“The answer is in the mirror.”
I have been involved with distance education for more than 30 years, and addicted to computing technologies since 1979. I have been a life-long learner and thus spent most of my life span more as a student than a practitioner. As a pioneer of online learning in Canada (Ingham, 1994; Swettenham, 2020), I have acquired a mixed sense of skepticism and optimism in contemporary distance education. Since education has been, and currently remains, a human activity (notwithstanding advances in artificial intelligence), my academic experiences have been greatly impacted by institutional policy and humans in positions of power within educational environs. I have witnessed and been part of situations where power was used for good in promoting learning, and in other situations I have been impacted by power that was used to corrupt the learning environment. The discourse on power and policy (Arts & Van Tatenhove, 2004; Freudenberg & Tsui, 2014) has reinforced my research direction in considering policy in an empowering way that purposefully encourages free and open knowledge for education and society. Paynton and Hahn (n.d.), asserted that “rather than simply seeking to understand power structures, critical theories actively seek to change them in positive ways.” Furthermore, Paynton and Hahn stated that “critical theories expose and challenge the communication of dominant social, economic, and political structures.” Hence, it is apropos that the research inquiry foundation is a critical theory paradigm that seeks praxis (Paynton & Hahn, n.d.), positioning the researcher learning experiences, educational background, and inquiry raison d’être for exploration of an Internet open e-textbook publishing system policy in Alberta post-secondary education toward advancing positive social change in promoting free and open data, information, and knowledge for everyone.
A dissertation title can evoke many meanings, improving or retarding “sense-making” (a term I first heard from Dr. George Siemens). The dissertation title hides much more than can be delivered in one document. Capturing an epistemological reality, by way of a two-dimensional screen in a digital space, may limit the human senses and challenges transmittance of meaning over time and distance for understanding my research inquiry.
My research journey has explored many aspects of Internet open e-textbook publishing before focusing on a related policy. Initially the pilot research explored a broad perspective on Internet open e-textbook publishing systems, starting from ancient analog publishing to contemporary digital publishing. However, the exploration was too general and needed a “je ne sais quoi” (Definition of Je Ne Sais Quoi, 2020). Searching for the essence of something special in Internet open e-textbook publishing systems in education required a deeper reflection of the purpose of the project and the researchers’ position within the study. Thus I returned to my roots in education and found that the most prevalent theme influencing, controlling, and infecting online learning was the power of policy (Arts & Van Tatenhove, 2004; Freudenberg & Tsui, 2014). In particular, a refocus of the research toward the establishment of an Open Educational Resources policy or dedicated policy for Internet open e-textbook publishing systems in academic institutions to promote change, direction, and purpose, across time and space.
Exploring policy involving computing technologies within a post-secondary Internet environ fulfills past, present, and future hope and opportunities for empowering humanity with free and open data, information, and knowledge. During this time of global pandemic, from the 2019 novel coronavirus (Naming the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and the Virus That Causes It, n.d.), power has been employed to control human populations voluntarily and involuntarily. Adizes’ CAPI model (n.d.) places authority and influence as equal to power. However, in my academic experiences, nothing has been equal to power. Hence, perhaps Adizes’ CAPI model is more of an ideal situation of equality in empowerment. In my reality, power is an all encompassing circle that dominates authority and influence which aligns with a critical theory paradigm. Internet open e-textbook publishing systems offer the opportunity to empower people to freely create and share open educational resources. Such a system is a powerful way for communicating knowledge to the next generation of humanity. A policy to support Internet open e-textbook publishing systems is a critical link in academic institutions toward open knowledge.
I have been immersed in the development and dissemination of open digital literature in post-secondary environs since the inception of the public Internet. In the early 1990’s, I developed the first microcomputer based academic Internet Bulletin Board System (BBS) in Alberta and Canada, that distributed open e-books in an online open access scholarly agora. Our innovative integration of Internet BBS technology within education was presented in 1994 at the National Educational Computing Conference in Boston (Ingham, 1994; Lilavois, 1994; Swettenham & Leask, 1994). I was contracted in Canada to work on developing several open electronic textbooks from 2014 to 2018. In 2015, I collaborated on the first Internet open e-textbook publishing system in Alberta at Athabasca University (AU) with the Faculty of Health Disciplines. The open-source e-publishing software – Pressbooks – used by BCcampus Open Textbook Project was adopted as the computing platform for the EPUB-FHD.athabascau.ca open e-textbook service to AU faculty, students, and global community. I volunteered to develop, manage, and support the AU open source e-publishing system for faculty and students from 2015 to May of 2019. My experiences with the AU Internet open e-textbook publishing system pilot project has inspired me to reflect on the broader aspects of Internet open e-textbook e-publishing policy at the academic institutional level. The AU faculty driven pilot project may have benefited greatly from an institutional or provincial policy that promoted Internet open e-textbook publishing. The AU pilot project was sustained by the few dedicated academia in a faculty, rather than institution-wide or provincial-wide adoption or supported adoption in the absence of a specific Open Educational Resource (OER) policy. Hence, examination of a policy for open e-textbook publishing systems in Alberta post-secondary education is timely, given the advances in OER development within other sub-national divisions of Canada.
Since 1979, starting as system administrator for a Univac 90/30 mainframe, I have been engaged with various kinds of computing technology and found it is unwise to become fixated on any particular software or hardware. In particular, the ability to retrieve archival digital files in original form, is critical to future proofing electronic data (i.e., ability to read and write old digital file formats). Currently, free and open-source software appears to be a worthy strategy for creation and preservation of data for future retrieval, as evident from LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and StarOffice files that continue to be addressable by modern computers (Samyn & Raal, 2020). The changing virtual environment between digital technologies and humans, is akin to a living ecosystem that demands adaptation for survival in the Internet village.
This study aims to be in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act of Alberta (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 2000), and the Athabasca University Research Centre ethics (Athabasca University Research Ethics Board, 2004, 2016, 2020, 2021; Office of the Provost and Vice President, Academic, 2016). This research project does not involve human participants, human biological materials, or animals that is conducted by the following Athabasca University student – Steve Swettenham.