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Open e-Textbooks for Access to Music Education

Open e-Textbooks for Access to Music Education

This is the blog of the Open e-Textbooks for Access to Music Education project. This project is a collaboration between the Reid School of Music and Education, Design and Engagement, and is generously funded by a Student Experience Grant.

The Scale of Open: Re-purposing open resources for music education 

This is the transcript of a talk written by Lorna M. Campbell and Nikki Moran, presented at the OERxDomains21 Conference by Lorna M. Campbell, Kari Ding, Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu and Ana Reina Garcia.

Screen shot of the opening slide of the Scale of Open presentation showing the title of the talk and an image from the Scottish Metrical Psalter.Slide are available from Slideshare: The Scale of Open


This talk will reflect on how the University of Edinburgh’s strategic commitment to open knowledge has enabled the institution to reuse and repurpose open educational resources, in order to create new and innovative learning materials in a wide range of formats.

OER and Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh

At the University of Edinburgh, we believe that supporting the creation and use of all kinds of open education resources is strongly in keeping with our institutional vision and values; to discover knowledge and make the world a better place, and to ensure our teaching and research is accessible, inclusive, and relevant to society.

The University’s vision for OER has three strands, building on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment, and the university’s civic mission.

This vision is backed up by an OER Policy, approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, expand provision of learning opportunities, and enrich our shared knowledge commons.  And to support this policy, we have an OER Service that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, engaging with open education and developing information and copyright literacy skills.

University of Edinburgh MOOCs

Over the last 10 years, the University has shared a huge wealth of open content with the global knowledge commons, including hundreds of open educational resources, Wikipedia entries,  open licensed media resources, research data sets, open journals, historic images from the University’s collections, MOOCs and free short online courses.

MOOCs have been a cornerstone of the University’s commitment to opening access to high quality online learning opportunities, widening access to knowledge and community outreach since 2012 when the University signed its first partnership agreement with Coursera.  Since then, the University has launched over 80 MOOCs, running across three platforms, and engaged 3.7 million leaners.

Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC

One of the University’s earliest MOOCs was the Fundamentals of Music Theory.  This course was developed by Senior Lecturer Dr Nikki Moran and colleagues from the Reid School of Music and launched on Coursera in 2014.  The course introduces key concepts behind conventional Western music theory, providing students with the skills to read and write musical stave notation, and to apply this knowledge in analytical listening. The Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC has run continually since its launch in 2014 and over 200,000 learners have participated in the course over the last 7 years.

In order to ensure that course materials from our MOOCs are easily accessible to all users, high-quality videos from these courses are released under open licence through the University’s Open Media Bank, where they can be viewed and downloaded for re-use and repurposing under open licence.  There are now over 500 videos from 20 MOOCs available for free download and reuse from the Open Media Bank, with more content being added every day.

In 2019, with support from the University’s Learning Design Service, content from the Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC was repurposed to create a new 20 credit, Level 7 on-campus blended learning course for undergraduate students.  The University’s ELDeR learning design approach is adapted from the University of Northampton’s CAIeRO process. ELDeR is a creative, supportive and collaborative process, where participants tackle problems together, resulting in better solutions and strengthening the team.  Key improvements to the music course include the addition of learning outcomes addressing students’ critical and contextual awareness of the course content, new content addressing global decolonisation issues around music theory and music education, an extended resource List, and a course textbook, accompanying the video lectures repurposed from the MOOC. This course has now run for two years and is an integral component of the BMus Music (Hons) degree programme.

Open Textbooks and eBook Crisis

Although staff and students at the University of Edinburgh have created and shared a wide range of open educational resources, until recently, there has been relatively little engagement with open textbooks.  Although open textbooks are the predominant form of OER in many parts of the world, and are used extensively across all levels of education in both the US and Canada, they have not been widely adopted in the UK, despite the 2018 UK Open Textbooks project reporting significant and growing interest in the format.  Among its findings, this Hewlett funded project called for national level research into student experiences and what impacts, if any, textbook cost were having on their studies, plus additional research on how textbooks are used by educators in different regions, with different funding and tuition costs.

Open textbooks are once again in the spotlight as institutions are facing rapidly increasing e-textbook costs as they move away from print materials in response to the COVID pandemic and longer-term trends in academic publishing.  Campaigns such as #eBookSOS have been launched by academic librarians and concerned colleagues to raise awareness of publishing practices that are making ebooks unaffordable, unsustainable and inaccessible to university libraries, and are calling for the UK Government to investigate the practices of the academic ebook publishing industry.  Increasing adoption of open textbooks and open ebooks is one way to address these concerns and a number of institutions including the University of Edinburgh, NUI Galway, University College London, and University of Manchester are in the process of launching their own open presses.

At the University of Edinburgh, a number of academics have independently started creating their own open textbooks using Github Pages.  These textbooks primarily cover programming and technical topics and are available to access and download from Open.Ed.  At the same time, the University Library’s Open Journal Service, which already supports the publication of a wide range of academic and student-led Open Access journals, is expanding their service to provide an open textbook publishing platform based on Open Monograph Press from the Public Knowledge Project.

Open Textbooks for Access to Music Education Project

In late 2020, Dr Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning and champion of the University’s mission and vision for OER and open knowledge, suggested that repurposing content from the Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC to create an open textbook would be a useful way to explore the practicalities and affordances of ebooks.  Staff and students from the Reid School of Music came together with colleagues from the OER Service and were successful in securing a Student Experience Grant to undertake a small exploratory research project; Open Textbooks for Access to Music Education.   The University’s Student Experience Grants are small one-off contributions to support innovative projects and initiatives that will enhance students’ social, academic, entrepreneurial, sporting or cultural development.  This funding has enabled us to employ three part time students interns for a period of four months to work on this project.

The aim of the Open Textbooks for Access to Music Education project is to explore the potential of providing access to free, accessible, adaptable open textbooks, in a convenient and reusable open format, ideally suited to hybrid and online learning.  In addition to evaluating a range of different open textbook platforms the project will create a prototype open textbook comprised of existing content from the Fundamentals of Music Theory courses, which can be used for undergraduate teaching within the University, and made available more widely under open licence.  The development process will enable 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.

eBook Platform Evaluation

We began by exploring a range of ebooks and open textbooks and evaluating four open textbook platforms: Open Monograph Press, Manifold, PressBooks and Github Pages. A project blog was set up on the University’s Academic Blogging service so we can capture and reflect on our findings and disseminate the outputs of our project.

GitHub Pages is a subsidiary of GitHub which presents its content in the form of a website.  Although it is designed to be used by users with some experience of coding, this has been simplified using Jekyll, an extension that transforms plain text into static websites.  Although GitHub Pages has a big community to support new users, due to the short time scales of the project, we do not have the time to develop the coding skills to use this platform.

Manifold is a not-for-profit open-source platform created by the University of Minnesota press to read and publish e-books in multiple formats.  This platform is designed not only to publish but also to engage with readers and host discussions about the content published with varied tools such as annotation, sharing, highlighting, bookmarking, and commenting.  Manifold was considered one of the top choices of platform due to the simplicity of the user interface across different devices, ability to include supplementary resources in the main material, and unlimited ability to edit, update, and (re)export books.

Pressbooks is an open-source content management system designed for creating books and exporting them in multiple formats including PDF, EPUB, MOBI, Webbook, and HTML.

A great thing about this platform is that it is based on WordPress, a platform we are already familiar with, which would make the production process much easier.  However we were concerned that the University’s IT Services may not have the capacity to set up and maintain a new Pressbooks service at such short notice.

The University’s own Open Press Service is a new service based on Open Monograph Press, which is due to launch in May this year. We agreed that this seems like a great way to publish our book as we already have access to the platform, and the team of the Open Press service would be able to provide us with support and help with all the licensing, policies and indexing processes. The service is still in its final stage of development, so this will also be a good opportunity to assess the platform with the Open Press service to see if there are any practical issues.

Open Textbook Structure and Content

In order to ensure that our open textbook will be as accessible and reusable as possible to the wider public, we are planning to make the content available in a wide range of formats;  HTML, EPub, PDF, MP3, video and video transcripts.

Our book will be suitable for all levels of learners and structured in topics rather than chapters so that users can follow the content in any way that is useful to them. Each topic will be accompanied by an introduction that identifies other relevant topics.  For example “In order to get the most from this topic, you may find it useful to be familiar with the following topics…” and we also plan to create a visual overview that will illustrate how all the different topics overlap with each other.  It will not be necessary to work through the content in linear sequence.

Videos from the original Coursera MOOC and content from a Supporting Notes handbook developed for on campus course delivery will form the basis of the open textbook.  New material covering music theory in contextual critical global context will be added from the most recent run of the course and new video material will be added as it becomes available, replacing the older Coursera videos.  Content relating to the rudiments of musical notation will be drawn from existing sections of the course materials and collated into a new Rudiments topic.


To conclude, although our research project is still in its earliest stages, if it is successful, we hope this will  be a valuable first step in enabling the University to shift towards the use of open textbooks across a number of undergraduate courses.  This would benefit the University by reducing textbook costs, benefit staff by providing them with access to easily customisable open textbooks, and benefit students by providing them with free, high quality digital learning materials, while also providing free open educational resources for music learners world wide.  To find out more about our project and to follow our progress, please visit our project blog at

(Scottish Metrical Psalter, CC BY, University of Edinburgh)

(Scottish Metrical Psalter, CC BY, University of Edinburgh)

1 reply to “The Scale of Open: Re-purposing open resources for music education ”

  1. Professor Paul Hollins says:

    A Fascinating project on so many levels Lorna .

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