing number of adoptions, adaptations, reviews, and creations of open textbooks, the U of S will be implementing a granting process to fund the adaptation and creation of open textbooks and needed ancillary materials. Information about the funding and the application process will be available in November.

For more information about open textbooks in general or how to integrate them into your own teaching, please contact the GMCTE.

Complying with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications


By Diane (DeDe) Dawson, Science Liaison Librarian, University Library

The new Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications came into effect on May 1st 2015. This policy applies to all grants awarded from that day and onward (exception: CIHR has had this policy in place since Jan 1, 2008). This blog post is intended to be a handy, practical introduction to the policy and how to comply.

The Policy Details:

“Grant recipients are required to ensure that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from Agency-supported research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication” (emphasis my own).

There are two routes to achieve this:

  1. Online Repositories (a.k.a. the “Green” route)
    Grant recipients can deposit their final, peer-reviewed manuscript into an institutional or disciplinary repository that will make the manuscript freely accessible within 12 months of publication. It is the responsibility of the grant recipient to determine which publishers allow authors to retain copyright and/or allow authors to archive journal publications in accordance with funding agency policies.
  1. Journals (a.k.a. the “Gold” route)
    Grant recipients can publish in a journal that offers immediate open access or that offers open access on its website within 12 months. Some journals require authors to pay article processing charges (APCs) to make manuscripts freely available upon publication. The cost of publishing in open access journals is an eligible expense under the Use of Grant Funds.

Tips and Tools for Complying:

Green/Repository Route:

  • You do not need to publish in an OA journal – just make sure that the journal you want to publish in complies with the Tri-Agency OA Policy. This means the journal/publisher must allow you to post a copy of the manuscript in a repository within 12 months of publication (often known as the “embargo period”).
    • Check Sherpa/Romeo for publisher’s policies.
    • Carefully read your Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA) when publishing; negotiate with the publisher to keep the rights you need to post a copy (use an addendum tool).
    • Make sure you post the proper version of the article. Most publishers permit posting of the “post-print” or “author’s accepted version” (the final copy of the manuscript after peer-review and after final revisions have been made). Sherpa/Romeo and your CTA will tell you which version is acceptable to post by your publisher.
  • Currently the U of S does not have an institutional repository, but there are a growing number of disciplinary repositories that you can post to. Search the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR).
  • Posting on your own website is not enough. You must also post in an institutional or disciplinary repository. Although the Tri-Agency has not clearly stated this, it is likely that posting in a social network site like ResearchGate is also not an acceptable route to compliance.

Gold/Open Access Journals Route:

The Green and Gold routes are not mutually exclusive. If you publish in an OA journal, you can still post a copy to a repository. In fact this is encouraged. Why not have your article available in more than one location? It will increase discoverability, accessibility, and ultimately readership and citations!

All of these resources (and more!) are listed on the University Library’s Open Access Guide.

This is a modified version of a blog post originally posted on May 1st 2015 here:

Connecting Ideas for Innovation


Connecting Ideas for Innovation

When do your great ideas come to you? Where do your great ideas come to you? Is it when you’re alone in your office or lab? How about when you’re out for a walk?<

Are you sure about that?

Steven Johnson, the author of How We Got to Now, Everything Bad is Good for You, and Where Good Ideas Come From argues that while bits and pieces of those ideas may come together in your solitude, they actually become really good or even great ideas when they have a chance to mingle with other ideas.

In his TED Talk Where Good Ideas Come From (see the video below), Johnson argues that the really great ideas come when a percolating idea from one person encounters those of other individuals. It happens at meetings with colleagues, those in-between conference session conversations, and, in his main example, places like coffee houses (he notes the original coffee houses of London to start the point rolling).

Johnson gets to the heart of this his Ideas book:

“But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.” (Johnson, 2010, p. 22)

We need to help our ideas connect. We need to put ourselves in those situations where serendipity can happen.

Universities are prone to siloing. A siloed structure encourages people stay within their colleges, sometimes just within their departments and this can be a problem if we want to encourage creativity. I’ve seen early forms of ideas blossom when a faculty member from one department has a conversation with a colleague from across campus at our Course Design Institute around something as basic as assessment. I’ve seen blog posts about one concept lead to ongoing conversations across the Web leading to new courses or research topics. If we remain within our silos or cloistered away in our offices with no flow of ideas outside of our heads, we could be doing ourselves and our ideas a great disservice.

As Johnson said, ideas want to connect, they want to evolve with the input of others, they want to join forces with the ideas of others and become great.

Johnson, S. (2010) Where Good Ideas Come From: The natural history of innovation.  New York: Riverhead Books.

Website Launched as Hub for All Things Open at USask


We’ve been posting a lot on this blog lately about all of the open initiatives happening at the University of Saskatchewan, as well as initiatives elsewhere that are available to faculty and graduate students at our university. There’s been the adoption of an open textbook for a class of 100 students, the piloting of the open source platform Mahara by the College of Education for ePortfolios, and now the launch of the first open course from an academic unit at the U of S with registration opening for Dr. Ken Coates’s Circumpolar Innovation through Canvas.

Open USaskGiven the growing list of open initiatives, and the long-running support and education around open access journals from the Library, a new Website has been created to act as a hub for all things open at the University of Saskatchewan. contains links and information to resources related to open textbooks, open courses, open access journals, open source software (including some developed at the U of S) and Creative Commons.

Please don’t hesitate to let us know what you think of the site, if you have any questions about any of the included initiatives or if we’ve missed something that you feel should be included.

College of Education Adopts Use of ePortfolios


By Tim Molnar, Assistant Professor, College of Education

The College of Education recently implemented an electronic portfolio system (ePort) called Mahara™. This open source ePort emerged from a collaborative venture funded by several post secondary institutions and government bodies in New Zealand. In Maori mahara means “to think, thinking, or thought.”

Mahara_logoOur intentions with implementing Mahara™ are to enhance teacher candidates’ learning by offering a place for the collection of evidence, analysis, representation and sharing relating to their experience as developing educators. Instructors and cooperating teachers have the opportunity to examine, assess and provide feedback to teacher candidates on their efforts and progress. Using Mahara™ also offers an opportunity for a teacher candidate to address the new Saskatchewan Teacher Certification Competencies (STCCs) being established by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education and demonstrates our College commitment to meeting those competencies through our program. Instructors identify which of the STCC’s align with their course outcomes and so allow teacher candidates opportunities to address the teaching competencies directly and through out their course of studies.

Using Mahara™ since 2008, with both undergraduate and graduate students, my first impressions of this software remain. Mahara™ is a flexible and adaptive environment that is highly configurable affording a wide variety of media (evidence) to be incorporated, made sense of, and shared with instructors, colleagues, potential employers and others. The drag and drop features of Mahara™ allow a user to quickly and efficiently develop a page or series of pages around a topic that include typical features such as text boxes, images, image galleries, PDF files and other embedded media. A journaling feature is available as well as the ability to call upon various Google Apps such as calendars, documents, books and maps integrated directly into a page. External media such as TeacherTube, Youtube, Prezi, Vimeo, Google Video, Slideshare and other media can be configured and integrated directly into the page one is crafting. If a user is inclined they can further craft their page or pages with HTML. A useful feature is the ability to create groups, which allow instructors or students to create places for sharing work (within course and program work but also publically). There exist also a resume tool that allows a user to develop a professional presence that can call upon the work that has been created in the portfolio. While no technology meets all demands it is intended to address, Mahara™ is a helpful and useful environment for meaning making and sharing.

I am looking forward to examining and acting on the challenges and benefits to our students, instructors and involved others as as we move forward with the use of Mahara™.

Adopting Open Textbooks Online Workshop


BCcampus is offering a free, online four-week workshop for those interested in adopting open textbooks or just interested in learning more about them. The workshop sessions will run from January 12 – February 6, 2015. Each week will have a new topic including:

  • What is open? What is an open textbook?
  • Creative Commons Licenses
  • Institutional Readiness
  • Find, Evaluate and Modify Open Textbooks

Additional information and the registration form can be found here.

In addition, the BCcampus Open Textbook project will now offer $250 to faculty or graduate students who teach at post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan and Alberta for reviewing open textbooks in their collection. For more information about this initiative, please see the Call for Reviewers.

If you are at the U of S and have any questions about either of these opportunities, please contact the GMCTE.

GMCTE to Offer Intro to Learning Technologies Course Through Canvas


In the fall of 2013 I was preparing to offer a new course through the GMCTE on learning technologies for instructors at the U of S.  The cap on the course registration, given that it was a blended online and face-to-face course, was set at 15. Since we are advocates of open education at the GMCTE we decided to open up all of the resources on a WordPress site. We further decided that we would allow people to “register” for the open course to receive weekly emails and they could list their blogs to make sure that I or someone else in the GMCTE would read their weekly posts related to the course. Jim Greer dubbed our course a TOOC for Truly Open Online Course because all of the resources carry Creative Commons licenses allowing reuse and the resources remain open almost a year later on the WordPress site.

There were ten people who completed the 13-week blended version of the course while we had a total of 328 people register for the TOOC when it was first offered last January. Throughout the course, only about twenty of those people asked to be removed from the course mailing list. A program evaluation of the TOOC was completed and you can read it here.

Currently, Ryan Banow and I are revising this course to re-offer it again this coming January. While we will be teaching it again to an on-campus blended cohort, we are also offering the TOOC, this time through the Canvas open course network. Both courses will run for ten weeks and the TOOC will include discussion boards instead of blogs and, while we had three guests come in via Google Hangouts in the last offering, we are planning to have a Google Hangout for at least nine of the ten weeks this time around.

If you are a member of the faculty, staff or are a graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan you are allowed to register for the blended course or the TOOC through Canvas. If you are not any of these, you may register for the TOOC, which is free and open to anyone.