Open Genetics, Open Collaboration

Professors from several universities have collaborated to create a textbook that more easily correspond to their genetics lectures.

Understanding the basics of genetics is important to many fields including biology, medicine and agriculture. Meanwhile, having an introductory textbook that covers the information in a way that’s comprehensive without being overwhelming is a challenge. In fact, Professor John Locke (University of Alberta), and others at the, University of Calgary, and Mount Royal University have been trying to do just that for a few years.

They had started out with commercial textbooks, which Locke says had far too much information that students “could get lost in.” In 2009, another professor Michael Deyholos at the U of A started creating an in-house genetics textbook that would be an open educational resource, allowing instructors to add and delete information and use images in lectures.

“So, we’ve been running along, adding to the Open Genetics text for a couple of years. But this last summer everything fell into place. We were able to revamp and improve the information into a lectures textbook through the Alberta Open Educational Resources Initiative funding,” says Locke. The Centre of Teaching and Learning (U of A) also gave out a summer student scholarship that helped the team hire a summer student who also contributed to the revision of the material.

Working in conjunction with collaborators Todd Nickle (Mount Royal University) and Isabelle Barrette-Ng (University of Calgary), the U of A team developed a stream-lined text that specifically follows the current classroom lecture organization. Chapters are broken into smaller bits that more closely correspond to each lecture class. Locke calls this new arrangement Open Genetics Lectures with each chapter capable of being customized to any professor’s lecture.  Nickle and Barrette-Ng have also created on-line learning modules that facilitate learning the textbook content.

The new Open Genetic Lectures text saves students money as it costs $35 should they decide to buy the print version, as opposed to over $100 for a commercial textbook; it is also available as a free pdf download for any electronic device. Either way it provides them with a resource that’s easy to obtain, use, and understand. The new lecture notes have expanded on the original and have added about two-thirds more content than that of the original textbook. Meanwhile, the lectures use figures and questions to engage students in the material.

Other instructors can freely benefit from the large amount of work this team has put into creating this open-source text. “They can take the chapters they want or add new chapters that could contribute to the overall textbook. So, it’s share and share alike; and that give and take might be pretty useful. I hope it will take off in that sense,” says Locke.

The text is freely available at: