Main Body

Chapter 1. Introduction and Overview

Chapter 1. Introduction and Overview

Electronic literature (or e-literature) has been freely available in the public domain for nearly half a century (Hart, 1992; Kay, 1969; Lebert, 2009, 2010; Maxwell, 2006; The Book & The Computer, 2003). Internet publishing systems have facilitated the adoption, dispersion, and persistence of e-literature. The Internet has afforded digital communications in time and space for an expanding virtual universe of human and non-human generated digital artifacts. Digitally connected learners have greater opportunities now than ever before in human history to access e-literature for production and consumption, such as Internet open electronic textbooks (e-textbooks) with free and open-source software.

Statement of the Problem

The problem is that definitive OER policies and related OER subset policies for Internet open e-textbook publishing systems have yet to be realized across Canadian academic institutions. Dedicated academic policies that promote and support Internet open e-textbook publishing systems are an essential part of a defensible decisions and outcomes framework for open e-textbook publishing (Appendix A Figure A1). The policy level in Appendix A is the viewpoint of this inquiry within the context of a post-secondary educational environ. Therefore, this research is an exploration of a policy or policies for an Internet open e-textbook publishing system, by examining relevant OER policies in Canada to provide awareness and insights for post-secondary education in Alberta.

Research Motivation

This research was inspired by the first Internet synchronous interactive multimedia open e-textbook publishing system in Alberta for the Faculty of Health Disciplines at Athabasca University. The aforementioned system is distinctly different in form and function from open access libraries, such as the AUPress (, due to a just-in-time Internet publishing paradigm whereby authors (e.g., educators and students) can directly create, modify, publish, and distribute online interactive multimedia content in multiple digital formats (McGrath, 2018; McKenzie, 2012; Swettenham, 2015b). The Faculty of Health Disciplines open e-textbook site (i.e.,, was founded on the five R’s principles of Open Educational Resources (OER) – retain, revise, reuse, remix, and redistribute (Wiley, 2014, 2018), and governed by the Athabasca University Open Access to Research Outputs Policy and Procedures (Athabasca University, 2014a, 2014b) in alignment with AU membership within the Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions (COAPI) (Athabasca University, 2017). There was no identifiable OER policy for open e-textbook publishing systems at the institutional, provincial, or federal levels in Canada during the development and deployment of the Faculty of Health Disciplines open e-textbook site. However, an OER policy that supported all levels of the framework in Appendix A toward a defensible and sustainable open e-textbook publishing system in post-secondary education could promote awareness, sustainability, and educational benefits for all stakeholders.

Premise of Inquiry

The premise of my research inquiry is that an exploration of an Internet open e-textbook publishing system policy has implications for post-secondary education in the province of Alberta toward promoting awareness, development, collaboration, and sustainability on free and open e-textbook publishing systems for the production and consumption of open e-textbooks for all stakeholders and society. Mulder (2013) asserted that knowledge is a public good. An open e-textbook publishing system policy is an opportunity for the public good to bridge the digital information divide between the haves and have-nots in providing open and free knowledge. According to Plotkin (2010, p. 2), when “materials are further developed and used within an appropriate supportive policy framework they are likely to enable even more rapid and increasingly dramatic, measurable improvements in both the quality and speed of teaching and learning.” van Wyk (2012, p. 18) argues further, that “OER initiatives need to be more effectively supported by governmental and institutional policies, structures and procedures.” Allen and Shockey (2014, p. 9) concluded that “there is a tremendous opportunity across the globe to leverage OER policy to solve problems facing society.” In addition, from an environmental perspective, a policy toward open e-textbook publishing systems supports a carbon neutral position (What Is Carbon Neutrality and How Can It Be Achieved by 2050?, 2019), and saves living plants from being destroyed and transformed into non-computer searchable printed matter.

An exploration of an open e-textbook policy would be incomplete without considering the e-publishing ecosystem that the medium inhabits. Therefore, this exploration holistically examines policy for online open e-textbook publishing systems in academic environs that spans many areas, including human, organizational, and digital components. Such a policy or policies that accounts for the different parts of online open e-textbooks could have implications for post-secondary education.

My exploratory approach aims to address the research premise through the lens of a critical theory paradigm (Cohen et al., 2018; Lincoln et al., 2011), in alignment with my worldview in empowering people with open e-textbook publishing toward the liberation of knowledge for humanity.

Ontology, Epistemology, and Methodology Overview

My worldview incorporates a hybrid critical theory paradigm adapted from Lincoln et al. (2011) and Nicholas (2020), encompassing social and individual qualities, for an open e-textbook publishing system policy.

Figure 1.1

Researcher Worldview


Figure 1.1 intentionally positions my worldview with a more open holistic, ecological, and constructivist perspective; whereas Lincoln et al. (2011, p. 98) description of a critical theory paradigm is more rigid in excluding aspects such as hermeneutics. Noted critical theorist Marcuse recognized that a positive contribution of the Frankfurt School was its interdisciplinary approach to social and political problems (Philosophy Overdose, 2018, sec. 27:34-28:06). Therefore, my approach incorporates ecological concepts (i.e., ecosystem, homeostatsis) and constructivist methodology (i.e., hermeneutics), that is useful to understanding OER policy supporting Internet open e-textbook systems within a post-secondary education environ. An Internet open e-textbook publishing system is analogous to an ecosystem of a community of different actors (i.e., producers and consumers) coexisting within a broader educational system and the virtual world of Internet digital publishing. Homeostasis of the open e-textbook publishing ecosystem further recognizes the complexity in a sustainable balance between the different living and non-living components that need to be considered by a dedicated policy guided by a critical theory paradigm. Although Lincoln et al. ( 2011) emphasizes hermeneutics as a key component of the constructivism paradigm, hermeneutics could be useful in my literature research analysis.

The epistemology and methodology boundaries have dashed lines to symbolize a continuum where keywords flow across the different areas of my worldview, such as reflection in agile design. Agile design supports the dynamic nature of exploring policy for open e-textbook publishing systems in living academic environs by values of adaption, integration, and evolution (Clark, 2015). In example, an open source e-textbook publishing system has been developed to present my research, facilitating online open sharing of ideas and rapid response to changes in dialectics and discourse. According to Twidale and Hansen (2019), an agile design perspective is applicable to exploratory research that “may have considerably more uncertainty about where it will lead and what exactly needs to be done to make progress at any given point in time.” This study employs agile design in the inquiry process with cycles of analysis and reflection, followed by iterative open content development on the same open e-textbook publishing system (i.e., Pressbooks open-source software) employed by academic institutions and organizations in Canada.

Canadian Overview

Skidmore (2019, p. 17), noted that SAIT’s OER policy did not mandate any action. McGreal (2020) maintained that “to date, there are no policies on OER in any province/territory, nor in any institution in Canada” (p. 2). In addition, McGreal (2020) recognized that “OER mandates are not a requirement in any jurisdiction in Canada” (p. 3). Thus, a gap exist between educational institutions and adoption of OER policies. Furthermore, any current institutional OER policy in Canada are statements of support rather than required action. Such absence of strong institutional OER policies challenges the existence of a related Internet open e-textbook publishing policy. The open e-textbook phenomenon is further challenged by the current publishing paradigm that directs Canadian taxpayer finances towards commercial publishing enterprises. The Canadian government funds independent Canadian-owned book publishing companies to the exclusion of open e-publishing initiatives (Heritage, 2019). According to Government of Canada Heritage, the 2019 budget will invest $22.8 million over 5 years for commercial publishers to develop accessible digital books (Heritage, 2019). Thus, in a similar perspective on scholarly funding paradoxes as described by Merkley (2016), Canadian taxpayers purchase literature that they fund. In example, the textbook by Rose (2013) On reflection: an essay on technology, education, and the status of thought in the twenty-first century is a subsidized publication through the Canada Book Fund of the Government of Canada Heritage. A policy for an Internet open e-textbook publishing system challenges academic institutions and Canadian society to change public funding and intellectual resources practices toward free and open e-textbook publishing initiatives for everyone rather than the few.

Provinces and Territories. The British North American Act of 1867 (Ontario, 1914, p. XXX) fragmented educational jurisdiction to the provinces and territories of Canada, thereby making these geopolitical entities key stakeholders for an open e-textbook publishing system policy. In example, the province of Alberta and its post-secondary institutions have the opportunity to take advantage of a policy promoting open e-publishing systems for the online production, distribution, and consumption of open e-textbooks. The Campus Alberta Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiative (Campus Alberta Open Educational Resources Initiative Program Summary, 2017; Provincial Initiative, n.d.), and TEKRI POERUP (Policies for OER Uptake) Report (Quirk et al., 2012) provided evidence of OER actions in Alberta. However, the TEKRI POERUP Report describes OER projects in the absence of an OER policy for Alberta. A more recent policy report by Skidmore and Provida (2019, pp. 16–17) indicated individual institutional policy development in Alberta. In example, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) initiated the Open Education Strategic Plan at SAIT, 2018-2021 (Norman, 2018) which promoted employing an open e-textbook publishing system, without explicitly identifying an open e-textbook policy, nor an open e-textbook publishing system policy. Open Education Alberta, a collaboration between a growing list of Alberta universities and colleges, including SAIT, have implemented an open e-textbook publishing system (University of Alberta, n.d.-a). However, no cohesive policy on open e-textbooks or associated publishing systems for Alberta post-secondary education was declared in the aforementioned initiatives.

In spite of the absence in a dedicated policy for open e-textbook publishing systems, the province of British Columbia became the first to develop an open e-textbook publishing system in 2012 (Burgess, 2017; Klassen, 2012; “The Project – BCcampus OpenEd Resources,” n.d.; Training, 2017a), and has become a model for Athabasca University (i.e., EPUB-FHD), OntarioCampus, and ManitobaCampus, employing the Pressbooks open-source software (Appendix B timeline). In 2012, the British Columbia government committed $1 million to the development of open textbooks (Burgess, 2017).

In 2014, the Alberta government committed $1.76 million over 3-years for open educational resources, with a $196,296.95 (or 11.2%) portion designated toward “content development projects” that included open e-textbooks (Provincial Initiative, n.d.). The Campus Alberta Open Educational Resources website home page reported that Alberta students have saved $482,260 in textbook fees (Alberta OER – Home, n.d.). This is more than double the provincial initiative cost for 2014 to 2017. Since August of 2017, the Alberta government has not directly or indirectly funded open e-textbooks. Although there was a positive net economic advantage in provincial support of open e-textbooks, the absence of further Alberta government funding and dedicated policy support toward open e-textbooks provided inspiration for this research inquiry. As of February 2021, Alberta academic institution open e-textbook publishing systems have hosted 14 open e-textbooks from active Pressbook sites in Alberta (Faculty of Health Disciplines OER– Save a Tree Hug an Epub, n.d.; Norman, 2021; University of Alberta, n.d.-b), compared to more than 250 open e-textbooks hosted by BCcampus (BCcampus, n.d.). The first Internet open e-textbook publishing system in Alberta for post-secondary education ( site) in 2015 produced 9 open e-textbooks (Swettenham, n.d.). A policy for Internet open e-textbook publishing system’s in Alberta could provide greater awareness and importance for development and distribution of open and free information and knowledge. Although OER encompasses e-textbooks, an OER policy may not necessarily have the specialized focus on promoting and sustaining an open e-textbook publishing system, assuming there was an institutional OER policy.

On September 11, 2015 the Government of Manitoba committed to free online textbooks for postsecondary students (Province of Manitoba, 2015) and partnered with BCcampus “to build a website that allows students and faculty to browse, view, and download open textbooks for use in their courses” (“About – Manitoba Open Textbook Initiative,” n.d.). In 2015, the University of Prince Edward Island began hosting an open e-textbook publishing system (UPEI Staff, personal communication, November 16, 2018). However, the UPEI homepage web source-code from the WordPress based Pressbooks site indicates content uploads beginning in 2018 (Pressbooks at the Robertson Library – Your Self Publishing Platform at the University of Prince Edward Island, n.d.).In 2017, eCampus Ontario launched and open e-textbook publishing site in partnership with BCcampus (eCampusOntario Staff, personal communication, October 23, 2019; Ministry of Colleges and Universities, 2017). Although, very little literature was found for the territories, the Yukon has partnered with BCcampus with an instance of Pressbooks (Beattie, 2019; British Columbia/Yukon Open Authoring Platform – Open Textbooks Adapted and Created by B.C. and Yukon Faculty, n.d.). Evidence from the webpage source-code of B.C. and Yukon homepage instance indicates the earliest content uploads were in 2018. In 2019, University of Saskatchewan reported moving to a commercial hosted Pressbooks (Canada OER Group – 2019 Report – Saskatchewan – University of Saskatchewan, 2019). The University of Regina took a similar library approach to hosting open e-textbooks (i.e., a repository format) as AUPress (Canada OER Group – 2019 Report – Saskatchewan – University of Regina, 2019; U of R Open Textbooks, n.d.). In 2019, the Dalhousie University launched a Pressbooks site (Canada OER Group – 2019 Report – Nova Scotia – Dalhousie University, 2019; Dalhousie Libraries Digital Editions, n.d.).

Key Stakeholder

Ludbrook (2019) asserts that “students are at the centre of any Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) Degree plan” and “Student Unions can be a key to advocating for OER and affordable course readings.” However, students are more than advocates, and receivers of information and knowledge, they can also be developers of open e-textbooks, deploy and manage open e-textbook publishing systems, and redirect student union funds toward open e-textbook production.

Although provincial and territorial governments have been the primary source of fluctuating academic funding for open e-textbooks, a key stakeholder – Canadian student unions/associations – have largely remained absent in contributing resources to the development of open e-textbooks. In example, the Athabasca University Graduate Student Association (AUGSA), sanctioned by Athabasca University, taxes students $13 per course credit with annual revenues over $400,000 (Athabasca University Graduate Students’ Association Financial Statements Year Ended December 31, 2018, 2018). Since the inception of AUGSA’s taxation on Athabasca University graduate program students from 2009 to 2019 budget period, the AUGSA has yet to initiate financial contributions toward open e-textbooks (Graduate Students Association of Athabasca University Profit & Loss Budget Overview, 2019). In 2019, the British Columbia Federation of Students committed $30,000 to the development of open e-textbooks (Students Applaud Open Education Resource Funding, 2019). Recently, in 2021 the University of Calgary Students’ Union allocated funding in the creation of a library of free online textbooks (Pike, 2021). Thus, students are demonstrating direct action between recipient, adoption, advocacy, and funding of open e-textbooks. If student councils in Canada wish to promote equality in free and open e-textbooks for the student populations’ they tax, then promotion of an Internet open e-textbook publishing policy would be a positive strategy toward connecting key stakeholders with open educational resources.

Although, Internet based open e-textbook publishing systems have been adopted by many academic institutions across Canada, there has been very little literature on relevant policies linked to these systems. Internet open e-textbook publishing systems within the jurisdiction of public academic institutions are presumed to be supported by some form of related OER policy that would be publicly available on the Internet. However, (Skidmore, 2019, p. 18) noted that many universities are engaged OER, “without formal, governance-driven policies in place to guide their work.” Hence, there is an opportunity for discourse on policies for online open e-textbook publishing systems, to further the “policy-as-conversation” (Skidmore, 2019, p. 18).

Research Question

This study is a form of ‘policy-in-conversation’ that explores the idea of quantifying policy documents to qualitatively investigate the extent to which relevant policies reflect support for Internet open e-textbook publishing systems and implications for post-secondary education in Alberta.

The central research question guiding this study is:

To what extent do the current relevant public policies in academic institutions reflect support for the Internet open e-textbook publishing systems they employ?

This research question is informed by the following subsidiary questions toward quantifying what constitutes a relevant policy document and what it could mean for the aforementioned system in education:

  • What are the dominant policy terms in Canadian public academic institution policy documents relevant to open e-textbook publishing on the Internet?
  • What are the implications of the dominant terms for an Internet open e-textbook publishing system policy in post-secondary education?

Scope and Limitations

Internet open e-textbook publishing systems are a broad topic involving many aspects such as computer technologies, institutions, and stakeholders. This exploratory study focuses on OER policies to support Internet open e-textbook publishing systems in Canadian post-secondary education. A challenge in the research will be to determine what constitutes a relevant OER policy to the research topic. A dedicated policy document that is definitive on the research topic could be the ideal sample. A less ideal but relevant sample could be an OER policy document. A lesser relevant sample could be a document proposing a policy initiative for open e-textbooks or OER.

Models. Although a policy model could emerge from the research, the scope is at an exploratory research position rather than a policy analysis level (Weimer & Vining, 2004). Tarkowski (Miao et al., 2016, Chapter 12), described how a Polish open e-textbook project could be a policy model for OER. Skidmore and Provida (2019, p. 24) proposed a standalone OER policy model involving and environmental scan of the spectrums of OER policies versus OER activities. Both of the aforementioned models are appropriate for operationalizing a policy proposal and use in policy analysis; whereas this research aims to examine what the existing policies are about and the extent to which they reflect support for open e-textbook publishing systems. The Open Education Policy Scan (Skidmore, 2019, p. 24) could be a useful model for development of terms and themes related to each level of OER policy. In example, terms and context for statements of support, could be distinguishable from terms and context of a dedicated policy for institutional wide adoption and aligned with level of engagement between the policy and activity.

Corpus Limitations. The relevant academic policies published on the Internet provide a corpus for analysis. Seale (2018, p. 288), asserted that archival sources are useful:

  • when they are the only means of accessibility
  • offer an indirect view ‘behind the scenes’
  • provide triangulation
  • enable tracing the genealogy of ideas in providing another dimension to data

The Internet documents are the most readily available for any researcher not employed with an academic institution. The data and information gathered from Internet documents is dependent on free access to online sources. Examining policy documents provides insights into an academic institutions orientation toward open e-textbooks, open e-publishing for e-textbooks, and OER related to open e-textbooks, such as e-books and hypermedia content. Literature sources that are internal to an institution or works waiting to become public on the Internet are outside the scope of this research inquiry. The intention of this inquiry is to facilitate further research by using free and open research content and software. Thus, Internet documents that are open to the public with a Creative Commons license align with the research values toward the emancipation of information and knowledge.

Digital Limitations. The research inquiry aims to be freely addressable in the same form and substance to anyone who can access the Internet. Thus, the limiting software criteria are:

  • Free and open-source
  • Actively maintained with documented help
  • Multi-platform support for Apple, Linux, and Windows
  • Archival quality file formats (Digital Preservation, n.d.; Introduction to Digital Formats for Library of Congress Collections, 2017; Folk & Barkstrom, 2003)
  • Freedom to store a copy on a web-based research site

The free and open-source software used in this research is inherently dependent on the algorithms that output in human addressable formats. The quality of the output is dependent on the related quality of the data inputs and algorithms.

The limiting policy document considerations for selection and analysis are:

  • free with Internet open access
  • convertible to ASCII format
  • copyrite freedom to modify and redistribute (i.e., flexible Creative Commons licensing)

Electronic policy file formats for text analysis could be problematic. According to Sinclair (n.d.) “Voyant Tools has some heuristics to try to guess the format type.” Sinclair (n.d.) identified HTML, MS Word, and RTF file formats as reliably ingested into Voyant Tools, while cautioning that “PDF files (with text) are supported, though the reliability of the text extraction process will vary enormously based on the characteristics of the input file.” Image based PDF files require text conversion by optical character recognition (OCR), which is inherently problematic as the OCR accuracy may vary. In addition, PDF files that are malformed may introduce extraneous data that will impact the results in Voyant Tools, thereby reducing granularity of terms to be used in future search and retrieval cycles. In example, Sinclair noted that PDF’s can have problems with text sequences and “gibberish characters may appear in the extracted text that are not visible on the PDF page” (Sinclair, n.d.). Sinclair (n.d.) recommended importing PDF files into Google Documents and then exporting to HTML or RTF. However, for the purposes of creating basic plain text files from literature search results, constructing a corpus follows the electronic text preparation recommendations by Sinclair and Rockwell (n.d.), converting files (e.g. PDF) to Unicode (UTF-8) ASCII text before text analysis.

Significance of the Study

Research indicates an interest in developing and adopting policy to support OER activities in Canada (McGreal, 2020; Skidmore, 2019). However, there is a discontinuity between existing OER policy and commitment to action in the OER domain in Canadian institutions. In particular, discourse on Internet open e-textbook publishing system policy (or related OER policy) is largely absent, even though many academic institutions in Canada are actively engaged in Internet open e-textbook publishing.

A policy for the Internet open e-textbook publishing system phenomenon aligns with a critical theory paradigm for people and open e-textbooks. Although research incorporating critical theory has largely been peripheral to the open e-textbook publishing discourse (Pyati, 2007a, 2007b), there is an opportunity for an Internet open e-textbook publishing system policy to support and empower stakeholders toward open information and knowledge within an open educational resource environ in Canadian academic institutions.

According to Pyati (2007b, p. 3), “emancipatory concerns within the context of oppressive socio–economic, political, and ideological conditions are at the heart of critical theory.” An Internet open e-textbook system and supporting policy, both liberates producers and consumers toward inclusivity and frees digital data, information, and knowledge from the exclusivity of a commercial paradigm. Both students and educators can be both producers, and consumers in this open publishing environ.

The research inquiry offers a dialogic/dialectical approach (Lincoln et al., 2011) toward a ‘policy-as-conversation’ (Skidmore, 2019) in transformation and change of policies concerned with Internet open e-textbook publishing systems. The implications of such policy inquiry could lead to both, dialectic tensions between the existing voluntary OER policies related to open e-textbooks and “techno-capitalist” (Pyati, 2007b), and the potential for open e-textbook policies and related OER polices to be fully supported (i.e., mandated) within a progressive open and barrier free vision for a digital information society.

This study aims to be open and reproducible by using existing free open-source tools, open information, and an online open-source e-textbook publishing platform for research development and dissemination.




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