Open e-Textbooks for access to music education

Painting of person standing at the edge of the sea with their hat floating on the water
Original artwork by Kelly Zou, MA Illustration student at Edinburgh College of Art

For the Mini-series “Open for Good: Five Years of Open Education Resources at the University of Edinburgh” we’re sharing an exciting new project. The  OER Service and the Reid School of Music are delighted to have received a Student Experience Grant in order to undertake a research and development project to explore creating an open e-textbook from the Fundamentals of Music Theory course.

Undergraduate and postgraduate student interns from the Reid School of Music are working with the OER Service and Senior Lecturer in Music Dr Nikki Moran to scope open textbook platforms and convert the existing course content into open e-textbook format so it can be used by staff and students both within and beyond the University in a convenient and reusable open format.

The Fundamentals of Music Theory resources were originally created for a successful Coursera MOOC six years ago, with input from the University’s Learning Design Service, they have since been redeveloped as the basis of a 20 credit, Level 7 on-campus blended learning course of study, with the addition of new content and learning outcomes to support students’ critical and contextual awareness of the course content and addressing global decolonisation issues around music theory and music education.

These high-quality resources are ideally suited for further repurposing to create an open textbook, increasing the use of this tried-and-tested content, and making it available to teachers and learners in an accessible format ideally suited to hybrid and online learning.

The University is facing rapidly increasing e-textbook costs as it moves away from print materials in response to the COVID pandemic and longer-term trends in academic publishing. This project will enable colleagues to gain valuable experience in the process of creating open e-textbooks, which we hope can be applied to future projects including creating open alternatives for undergraduate course textbooks, and making online course content available in multiple formats.

Although open textbooks are the predominant form of OER in North America and are used extensively across all levels of education in both the US and Canada, they have not been widely adopted in the UK. Colleagues around the University have recently started creating open textbooks on Github, including R @ R(D)SVS, Online Experiments for Language Scientists, and Univariate Statistics & Methodology in R (USMR). The prototype Music Theory open textbook will help us to explore and evaluate different open textbook platforms, learn about the logistics and practical process of creating open textbooks from existing content, and whether it will be feasible to extend this to further open textbook projects.

Working with colleagues from OER Service, our student partners are developing valuable digital and copyright literacy skills including an understanding of open educational resources, open licenses and open e-textbooks, familiarity with current e-textbook applications, and experience of working with existing digital content and educational resources across a range of platforms.

We hope this project will be a valuable first step in enabling the University to shift towards the use of open textbooks across a number of undergraduate courses, benefiting the University by reducing textbook costs, benefiting staff by providing access to easily customisable open textbooks, and benefit students by providing free, high quality digital learning materials.

Our student partner’s thoughts:

I did not know how important open books were; the impact that they could have, not just academic, but in general public. I think this is a wonderful initiative from such a big institution like the University of Edinburgh to share knowledge with anyone ready to learn or work with music theory. I am developing new skills working in a team and from home, learning how to manage both university and project tasks as well as learning the steps involved in the production and publication of a book. I am very happy to be able to contribute to this necessary project, even if it is in a small way. Ana Reina, 3rd year MA Music student.

Similarly to Ana, I am fascinated by the importance of open education resources and the possibilities it presents to share resources across the globe, hereby, making learning materials freely and readily accessible to everyone. Through research and meetings with representatives from the OER and LTW services, I have been able to develop further understanding about many other things that is involved in writing an open e-textbook such as the creative commons, copyrighting, digital skills for compiling materials, and various publishing platforms. The blogging element of this project has also helped me to reflect on the process of creation and writing about this in a manner that can be helpful to anyone who is interested in creating an open e-textbook at the University of Edinburgh and beyond. Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu, 2nd Year BMus Music student.

In Hong Kong I have worked on Science Education in the University of Hong Kong, and I have also taught in vocational college. These education-related experiences made me understand the importance of good materials. I also met numerous students who wanted to learn more by exploring themselves. Hence, I recognize how beneficial open textbook can be. This open e-textbook project is the first time I work in the field of music education. I not only hope my experience can contribute to the making of this new resource, but also hope that I can develop my skills and knowledge.
Kari Ding, MMus Musicology student.

Follow along on the dedicated project blog

photograph of the authorStephanie (Charlie) Farley

Stephanie (Charlie) Farley  is the Open Educational Resources (OER) Advisor with Information Services Group(ISG), providing OER, copyright and open licensing training across the University. Charlie is an advocate of playful engagement and learning, running the popular OER Game Jams and Gif It Up workshops, and the creator of the award winning 23 Things for Digital Knowledge programme. In 2018/19 as part of an Innovation Fund project she developed a Playful Engagement Strategy for ISG.

Lorna Campbell

Lorna M. Campbell is a Learning Technology Team Manager leading the University’s OER Service based in Information Services Group, where she provides strategic support on open knowledge, OER, open licensing and academic blogging. Lorna has almost twenty years experience working in education technology and has a long standing commitment to supporting open education technology, policy and practice. She is a Trustee of Wikimedia UK, and the Association for Learning Technology. Lorna blogs at Open World,, tweets regularly at @lornamcampbell, and is a member of the #femedtech network.

photograph of the authorKelly Zou

Kelly Zou is a storyteller, illustrator, and ex-programmer. She is based in UK and currently studying MA in Illustration in Edinburgh College of Art. She has been the recipient of Honorable Mention in the 2019 3×3 Illustration Awards, her works were chosen for 2019 and 2020 Asia Illustrations Collections, and she is also the illustrator of the book “The Lost Flower Children” by Janet Taylor Lisle published in China. She loves telling stories.

Instagram: @kelly_zxj

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