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About Open Textbook Project

  • Aim of the project

    The Open Textbooks for Hong Kong project aims to establish a sustainable system which provides quality open textbooks for adoption and adaptation at minimal cost for education for all. The system will serve students and teachers at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. The Open Textbooks project team believe that open textbooks can solve many of the problems of traditional printed textbooks in Hong Kong.

  • Problems of traditional printed textbooks

    Hong Kong has been confronted with the following challenges regarding traditional printed textbooks:

    • Traditional printed textbook are deemed to be too expensive, especially when they are bundled with supplementary materials such as worksheets, quizzes, and multimedia teaching aids, etc.

    • Some publishers are unwilling to take the advantage of digital technology and provide the electronic versions of the textbooks to students. They are wary of piracy and uncertain about copyright acquisition and protection. Therefore students are deprived of the access to the e-textbooks, and many of the advantages of online access and mobile learning, for example, instant dictionary, pronunciation, text-to-speech, search, highlighting, annotation, and even discussion with peers, and so forth.

    • By nature, traditional printed textbooks are not flexible enough to cater for frequent and timely updating in response to the ever-changing environment, and to the specific needs of individual schools or classes of students. Teachers find it difficult to customize textbooks according to different learning objectives and contexts for classes with special learning needs, or of different learning abilities.

    • Teachers inclined to use school-based learning resources find it difficult to develop and to share with colleagues teaching and learning materials they have developed for their schools. Some academic staff in universities and teachers in schools have attempted to develop their own textbooks but such cases remain few. The conventional model of heavy upfront investments, highly specialized expert development teams and lengthy production procedures and schedules is unfavourable to the development of school-based textbooks.

    • All the above problems are at odds with the implementation of the promotion of e-learning in schools, where there is an urgent need for quality and up-to-date electronic resources for students, so that they can learn effectively beyond the classroom, anywhere and anytime.

    In recent years, many initiatives explore and pilot a flexible and less expensive model for producing and distributing textbooks. By taking advantage of information and communication technologies, and new developments in copyright licensing, solutions are emerging to address a combination of issues involving costs, intellectual property rights, access and utilization (Kamenetz, 2010). Open textbooks begin to emerge as a feasible solution to all the above problems. These free learning resources are mostly for higher education worldwide, and the innovation is diffusing to the primary and secondary education levels, notably in North America and Europe.

  • Open Textbooks and Open Educational Resources (OER)

    Open textbooks are a kind of Open Educational Resources.

    • Open education resources

      OECD (2007) defines open educational resources (OER) as ‘digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research’. OER include content, software tools, licenses and best practices. The authors of an OER grant users the freedom to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. In other words, users can share their materials with others, modify, translate or improve them and, in turn, share these new versions with others.

      Generally OER are made available in digital format for easy sharing and adaptation (NY Times, 2010). OER programmes and projects range from entirely user-generated content such as Wikipedia and institution-led open courseware, to digital repositories of learning objects and textbooks. Some OER websites can be found here.

    • Open Textbooks

      As a major type of OER, open textbooks are high-quality, digitized textbooks that are accessible online at no cost, and also available in affordable-to-purchase printed copies. The open content can be revised, reused, often remixed and customized under a Creative Commons license that permits the authors to retain ownership of their content, yet establish the rights under which the content may be used by others. So with the open license, teachers may tailor the text to better fit their course by removing unneeded chapters or adding new material.

      In short, open textbooks can be distinguished from traditional printed textbooks and commercial electronic textbooks in the following aspects:

      • They are freely available for use and adaptation by anyone.

      • They invariably consist of digital or electronic materials. Content can be delivered in many formats, including web, audio, pdf, e-reader and print versions.

      • They are coherent in content and are aligned with particular curricular guidelines and standards, and can be customized to meet individual needs.

      • Their copyright is (usually) governed by the Creative Commons license which clearly states a list of permissions by the author.

      Generally, the minimum baseline rights allow users to, at least:

      • Use the textbook without compensating the author;

      • Copy the textbook, with appropriate credit to the author;

      • Distribute the textbook non-commercially; and

      • Shift the textbook into another format (such as digital or print).

      Making use of Creative Common licenses, authors can further grant users the rights to:

      • Add, remove or alter content in the textbook, often on the condition that derivative works must have the same license;

      • Copy and distribute the textbook without paying the author; and

      • Use the textbook commercially.

    • Examples of open textbooks and OER projects
      • College Open Textbooks

        The College Open Textbooks (Community College Open Textbooks Collaborative) aims at driving awareness and advocacy for open textbooks and training teachers to adopt open resources, conducting peer review of open textbooks, and growing online professional networks which support authors who open their resources. The project has a website containing a few hundred tertiary-level open textbooks. It has also developed a detailed guide for adopting open textbooks and creating associated teaching and learning materials.

      • Connexions

        Connexions is a dynamic system consisting of an educational content repository and a content management system optimized for the delivery of educational materials. It has more than 19,000 learning objects or modules in mathematics, science, history, English, psychology, sociology, etc in its repository which have been accessed by over 2 million people of all ages per month. Materials are easily downloadable to almost any mobile device for use anywhere, anytime. Schools can also order low cost hard copy sets of the materials (textbooks).’

      • California Free Digital Textbooks Initiative

        California Free Digital Textbooks Initiative - In May 2009 California planned for a state-approved list of standards-aligned, open-source digital textbooks for high schools. The initiative reviews existing free digital textbooks which may be used in California’s classrooms. It then stipulated 16 free digital textbooks for high school math and science classes alleged to have met at least 90% of California’s academic standards.

        In 2010, it invited content developers to submit textbooks for review by expert teachers and content specialists against California’s academic content standards in broader subject areas to approve a list of digital textbooks for use as supplementary materials. Currently it has textbooks on 47 subjects, each of which covers several grades.

      • CK-12 FlexBooks

        CK-12 Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market both in the U.S. and worldwide. Using an open-content, web-based collaborative model called the "FlexBook," CK-12 intends to create re-mixable texts packed in 30-plus open textbooks for high schools.

      • Open Access Textbooks

        The Open Access Textbooks Project is a two-year initiative to create a sustainable model for the discovery, production, and dissemination of open textbooks. Funded by a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), this project builds on lessons learned in open textbook efforts across the United States and seeks to create a collaborative community to further sustainable implementation of open textbooks.

      • Flat World Knowledge

        Flat World Knowledge (FWK) is a large publisher of low cost open college textbooks. Its books are written by leading experts and are peer-reviewed, edited, and highly developed. They are supported by test banks, PowerPoint notes, instructor manuals, print desk copies, and knowledgeable service representatives. Its online textbooks are sold at a low price. The texts come with integrated audio, video, interactive features, and powerful search capabilities, which can be integrated into a learning management system.

      • The Khan Academy

        The Khan Academy - It is a not-for-profit organization which has the goal of changing education for the better by providing free educational materials and resources to anyone. Today it has over 2400 videos as well as thousands of exercises covering K-12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry and physics, and reaching into the humanities with playlists on finance and history.

      • Public Library of Science

        Public Library of Science - It is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.

      • Project Gutenberg

        Project Gutenberg - The project offers over 33,000 free e-books to download on PC, iPad, Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android or other mobile or cell phones. No fee or registration is required. All of its e-books are quality assured, and previously published by bona fide publishers. The project has digitized and diligently proof-read them with the help of thousands of volunteers.

      • UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

        UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive - This is a repository for digital and Internet art, performance, installation, conceptual, and other variable media art. Its collection boasts of more than 14,000 works and includes strong holdings in classic and international cinema, West Coast avant-garde films, international animations, Soviet cinema, early video art, and the largest collection of Japanese films outside of Japan.

      • Open Access Publishing in European Networks

        Open Access Publishing in European Networks - It is a collaborative initiative to develop and implement a sustainable open access publication model for academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

  • Scope of the Open Textbooks for Hong Kong project

    The project aims to develop an online collaborative environment to provide open source textbooks which are free, flexible, current and directly available for use and adaptation by universities and schools.

    The deliverables of the project include:

    • An online open textbook platform

      A repository for hosting textbook contents, courseware, teaching materials and resources (such as links to online contents which are available overseas) will be developed. It also includes a review mechanism for all users to review and rate the materials, and makes available training programmes and discussion forums for users of the system.

    • Online textbooks and teaching materials

      A collection of open textbooks, at tertiary, secondary and primary levels, will be made available from the platform. These will include:

      • Over 100 open textbooks of various disciplines at undergraduate and sub-degree levels;

      • e-Versions of the course materials for 7 core subjects of the Yi Jin programme;

      • A total of 12 open textbooks covering the curriculum for the English language subject for all primary and secondary levels, as well as associated teaching materials; and

      • Over 100 units of courseware at degree level of exemplary courses adapted from the OUHK’s existing courses.

    • Quality assurance

      A quality assurance team, made up of subject experts, editors and educational technologists will monitor the development process, and assess the quality of each item admitted to the system. There is also a review system on the textbooks with contribution by users of the open textbooks.

    • Community and capacity building

      A consortium made up of potential contributors and beneficiary educational institutions will be established. Training will be provided to professors and teachers.

  • Management of the project

    A Steering Committee will oversee and provide overall direction for the project. As the project progresses, the Committee will seek out external consortium partners and co-opt new members at suitable junctures.

    Reporting to the Steering Committee, a Project Management Team will be set up to plan, develop, and manage the work of the project. It will manage the following areas of work:

    • Conducting pre-launch and subsequent investigative studies on users and service performance;

    • Managing the development of the platform;

    • Managing the development of the course contents (open textbooks and associated teaching materials); and

    • Building community and capacity.

    When the development phase is completed, this Project Management Team will become the Operational Team to maintain and to foster the continuing development of the project.

    Consultants will be invited to advise on and assist in the project. Besides, a number of institutions have expressed interest in contributing to the project or using the proposed system.

  • Who benefit from Open Textbooks?

    Beneficiaries of this Open Textbooks project will include students, teachers, parents, and the community. The distinct advantages include:

    • Students
      • Significant savings in textbook costs. Even when hardcopies are ordered, students pay only the basic printing cost for their textbooks.

      • Well-tailored textbooks fitting the learning needs of individual groups of students.

      • Flexible use of textbooks through mobile and desktop devices as well as in traditional printed form.

      • Online access of open textbooks for reference.

      • Extensive use of the functions conducive to effective learning: dictionary, pronunciation, text-to-speech, bookmarks, highlighting, annotation, and so on.

    • Teachers
      • An online environment for easy selection, retrieval, review, adaptation and making print instructions

      • Textbooks that may freely be adapted and adopted for individual schools, classes or learner groups

      • Teacher materials (such as guidelines, additional exercises, and recommended activities) for using the textbooks

      • An online environment for communities of practice to encourage peer support among users, improve the quality of the open textbooks by sharing resources, adopting common standards and facilitating exchanges of innovative ideas, best practices and professional expertise.

    • Parents
      • Substantial savings from the financial burden of printed textbooks.(Current annual expenditure on school textbooks amount to HK$1.1 billion in total, or close to HK$3,000 for each secondary school student.)

      • Online access of textbooks and easy monitoring of their children’s progress

    • The community
      • Gradual transformation of an outdated textbook publishing model in support of the advances of the education system.

      • Keeping abreast of global trends and capitalizing on open education resources, and enhancing education services and outcomes through the deployment of appropriate technology and skills.

      • Textbooks for individuals’ self-study or reference.

  • Recurrent funding and long-term sustainability

    It is believed that open textbooks characterized by digital development, online access and open licence will significantly reduce textbook costs, shorten production time, improve and widen public access and enhance delivery efficiency.

    In the medium term, the benefits attained will prove their value and justify strong support by users, institutions and policy makers. It will hence attract philanthropists and community support.

    • Sustaining the project

      While external sponsorship is essential for the intended project to swing into action in the early stage, it aims to mature after three years, with the possibility of evolving into a self-sustaining enterprise, and ultimately becoming part and parcel of the local education system and playing an active role in the global open education resources movement.

      Recurrent expenditures for on-going maintenance and continuous development are expected to be met by funding and human resource support from the following sources:

      1. Voluntary services by enthusiasts and experts who subscribe to the spirit of openness and culture of collaboration and willingly register as individual members. The success of numerous open source software development projects, and thriving portals such as Wikipedia and the Khan Academy has provided solid evidence that altruistic commitment can translate into concrete support for a free and public service.

      2. Incentive schemes in the form of recognitions, non-material awards and accolades will be developed to encourage individual participants from the education professions. Policy support and facilitation will also be sought from government and major institutions and organisations.

      3. Financial and manpower input from a growing number of participating consortium members made up of schools, tertiary institutions, resource providers which share the status of partners, owners, contributors and beneficiaries of the open textbook consortium.

      4. Revenue collected from optional on-demand sale services ranging from printed books, to audio or e-reader versions and study aids. According to US experiences, about 75% of students and teachers would opt for a printed book alongside the e-version. This optional service will generate sufficient income to sustain the continuation and growth of open textbooks and associated services in the case of Flat World Knowledge.

      5. Donations from individual users and major foundations are also expected. Openness as a social cause has carried strong appeal for moral, financial and physical support if its worth can be borne out by high utilisation rates and positive public feedback.

      6. Online advertising. This is a debatable option and will be subject to the consensus of all participating parties.

    • Long term development

      We have solicited support for the concept of an open textbooks and open educational resources platform from the tertiary, secondary and primary sectors. We believe proper governance is crucial to the continuous development of the project, and the proposed ‘OER Consortium’ consisting of interested institutions will provide advice and directions to the development of the project. Members of the consortium will both contribute and use the open textbooks and open educational resources. At present, a number of institutions have already expressed interest in the project.

      The Steering Committee making up of elected members from the consortium will continue to oversee and provide overall direction for the project after the incubation stage. As the project progresses, the Committee will seek out external consortium partners and co-opt new members at suitable junctures.

  • The Open University of Hong Kong

    The Open University of Hong Kong provides sub-degree, degree and postgraduate courses leading to awards and qualifications principally through a system of open access and distance education. In 1989, it was established by the Government as the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong. Since then, working adults who missed higher education because of inadequate places and others who intend to update their knowledge and skills through lifelong learning are able to achieve their goals during their spare time through the unique learning opportunities it offers. Having met rigorous academic standards and quality requirements, it was accorded university status and re-titled as the Open University of Hong Kong in 1997.

    As a pioneer and one of the world leaders in promoting education for all, the University has made significant contribution to adult and distance learning. In the past 22 years, over 1,600,000 people have taken advantage of the unconventional opportunity and over 60,000 have graduated with a recognized qualification. At present, the OUHK offers more than 200 programmes and 600 courses. While distance learning programmes remain the major part of provision, the University started to offer some full-time, face-to-face programmes in 2001 in response to the government’s call for widening participation in higher education by young school leavers who were underserved by institutions under the aegis of the University Grants Committee. To date, more than 12,000 adult students are studying in the distance learning mode and another 5,000 young people attend degree courses in full-time mode. In 2007, the University offered its first online programme – Master of Laws in Chinese Business Law, to students distributed in various parts of the world.

    The University has continued to thrive on flexibility and productivity. For years it has accumulated rich experiences of employing emerging technologies and innovations to improve access, lower costs and raise quality and standards. It has been consistently capable of maintaining both financial health and academic rigour without compromising its commitment to openness and equity in education.

    The University is well aware of recent trends in the global development of open educational resources and their increasing popularity in addressing problems arising from high costs, slow response and rigid contents of traditional textbooks. The OUHK possesses a wealth of expertise and personnel in developing multi-media and flexibly structured course materials, plus a significant stock of stand-alone and ready-to-use course scripts and modules in various academic disciplines. It echoed the MIT open courseware campaign and has released more than 100 course units online for free public access since 2007. Last year it further cooperated with the Apple iTunes U to make available an array of degree-level course contents as a free service to a wide majority of users.

    As a self-financing, non-profit institution, the OUHK relies on tuition fee income to pay for over 90% of its recurrent expenditure. Occasional government grants and external philanthropic support have provided valuable and highly cost-effective impetus to the acquisition and development of essential capital infrastructures which are critical to the well-being of current and future generations of students admitted to the University.


Project Team

Steering Committee
Prof CM Leung, Dr KS Yuen, Dr Simon Cheung, Dr KC Li, Dr Eva Tsang, Mr Alex Wong

Project Coordinator
Ms Benise Wu
Tel.: (852) 2768 6484