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OER Faculty Fellow Paul Webb on the Benefits and Challenges of Self-Publishing Open Content

By Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian


Last month’s article Sticker-Shock Sparks Faculty-Librarian Collaboration with OER provided our readers with a brief overview of the OER (open educational resources) movement and how RWU is not only a participant, but a leader.  Today we’d like to highlight one of our seven OER Faculty Fellows, Paul Webb, who is a Professor of Biology and has been at RWU since 1999. He teaches a number of biology and marine biology courses in the fields of oceanography, zoology, animal behavior, and animal physiology.  Like many faculty members, Professor Webb was having difficulty identifying a textbook that encompassed all of the content he felt necessary to teach his courses – a book without all of the “extra stuff”.  For his introductory level oceanography course he decided to take a bold and innovative approach: write and self-publish his own textbook under an open license.  Webb’s decision to publish his own textbook did far more than save his students from having to purchase another expensive textbook, it also encouraged an analysis of his pedagogy, allowed him the flexibility to pull content from his own notes and other open resources, and provided him with the autonomy to exclude irrelevant or extra content that often is included when a publisher enforces strict word count requirements.

Introduction to Oceanography
The process of creating OER may seem intimidating, and it does come with its own list of challenges, but with the proper support and planning, it is possible.  Let’s take a closer look at how Professor Webb published his own textbook. To begin, he gathered his own collection of notes which he used to teach the course over the years, identified areas which he needed to expand upon, located chapters from other open textbooks to supplement his original writings, and searched for illustrations and images that were free and available to use without restrictions.  Webb then identified a platform on which to publish his textbook, and settled on PressBooks, a user-friendly book writing software that allows authors the ability to easily turn a manuscript into an e-book or print book for a minimal cost to the author ($100).  With PressBooks, he was able to add content at his own pace, upload and add illustrations and images to accompany text, and share the book and individual chapters with his students via PDF and many other e-book formats for free.  Students can opt to print the entire book or just selections from it, and can work directly with the e-copy on their laptop or e-reader. Having the freedom to create and share his own textbook with his students has had many benefits, but we cannot ignore the challenges which the process itself has also posed along the way:

  • Locating quality public domain images
  • Writing chapters on topics he’s not as familiar with when he was unable to locate previously written content using other open sources
  • Properly citing open content
  • Wondering how this non-traditional contribution of scholarship in his field will be valued (or not) in the tenure/promotion process

Introduction to Oceanography


These challenges (and others) are common among anyone who opts to create open content, whether it be a textbook, course pack or other academic ancillaries.  As librarians, we do our best to investigate how we can work together with faculty to support these types of challenges as well as celebrate the successes and contributions that are made to the OER movement.  Roger Williams University is incredibly fortunate to be able to call Professor Webb one of our own.  His hard work and dedication to not only his students but also to his academic colleagues around the world cannot be overlooked.  Thanks to his new textbook, students and faculty worldwide will be able to apply the 5 R’s of OER:

Introduction to Oceanography

Retain – Make and own copies

Reuse – Use in a wide range of ways

Revise – Adapt, modify, and improve

Remix – Combine two or more OER

Redistribute – Share with others



Our next article will highlight Marcella Recher, an adjunct faculty member in the Sustainability Studies program at RWU and another one of our esteemed OER Faculty Fellows.


Images courtesy of Paul Webb