The Social Construction of Openness

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While the buzz around “openness” in education has grown steadily in the past decade, there has been limited reflection in educational research on what exactly “open” means in a digital world, how it functions on the ground, and how it is interpreted in various contexts. Using a qualitative research design, this article explores different perspectives on openness, and how these perspectives are shaping the implementation of open textbooks in undergraduate education in California. A sociotechnical approach, the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), was used to analyze forty-two interviews with key stakeholders in the open textbook arena and a number of text documents including grant applications, institutional policy documents and reports, as well as relevant websites. Overall, the findings reveal significant differences in the interpretations of two primary groups—producers and users of open textbooks, as well as important differences based on institutional and disciplinary context. The incongruence in perceptions provides an interesting explanation of the difficulties and unanticipated outcomes associated with open textbook implementation.