The UCT Open Textbook Award: Promoting Participation and Parity in Teaching and Learning

26 January 2021 | DVC A/Prof Lis Lange

Dear colleagues and students

I am very pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural University of Cape Town (UCT) Open Textbook Award, which recognises outstanding and/or influential open textbooks written by UCT staff and students.

The UCT Open Textbook Award carries a value of R30 000. It is an initiative of the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, in collaboration with the Digital Open Textbooks for Development project in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching.

Open textbooks are an important way to promote inclusivity, diversity, accessibility, and transformation in higher education. They are digital, free to use, openly licensed, scaffolded teaching materials. (In the context of teaching and learning, scaffolding refers to the practice of breaking up the learning material into smaller units, each with its own structure or tool to assist with learning.)

Open textbooks can be broadly defined as digital collections of course-related teaching and learning content. They are published under an open licence, on platforms that allow users to incorporate the information into multimedia or different print formats and to modify the various content components. They can be read online or printed and distributed economically. In this way they eliminate the need for costly publishing and marketing professionals and make important teaching and learning content available to a far wider audience, including many who could not afford to buy traditional textbooks. But the quality of open textbooks maintains high standards: like traditional textbooks, they are written by academics and disciplinary experts, and are therefore subject to rigorous academic review.

While addressing the prohibitive cost of traditional textbooks, open textbooks also allow for a more democratic, inclusive approach to resource creation. In short, they allow students to participate as creators and reviewers of content. In this way, open textbooks offer a way to address current social injustices in higher education related to economic maldistribution, cultural misrecognition, and political misrepresentation.

The UCT Open Textbook award is a symbol of our institutional commitment to supporting ongoing work in this area. It supports an explicit social justice agenda, by rewarding activities that contribute to the university’s transformation efforts. In line with this approach, the award recognises open textbook development efforts that address any of the following areas: curriculum transformation, pedagogical innovation, inclusion of students and marginalised voices, disability access, relevance to local context, multilingualism and technical innovation.

The 2020 Open Textbook Award is shared by Professor Johan Fagan and Dr Michael Held for their respective contributions to the open access teaching and learning of two important healthcare fields.

Professor Fagan’s Open Access Atlas of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Operative Surgery, published in 2017, includes contributions from authors in 23 countries and provides step-by-step descriptions of surgical procedures. It aims to address the lack of access to textbooks experienced by students and practitioners in developing countries – and its success in this goal is borne out by the fact that it has had more than 2 million downloads. Components of the textbook have been translated into French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Dr Held’s Orthopaedics for Primary Health Care, published in 2020, was produced by the Learning Innovation via Orthopaedic Network, which aims to improve learning and teaching in orthopaedics in Southern Africa and to provide much-needed, locally authored learning materials which are tailored to local pathology and circumstances. The content creation process was strongly student-focused: students participated in the process of identifying key aspects to incorporate in the textbook and the undergraduate teaching curriculum. The textbook content is supplemented by videos created by UCT medical students to demonstrate procedures.

Please join me in congratulating Professor Fagan and Dr Held, not only for receiving this distinguished award, but for creating open access materials that are helping to equip and train health practitioners in developing countries with the skills to save and improve lives. Their work embodies UCT’s goal of being not only the best in Africa but the best for Africa.


Associate Professor Lis Lange
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning

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