University Library assists with creation of open, interactive online textbook

'Easy to keep updated and free to use for students and lecturers'

01/06/2020 | 1:35 PM

'Research in Environmental Toxicology is developing at such a pace that textbooks are quickly going out of date', says Sylvia Moes, Educational Support Innovation Manager at the University Library. With a project team of environmental toxicologists and environmental chemists from six Dutch universities, she has compiled an open online textbook on Environmental Toxicology. 'This way, the book is easy to keep updated and it can be used free of charge by students and lecturers all over the globe.' SylviaMoesKlein

Easy to integrate into a digital learning environment
The book has six chapters that are modular in structure. Each module has 1,000 to 2,000 words and clear learning objectives. Some modules contain questions to guide independent study, video clips or knowledge clips. As Moes explains, lecturers and students can download the chapters separately in PDF format. 'Lecturers can copy the chapters – with their design, layout and features intact – to a digital learning environment like Canvas and alter them to suit their needs. For example, they can add or remove images and text.'

Easy to continually update
Moes: 'Every time a printed book is published, it costs a lot of money. This open online textbook can be continually updated without changing the URL. Sixty-five authors from many European countries collaborated on the book, so we could divide the workload. The book was peer reviewed and contains the most up-to-date knowledge. SETAC, the European Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, will be involved in the ongoing development of the book. As there were 65 authors who worked on the book, it will be used to support teaching in many locations across Europe.'

Digital platform Wikiwijs selected
Moes advised the project group and the project leader, VU researcher Kees van Gestel, on the creation of the book. 'We looked at which digital platform was most suitable for creating an interactive book with that many authors. The key criteria were user-friendliness, no charge for use, and the ability to continually update the online book. We looked at six platforms and concluded that Wikiwijs was the best, so that’s the one the project group selected.'

Checking copyright and searching for open educational resources
Moes’s assistance didn't stop there. She also set up the structure of the book, taught lecturers how to use Wikiwijs, checked copyright, searched for open educational resources and facilitated access to the book. 'We’re currently using the Merlot repository, but in the future, the book will also be available in SurfSharekit, the national online repository for higher education. I also acted as the liaison with the book designer and I hired an illustrator to create images for which we couldn't find open source options.'

Powerful tool
Moes says that an open online interactive textbook is a very powerful tool. 'As a university library, we would be happy to apply the experience we’ve gained with Wikiwijs on this project, along with our knowledge of copyright and open educational resources, to assist any VU lecturers who want to make a similar book.'

Creating an open online book is a lot of work
VU researcher Kees van Gestel is enthusiastic about the support he received from Sylvia Moes. 'It was particularly useful to be able to draw on Sylvia's enormous knowledge and experience in developing the book, selecting a platform and ultimately publishing the book in an open online environment. Creating an open online book is a lot of work and there are many things that, as a researcher, you don’t immediately think of but which are crucial to the success of a project like this one. I would recommend that any lecturers who want to create a similar book should include someone from the University Library in their project team or consult them about all the details of online publishing, platform selection, copyright matters, didactic aspects, etc.'
Preparation of this book was subsidised by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science via SURF. KeesvanGestelKlein

You can view the book at

Read more about the goal and development of the book here: