Tag Archives: Philosophy open textbook

Intro to Philosophy of Mind published

Book cover: Introduction to Philosophy of Mind, Edited Heather Salazar, Series Editor Christina Hendricks

Cover for the book Design by Jonathan Lashley, art by Heather Salazar. Licensed CC BY 4.0.

As noted in my last post, I’ve been working with a number of people on a series of open textbooks for Introduction to Philosophy courses, published with the support of the Rebus Community.

And we now have the first book in a planned series of nine books published: Introduction to Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind, edited by Heather Salazar.

This has been quite a long time in the making; some of the story of how we got to this point is in the previous post, though I need to sit down and write a longer post (or series of posts) to tell more of the story. Suffice it to say at this point that this book, and the other books currently in process, would not have happened without the hard work of the book editors for each book, the authors of chapters, the peer reviewers, copy editors, those helping with formatting in Pressbooks, our cover designer Jonathan Lashley, and many more. Special thanks goes to the Rebus team, including in particular Apurva Ashok (who has helped quite a lot in the last year or two) and Zoe Wake Hyde (who was deeply involved in the project at the beginning. And Hugh McGuire for believing in the project enough to take us on as a pilot in the early stages of Rebus!

Here is the official book release announcement on the Rebus blog. Please share with anyone you think might be interested!

Overview: Intro to Philosophy open textbook series

When I came here to write this post I realized just how long it had been since my last post–ten months! When I look back on it this isn’t surprising: I started in a 100% secondment role as the Academic Director of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC Vancouver on July 1, 2018, and on top of navigating a very new role I was also teaching a course from January-April 2019.

Since then, most nights and weekends I’ve been working hard on another project that it appears I’ve only written about once here on this blog: a series of open textbooks for Introduction to Philosophy courses. In another post I’m going to explain more detail about the process we have been using to get these off the ground. Suffice it to say I have a much better understanding of all the work that goes into producing a book for publication! But that’s for another day.

This post is to give an overview of the project, by sharing some slides and talking about a presentation I did with Zoe Wake Hyde of the Rebus Community (the community organization that allows for such projects to get going, get working, get done, and get published!). We had a short session at the Cascadia Open Education Summit in April of 2019. We talked about this open textbook series for philosophy and also the Rebus Community itself and how it supports such projects.

Presentation

Here are our slides:

I think Zoe’s portion (second half) is fairly self-explanatory but I’ll take a little space here to explain my portion.

The beginning

I began by talking about how this whole project got started: I went to a session by Hugh McGuire at the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit a few years ago (I can’t remember which year it was, but maybe 2016). He was talking about projects like LibriVox and Pressbooks, among other things, and I remember asking him about crowdsourcing a textbook like LibriVox crowdsources contributions to creating audiobooks. I said I didn’t have any money/grant funding, but wanted to get an open textbook in my field going and what might be some options.

I can’t remember his answer at the time, nor how much time passed after that before I heard from him again with another project he has called Rebus. The Rebus Community was in early days and we talked about this open textbook in philosophy possibly being one of its projects. We discussed how big of a project it really was and how daunting, but agreed to give it a go.

Little did either of us know…

From one book to nine

I began working closely with Zoe, and then with Apurva Ashok as well, and soon one book turned into a series of books. This is because we had a lot of interest and people willing to contribute. We started with a single book that had multiple parts like Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, Metaphysics, etc., and each part had what we called a “part editor” in charge of drafting and outline and finding authors to write chapters for that part. But many of the editors had drafted outlines for chapters that could, it turned out, just as easily turn the parts into coherent books all on their own. So that is what we did, rather than create one very large book.

We now have nine books in the series, and through some changes in editors have book editors for all but one as of September 2019. Each editor is responsible for creating an outline of chapters and choosing authors for those chapters (within rough guidelines such as that we would like to have authors with a PhD in philosophy, or who are in a PhD program, and who ideally have taught at least one course at the introductory level). The editors work with the authors to complete chapters according to the author guide for the series, and get everything ready for peer reviews (during that time I, as the series editor, also review the chapters). After peer reviews are complete, the editors work with the authors to get edits done and prepare the books for copy editing and final production. The authors also write an introduction to the book, and several are writing one of the book chapters as well.

Processes

We were figuring out processes as we went along, such as how to recruit editors and authors, what kinds of guideline documents we needed (such as the author guide, the review guide, the book editor role description, how to set up the chapters for peer reviews, and more). These have been created as the need arises, with the help of Zoe and Apurva at the Rebus Community. Everything was done on google docs to facilitate easy collaboration and commenting functions.

In terms of recruitment, we mostly tried to get the word out about the project and recruit authors and editors via email listservs in philosophy. I also used Twitter and I know a few people heard about the project that way. There are a number of philosophers on Facebook but I closed my account awhile back and so haven’t connected with people that way to recruit participants. We have also had numerous calls for participation posted through the Rebus Community newsletter and on the project’s discussion threads at the Rebus Community forum.

Successes

The help of the Rebus Community has been invaluable. This project was one of its pilots and their work on the project helped inform some of the support resources they have created for others to use in their OER projects (as Zoe’s slides mention). For our part, this project simply would not have happened without all the help they provided in setting up guideline documents and workflows and helping me figure out just how this sort of project was going to work. Their help has enabled me to take over after we have together seen a few of the books go through most of the steps towards publication, so I can now do most of the things Apurva and Zoe were doing in the beginning.

I am really excited by the covers for the book series, which were designed by Jonathan Lashley and feature artwork by one of the book editors, Heather Salazar. Jonathan and I were OER Research Fellows at the same time, and after he saw a request from me for help with the project he offered his design skills. I am thrilled with the design that has resulted.

Challenges

I had no idea how long it would take from ideation to completion of just one book in the series, and the answer seems to be: two years. That is partly because we ended up working on all of the books at once, given the way things worked out (because we originally were just going to do one book with multiple parts). I think if we had done one book at a time it would have been shorter! But doing them all together meant trying to organize the work of 9 book editors and 5-10 authors per book, with all the recruitment that needed to happen, plus keeping track of what was happening with each book–who was writing which chapters and by which due dates, who was expressing interest in helping in other ways such as peer reviewing or copy editing, etc. That was and remains a big task.

Another challenge was that I didn’t know we needed a style sheet until late-ish in the game, so while we had an author guide it didn’t have specifics on style until after many chapters had already been written. We have one now, but even at this point it is a work in progress as new things come up that I realize need to be standardized. Not having any experience with publishing, it’s not surprising perhaps that I didn’t realize this needed to happen early on, but it does make things more complicated when you create one partway through. It leads to authors getting mixed messages, which is not good.

Quality control is always going to be somewhat complicated in a project like this. When you have many volunteers writing chapters, with different levels of experience writing for an introductory-level audience, it’s likely that there is going to be some back-and-forth to get to the point where the chapters are all publication-ready. This has taken much longer than I realized it would, though it’s not surprising–we’re all doing this off the sides of our desks, and most of my work on the project happens after work hours when I get a chance, so a good deal of the delay was on my part!

Regarding communications: we started off doing most of the communicating about the project (between the editors, authors, myself, and Rebus) on a public forum at the Rebus Community. Then there was a change at Rebus to a new platform, and we tried moving discussions over there, but it just didn’t pick up quite the way it had before and our communications moved mostly into email. This was a challenge for a couple of reasons: (1) it was harder for me to keep track of what was going on in each book across many, many emails, and (2) we lost the value of having public discussions in regards to others being able to see what was happening with the project. I think to many it may have seemed like the project was not moving ahead when in fact we were doing a lot of things “behind the scenes,” as it were. I started doing more announcements about the project on the Rebus Community pages and copy editing and formatting conversations for Philosophy of Mind and Ethics are happening there. But I haven’t worked to get all the conversations between editors, authors, me and others back on the forum (yet).

Zoe’s slides

I think these don’t need much more commentary, so I’ll mostly let them explain themselves.

I do want to highlight a point she makes in them about DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), though. The topics and the personnel in the series reflect the discipline generally in North America, insofar as the books focus mostly on philosophical works by European and North American authors, and the topics that that group has focused on over the last few centuries. There are quite a number of underrepresented groups of people in academic philosophy in North America, and the makeup of our authors and editors generally mirrors that.

It is challenging when you are relying on volunteers, and doing so on a piecemeal basis–we have kept the calls for authors open until we fill the chapters with people who are qualified and willing, rather than having a competitive call for authors that has a specific deadline. Thus, we have tended to fill the chapters with first-come, first-served amongst those who are qualified who volunteer. This is partly due to the fact that volunteers have trickled in rather than come in large groups, and because we don’t know when we’ll next get another.

Still, I should have done more in this area, emphasizing it further from the very beginning and changing our practices where needed. That is a lesson learned, and something I’ll be working on as we move from publication to considering later editions. One valuable thing about open textbooks, though, is that those who use them can revise and edit as desired (ensuring that original credit to the author is given), and thus other editions could be created even by others beyond our group.

 

Your thoughts

Any questions about the project? Comments? Please leave them below!

Open Textbook for Intro to Philosophy

Drawing of a book with "open textbooks" on it, and arrows pointing out to people using the book in various contexts

Open Textbooks, by Giulia Forsythe on Flickr, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

After talking about it for a few years, I am finally able to start working on an open textbook for introduction to philosophy courses. There are a few of us working on it already, and we’re going to need all the help we can get…so this post is to introduce the project and talk about how others can get involved.

Open textbooks

First, what is an “open textbook”? The easiest way to think about it is that it is like any other textbook except in two crucial respects:

First, it is free of cost to students. There is no price tag. This comes with another implication: we are doing this for free ourselves. There is no publisher who is paying us to create the textbook, and there are no “royalties.” But frankly, I can’t imagine ever making much off of a textbook anyway (how many new textbooks are there a year, and how many actually make money? I don’t know but I am skeptical of it being terribly lucrative in philosophy).

Second, open textbooks have an “open license” that allows others to reuse, revise, remix it with other things and release new versions publicly for others to use, revise, etc. The most common open licenses for educational resources like this are Creative Commons licenses, which come in several versions. See this CC page for a general discussion of the licenses and different license types; the University of British Columbia Creative Commons Guide has further information, including a comparison chart. The license we will be using for this textbook is the most permissible of the CC licenses that require attribution of the original content creators: CC BY, which lets content be used and revised by anyone for any purpose as long as the original creators are attributed.

Why do this?

I can’t speak for others, but I myself have two main motivations, having to do with the two characteristics of open textbooks given above.

  • Saving students money
    • Textbooks are expensive, and getting more so as time goes by. There is a good deal of research on open textbooks that explains the costs to students and how this affects them not just financially but pedagogically (e.g., when they go without textbooks because they are too expensive, or choose what courses to take based on textbook costs). I am co-author on an article whose literature review details some of this literature; I’ll try to remember to link to it here when it comes out (it’s in press right now). Or you can check out this 2016 research review on open textbooks by John Hilton (open access), though it doesn’t have information on costs.
    • I also get frustrated that students are paying a lot of money and I might not be using the whole textbook. Which leads to…
  • Ability to revise the book
    • Only want to use Chapters 3 and 8? Great–delete the rest.
    • Want to add in some of your own interpretations, or change what you think might be misleading, or add in a graphic you have created that helps illustrate an idea? Excellent–go ahead and change what’s there.
    • Can’t understand why the textbook excerpted Mill’s On Liberty in a way that leaves out that crucial part? Put it in!
    • Dislike the example used to illustrate a point because it only speaks to a limited audience of students and may not make any sense to others? Change it!
    • etc.

Basically what an open textbook does is provide a starting point that you can adjust if needed…or not. You can use it as is, or you can make it fit your course or context better. I want to be involved in a project that provides this starting point for myself and others.

For some, creating educational resources that are used by others can be considered for merit, tenure and promotion. That is going to depend on your college or university context.

Rebus open textbooks

We are working with an organization called The Rebus Foundation, a Canadian non-profit that is made up of wonderful people who are doing great things with digital publishing and open textbooks. We are part of several open textbook projects that are creating new models for publishing open textbooks, through connecting people into a community to collaborate on shared projects.

The Rebus open textbook projects are all being discussed on the Rebus Community Forum. There you can see and contribute to multiple textbook projects. Each is going to need help in the form of reviewing and copyediting as well as writing, so even if you just want to contribute a little without writing anything, that’s possible too. All help is appreciated.

Some basic parameters

Please see this document for an explanation of some of the basic parameters of the intro to philosophy open textbook, some of the ideas of what, generally, it should be like and why. The following is copied and pasted from part of that document:

This Open Textbook “Introduction to Philosophy” should be, firstly, an accessible introduction to philosophy, suitable for college or university students taking a philosophy class for the first time.

As such, the book should:

  • cover a broad range of the fundamental ideas in philosophy
  • present these fundamental ideas in a clear and accessible way
  • focus (first) on presenting existing arguments, rather than making novel arguments

As an Open Textbook, this Introduction should be considered the starting point: a reasonably complete (eventually), and relatively accessible “map” of the important intellectual traditions of philosophy.

But it should also be considered a framework upon which further (open) explorations could easily be built, further sections or additional materials added, by a professor for a particular class, by students as part of course work, or by future contributors (or current contributors) to the project itself.

Note that there is a table of contents on that document; we are not saying nothing else could be there. That is what we have come up with at the moment. As new people are added to the project, new sections might be created.

The process

I am serving as the main editor for the whole thing, but mostly what that means is being the central organizer. I will be writing some parts, but this is a joint venture that will come to fruition from the work of many people. That way, no one person has to do a great deal of work but it can be spread out. We’re all doing this on a volunteer basis, after all.d

Here is a list of tasks for the book.

I will be the overall editor, but each section of the book (e.g., ethics, social and political, metaphysics, philosophy of mind) will have a section editor who is responsible for that section. That means helping to find people to write subsections, arranging for others to review/comment on what has been written, ensuring those texts are copyedited (by themselves or by volunteers), etc.

Here is a post describing what we are envisioning for section editors.

We have already started discussions on general topics to include in a textbook for introduction to philosophy courses, and we found that we were rather scattered…so we have decided to start by focusing in on two sections. I asked the group who would be willing to be section editors, and we came up with two volunteers:

Ethics section: editor George Matthews (see here for a discussion board devoted to that)

Aesthetics section: editor W. Scott Clifton (see here for a discussion board devoted to that)

So those are the two sections we’re making a push on at the moment, but I would also love to hear if anyone else would like to volunteer as a section editor.

How do I get involved?

Does this sound intriguing? Or even better, are you excited to get started? Here are your next steps:

  1. Join the Rebus Community!
  2. Peruse the conversations we’ve had so far on this textbook if you want, and add your thoughts. It’s a long thread, but you can skim it! Introduce yourself and what you’re interested in about this project.
  3. Add your name and interest area to our spreadsheet (go to the ‘people’ tab at the bottom)
  4. If you would be willing to write something for the Ethics or Aesthetics sections, we are particularly interested in hearing about that right now. You can go straight to the discussion threads for those:
  5. Email me if you have questions: c.hendricks@ubc.ca
  6. Spread the word!!