One step ahead – developing an open textbook in accounting

By Dr Amanda White (University of Technology, Sydney)

Why do we have textbooks? Textbooks create an anchor for student learning – it is the resource students can go back to as their reference point. Commercial textbooks are a fantastic resource – however, can create a barrier to student learning because of the cost. Commercial textbooks are also highly impersonal in nature, being written in the third person. It is for these reasons, combined with a new mission at UTS to be a university for the public good that I approached the UTS Business School about developing an open textbook for our brand-new accounting first year subject/unit – Accounting and Accountability (AAA).

If you’re new to open textbooks – they are texts provided free online to students and under a creative commons licence. This allows students to access the textbook free (and they can often download and print if they so desire, for less than purchasing a commercial textbook) and also facilities adoption and adaptation of such texts by academics.

In developing our text for AAA, I worked under the guidance of open textbook researcher Dr Sarah Lambert (who led Open Textbooks and Social Justice: A National Scoping Study) to conduct a search for open textbooks in accounting and then map out a strategy to adopt, adapt and write our own open textbook at UTS. We were able to find many resources we could use, sometimes with a little editing, most of the time with quite a bit of editing.

I was assigned to develop this new subject only a few months before it started, and as a result, I was often only one or two weeks ahead of students in preparing the next textbook chapter. A colleague described this process like building a plane while you’re trying to fly the plane – and it was very true! However, this just-in-time approach did have some advantages – I could take on board informal feedback from students (more H5P exercises in the book please!) and refine my writing style. I started out writing much like a regular textbook – from an academic style and in the third person, however I discovered students connected with knowledge and examples more keenly when I embedded first person story telling into examples. I haven’t found any other accounting textbooks that use first person and I’ve found it to be a great way to build connection and belonging with my students.

I built my open textbook on the Pressbooks OER platform with financial support from my university library (this platform is about 5% of the cost of what they were paying to a commercial textbook publisher in the past for this specific subject), a small amount of graphic design support, some teaching relief in my workload and a large amount of motivational support from student learning enthusiasts at my institution. You could build an open textbook in Word or Google Docs. Pressbooks provides a great interface, version control, H5P integration and the easy ability to import the book into an ePub reader or download as a PDF.

Where to next? I now have a draft of the textbook, and having taught with it for one semester, I do have a list of things that I want to edit or improve (after students have completed their exams of course, I don’t want to expand the text while they are still preparing!). Once the draft is finalised, it will move to a stage of professional editing (while hopefully still keeping the spark and life my first-person stories bring to the text) and then onto peer review before an official launch to a broader audience. Students have also suggested an audio book version of the textbook to allow them to study more flexibly (one person said it would be great to listen to while they work stacking supermarket shelves at night).

You can find out more about open textbooks and OER more broadly at the ASCILITE Open Educational Practice SIG website.