UCT Open Textbook Conversation: Inclusivity, Collaboration and Student Co-Creation

25 Mar 2022
25 Mar 2022

The DOT4D initiative hosted the third UCT Open Textbook Conversation event on 10 March 2022 as part of international Open Education Week. The virtual event, titled ‘Inclusivity, collaboration and student co-creation: Open textbook production models for social justice’, also served as the launch of DOT4D Principal Investigator Dr Glenda Cox’s position as the UNESCO Chair in Open Education and Social Justice at UCT. 

Glenda opened proceedings with an overview of the DOT4D project and the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme, which aims to build networks across institutions and support research that can inform policy and generate innovation. The programme, launched in 1992, now has 877 Chairs around the world (including 14 Chairs in South African higher education institutions).

Describing DOT4D’s social justice approach, the presentation highlighted the role of open textbooks in addressing injustices related to the need for affordable access and curriculum transformation (including multilingualism and localisation) that manifest in the classroom at UCT.

DOT4D Publishing and Implementation Manager Michelle Willmers provided insight into institutional support provided for open textbook development at UCT, specifically as relates to the UCT Open Textbook Award. Initiated in 2020 as an initiative of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) for Teaching and Learning, Associate Professor Lis Lange, the award is an important symbol of institutional commitment to recognising teaching innovation that promotes social justice and transformation – and in addressing parity of teaching and research efforts within the university. Co-recipient of the 2020 award, Dr Michael Held, and the recipient of the 2021 award, Associate Professor Maria Keet, contributed to the conversation, highlighting the importance of long-term institutional support in authorship, quality assurance and publishing processes, as well as the need to release lecturers from other academic duties in order to facilitate open textbook development.

Positioning the role of open textbooks in the context of UCT’s Vision 2030, DVC Lange drew attention to the importance of student participation in the generation of academic text and the democratisation of knowledge. She also noted how open textbooks introduce  important conversation about what the participation of students in developing these teaching and learning resources does as a pedagogy of engagement. She highlighted the fact that the issue of student engagement (or rather, the lack of it) had become an important issue in the COVID-19 shutdown period and that it was compelling to think of open textbook development in terms of a pedagogy for inclusion in transforming classroom dynamics, assessment and who teaches what to whom.

Addressing the need for institutional support, DVC Lange expressed the need to move beyond the important symbolic efforts of the UCT Open Textbook Award and to start recognising this work in the Ad Hom promotion cycle in a more explicit, defined way. She also highlighted the need for other support mechanisms such as sabbaticals, which are traditionally only given to staff to produce research-based outputs.

The final section of the presentation was delivered by DOT4D Researcher Bianca Masuku. Against the backdrop of Bovill’s (2020) framework of inclusion – which encompasses student and colleague participatory design, engagement, partnership and co-creation – Bianca described dynamics related to student co-creation in the authorship, quality assurance and publishing of open textbooks at UCT, and the various roles that students took on therein. She highlighted the different ways in which open textbook creators sought to capture students’ lived realities in the authorship process and how they worked to include their feedback in quality assurance practices. However, students were not involved in any of the publishing processes, a nascent aspect of open textbook production for most authors. Bianca then outlined four collaborative open textbook production models developed in the DOT4D research process.

The Open Textbook Conversation event concluded with a discussion about the challenges related to collaboration in terms of time and control over processes, as well as the complexities and potential benefits of bringing students on board authentically as co-constructors of knowledge and teaching resources.

Access the slides from the event here.