To get a good paper written, you only have to rewrite a good draft; to get a good draft written, you only have to turn a series of notes into a continuous text. And as a series of notes is just the rearrangement of notes you already have in your slip-box, all you really have to do is have a pen in your hand when you read (Ahrens, 2017, p. 74).

Chris Aldrich shared a great idea the other day in the Liquid Margins Webinar on November 16, 2021Robin DeRosa moderated the discussion and featured instructors who had used with their students to annotate open educational resources (OER) and in some cases to create OER. The chat was lively, fun, and full of great ideas. One of the best meetings of this kind I’ve attended in a very long time.

Recently, I reread a post from Robin DeRosa about her collaboration with students in the development of an open textbook for her American Literature course. If you have any interest in OER, open textbooks, open pedagogy,, or Pressbooks, you may be interested in this post. Although I have never undertaken a project like this, I am interested and this post is full of useful information. And it’s also full of “you can do this” encouragement. For a project with so many technical, pedagogical, intellectual property, privacy, and other issues to consider, I find myself appreciating the spirit she brought to her post.

During the webinar, Chris made a suggestion that intrigued me and seemed to build on Robin’s excellent post. I’m paraphrasing his chat but basically, he suggested that an instructor could use the approach described by Sönke Ahrens in his book, How to take smart notes with students, over time and in a distributed manner. If the approach to writing a good manuscript could be broken down into the steps below, could the same approach be applied to the incremental, distributed creation of an open textbook or OER?

  1. Slip-box notes
  2. Series of arranged notes
  3. Continuous text
  4. Draft
  5. Paper

Consider students who are learning about an area for the first time, Mayer’s (2009) Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, for example. Could the creation of an open textbook start with the production of so-called “slip-box notes”?

Another presenter during the webinar explained how she used with students to highlight topics, tag them using an agreed-upon list or taxonomy, and the provide some justification for the decision to include said item as part of the collection of resources under that topic. Those students could then discuss whether the decision matched their understanding of the topic. When I think of a first step like this, I imagine replacing the discussion forums in my courses with annotation-driven discussions. And I get excited!

There are lots of other great possibilities to explore. And while I am unsure about the prospect of creating an entire open textbook, I feel much more confident that I can engage students in the process of creating simple notes. And I am grateful to Chris, Robin, and the other speakers and commenters during the webinar the other day!

Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers (1 edition). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia Learning (2 edition). Cambridge University Press.

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