Open Access, Open Data, and Open Educational Resources

Category Archives: Open Licensing

Announcing: Electromagnetics, Volume 1 by Ellingson

Cover for Electromagnetics Volume 1


The University Libraries at Virginia Tech is pleased to announce publication of Electromagnetics, Volume 1 by Steven W. Ellingson.

Electromagnetics, Volume 1 is a 225-page peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbook intended for use in a one-semester, first course in undergraduate engineering electromagnetics. This course is typically taken by electrical engineering students in the third year of a bachelor of science degree program. The open textbook is currently being used in Virginia Tech’s ECE 3105 Electromagnetic Fields course. 

The book and its accompanying ancillary materials  (problem sets, solution manual, and LaTeX Logo for the Creative Commons license Attribution Share-Alike licensesource files) are open educational resources: freely available and openly licensed (CC BY SA 4.0). Freely downloadable versions are available at A softcover print version is available via Amazon.

Features of the book: The book is designed to resolve pressing instructional, technical and financial barriers faced by students and to provide instructors with flexibility in rearranging the text for preferred instructional sequences. By following best practices for open and digital textbook production, this book offers the following benefits: 

  • Field tested content: Students were directly involved in field testing and in contributing figures. The text was used in multiple sections by different instructors. Students and instructors provided feedback and suggestions for improvement; 
  • Features that enhance understanding: These include examples, highlighted concept boxes, discussion of notation (1.7) to reduce ambiguity, appendices on constitutive parameters of common materials, mathematical formulas, and physical constants, and end-of-chapter links to external reference information;
  • Supplementary learning materials: The book is accompanied by problem sets and worked solutions;
  • Reusable figures: All figures are openly licensed and may be redistributed with attribution. Many are available in .svg format in Wikimedia Commons;
  • Quality and clarity: The book is peer-reviewed and has undergone field testing, technical review, and professional copy editing;
  • User and contributor community: Readers are invited to submit feedback. Instructors reviewing, piloting, adopting, or adapting the text are invited to register their interest and sign up to receive updates, find others using the book, and share openly licensed ancillary resources they’ve developed;
  • Legal and no-cost access: Anyone with internet access can freely and legally access the text. This reduces financial pressure on students. Existing commercial texts in this field can retail new for as high as $200, or $100 for a one-semester rental;
  • Accessibility: Screen-reader friendly navigation structure, an index, and detailed, hyperlinked table of contents make it easier for readers to navigate within the text. All readers, and especially those with sight disabilities, benefit from alternative text “alt text” available for each figure;
  • Upfront permission to customize the text and figures: Adaptation and redistribution with attribution is allowed because of the book’s open license (CC BY SA); And,
  • Technical methods for customization: Users may create their own version of the text by modifying the LaTeX source. This gives flexibility to instructors who prefer to sequence course topics in a different order. Openly licensed LaTeX source files are available so that instructors and other authors may easily remix, reorder, or change the text in other ways. 
Page 120 from the book

Page 120 from Electromagnetics, Vol 1

Electromagnetics, Volume 1 is part of the Open Electromagnetics Project led by Steven W. Ellingson at Virginia Tech. The goal of the project is to create no-cost openly-licensed content for courses in undergraduate engineering electromagnetics. The project is motivated by two things: lowering learning material costs for students and giving instructors the freedom to adopt, modify, and improve their educational resources.

Electromagnetics Volume 2, which covers the second semester (ECE 3106) course is expected in January 2020.

Publication of this book was made possible in part by the University Libraries at Virginia  Tech’s Open Education Faculty Initiative Grant program and by collaboration with VT Publishing, the scholarly publishing hub of Virginia Tech.

About the author: Steven W. Ellingson ( is Associate Professor of Engineering at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia in the United States. He received PhD and MS degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Ohio State University and a BS in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Clarkson University. He was employed by the US Army, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Raytheon, and the Ohio State University ElectroScience Laboratory before joining the faculty of Virginia Tech, where he teaches courses in electromagnetics, radio frequency systems, wireless communications, and signal processing. His research includes topics in wireless communications, radio science, and radio frequency instrumentation. Ellingson serves as a consultant to industry and government and is the author of Radio Systems Engineering (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

A January 2018 blog post regarding the “beta,” field tested version of this book is available here.

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Electromagnetics Volume 1 (Beta): Virginia Tech’s Newest Open Textbook

VT Publishing and the University Libraries of Virginia Tech are pleased to announce publication of a second, new open textbook: Electromagnetics Volume 1 (Beta). (You can read about the first open textbook in an earlier blog post.) The textbook is in “beta” for a Virginia Tech course in Spring 2018 and will be revised and re-released with LaTeX source code, problem sets, and solutions in Summer 2018.

Electromagnetics Volume 1 (Beta) by Steven W. Ellingson is a 224 page, freely available, peer-reviewed, full color, print and digital open educational resource. It is intended to serve as a primary textbook for a one-semester first course in undergraduate engineering electromagnetics within the third year of a bachelor of science degree program.

Cover image of Electromagnetics textbook

Cover design: Robert Browder; Cover image: (c) Michelle Yost. Total Internal Reflection (cropped by Robert Browder) is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

The book is the work of Steven W. Ellingson, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech, in collaboration with the Scholarly Communication office of Virginia Tech’s University Libraries and VT Publishing. As collaborators with Ellingson, the University Libraries provided grant funding, overall project management, guidance on open licensing, attribution, student works, formats and styles, managed development and production processes, coordinated peer review, reviewed manuscripts (editorial and technical), provided technical specifications, and navigated print and distribution solutions.

A no cost downloadable version of Electromagnetics Volume 1 (Beta) is available here. A full color softcover printed version (ISBN: 978-0-9979201-2-3) is available at the cost of production and shipping from

The LaTeX authored text includes extensive use of mathematical equations, figures, adapted, and custom-created and openly licensed diagrams, worked and narrative examples. This book employs the “transmission lines first” approach, one of three approaches to teaching electromagnetics. However, other teaching approaches may find the work relevant, since its release under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license legally allows addition, adaptation (with required attribution), and redistribution of content. The resulting work is of significant value in opening new possibilities for teaching and learning: Electromagnetics Volume 1 (Beta) by Ellingson is the first known openly licensed textbook for electromagnetics.

Logo for the Creative Commons license Attribution Share-Alike

Electromagnetics Volume 1 (Beta) will be field tested in Virginia Tech’s ECE3106 Electromagnetic Fields course in Spring 2018, and then revised and re-released in Summer 2018 as a text adoptable for courses beyond Virginia Tech. LaTeX source files, problem sets, and solutions will be released contemporaneously in Summer 2018. The editor and author of this book encourage feedback from individuals, classes, and faculty viewing this book. Feedback and suggestions may be contributed using the online annotation tool, via a feedback form, or by emailing A Volume 2 and combined Volumes 1 & 2 are planned.

The intent of creating a remixable book for both internal use and free public release exemplifies trends within the Open Education movement and in higher education in general. These trends mirror aspects of the open source software movement and include public sharing under open licenses which allow contributions and adaptation (such as Creative Commons licenses), rewarding, valuing, and incorporating new ideas pertaining to teaching and learning, building collaborative faculty networks across multiple institutions, giving credit where due, and involving students as active contributors to course goals and/or the work of curricula and course design. Free public access is a start, but the possibilities for faculty, students, and others to create, openly license and share, freely adopt, adapt with attribution, and build open source systems for adaptation and sharing expand meaningful possibilities far beyond free access. These freedoms bode well for expansion of purposeful and engaging teaching and learning, the ability to leverage academic freedoms for broad, positive impacts on the common good, thoughtful conversations about ethics, incentives, voice, and access in the academy, and the advancement of innovative pedagogical practices and publicly available scholarly research which are already beginning to bear fruit.

I hope that many other faculty and institutions will take advantage of opportunities to create, adopt, adapt, and share openly licensed materials to fit their needs, the distinctive teaching and learning challenges and opportunities in their disciplines, the needs of their students, and beyond.

This textbook is part of the Open Electromagnetics Project led by Steven W. Ellingson at Virginia Tech. The goal of the project is to create no-cost openly-licensed content for courses in undergraduate engineering electromagnetics. The project is motivated by two things: lowering learning material costs for students and giving faculty the freedom to adopt, modify, and improve their educational resources.

Publication of this book was made possible in part by the Virginia Tech University Libraries’ Open Education Faculty Initiative Grant program which is led by Anita Walz, Scholarly Communication office, at the University Libraries, Virginia Tech. The goal of the grants program is to to encourage the use, creation, and adaptation of openly licensed information resources to support student learning. The author also thanks VT Publishing colleagues for their many contributions.

For more information on the origins of Creative Commons licenses, watch the short video “Get Creative: Being the Origins and Adventures of the Creative Commons Licensing Project” or visit the Creative Commons website.

About the author of Electromagnetics Volume 1 Beta: Steven W. Ellingson is an Associate Professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States. He received PhD and MS degrees in Electrical Engineering from The Ohio State University and a BS in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Clarkson University. He was employed by the US Army, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Raytheon, and The Ohio State University ElectroScience Laboratory before joining the faculty of Virginia Tech, where he teaches courses in electromagnetics, radio frequency systems, wireless communications, and signal processing. His research includes topics in wireless communications, radio science, and radio frequency instrumentation. Professor Ellingson serves as a consultant to industry and government and is the author of Radio Systems Engineering (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

A New Issue of Virginia Libraries on “Exploring Openness”

Virginia Libraries cover

Virginia Libraries (cover design by Brian Craig)

Virginia Libraries, the journal of the Virginia Library Association, has recently undergone some significant changes. Formerly a non-peer reviewed quarterly, it’s now an annual peer-reviewed volume, with a first issue on the theme “Exploring Openness” (full disclosure: I was a peer reviewer for two articles submitted for this issue, and fellow blogger Anita Walz authored an article on OER). A broad range of open-related topics is addressed, but for the sake of brevity I’d like to highlight two standout articles (please do check out the full table of contents).

The hype over MOOCs may be past, but I think dismissing them completely is premature. In Just How Open? Evaluating the “Openness” of Course Materials in Massive Open Online Courses (PDF), Gene R. Springs (The Ohio State University) examines the status of texts assigned in 95 courses offered by Coursera or edX. Of 49 courses listing a textbook, 20 of these were freely available; of 44 courses listing or linking to non-textbook readings, 31 linked to or embedded only freely available resources. It’s great to have this quantitative data on MOOC openness. There’s much more data in the article, which is a welcome contribution to the MOOC literature.

The second standout article in this issue is Contextualizing Copyright: Fostering Students’ Understanding of Their Rights and Responsibilities as Content Creators (PDF) by Molly Keener (Wake Forest University). It’s important that students know about the bundle of rights known as copyright both as consumers and creators in the knowledge ecosystem. Keener’s information literacy instruction employs scenarios relevant to students (included as an appendix) and incorporates copyright-related aspects of popular culture. Clearly such instruction is needed:

Most students are unaware that they own copyrights, or that simply because a photograph is free to access online does not mean that it is free to be reused.

Every university should have this kind of instruction to help students understand the environment in which information is created and used. Keener’s article is highly recommended.

While there’s almost everything to like about the new direction Virginia Libraries is taking, one oversight by the editorial board should be pointed out. At the bottom of the table of contents (PDF) the journal states the following:

The Virginia Library Association firmly espouses open access principles and believes that authors should retain full copyrights of their work. The agreement between Virginia Libraries and the author is license to publish. The author retains copyright and thus is free to post the article on an institutional or personal web page subsequent to publication in Virginia Libraries. All material in the journal may be photocopied for the noncommercial purpose of educational advancement.

It’s great that authors can retain copyright, but a journal cannot “firmly espouse open access principles” without openly licensing the content. Peter Suber succinctly defined OA as “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” This means content should not just be available but also openly licensed (many get the first part but not the second). Leading OA journals have published thousands of articles under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, which gives re-use permissions in advance. It’s also the license for this blog. Librarians should be more aware than most about copyright restrictions for sharing research, and Anita’s article in this issue gives a full list of Creative Commons licenses. Hopefully the editorial board will make Virginia Libraries fully OA by licensing future issues CC BY.

The co-editors of this special issue, Candice Benjes Small and Rebecca K. Miller, deserve praise for its quality and for helping the journal begin a new direction. Virginia Libraries is now seeking a volunteer to be the new editor (see the position description). Interested applicants should send a cover letter and résumé to Suzy Szasz Palmer at by July 24, 2015.

Open Education Week 2015 at Virginia Tech

The University Libraries is planning its first observance of Open Education Week (February 23-27) at Virginia Tech! Open Education Week is intended to raise awareness of open educational resources (OER), which include a wide range of teaching, learning, and research resources such as textbooks, videos, software, and course materials that are free to be used and re-purposed. All are welcome to attend and find out how adopting, adapting, and authoring openly licensed resources can advance learning and reduce costs for students. We’re especially pleased to have Kristi Jensen, Program Development Lead for the eLearning Support Initiative (University of Minnesota Libraries) and David Ernst, Chief Information Officer (University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development) from the University of Minnesota Open Textbook Library who will host the workshops on Thursday and Friday.

  • Interested in learning more about the conceptual and practical aspects of open licensing? Join us on Tuesday, Feb 24 11am-12:30pm in Newman Library’s 1st Floor Multipurpose Room for the interactive presentation “Get Creative (and Stay Legal).”
  • Wondering what students have to say about affordability of learning resources and how this affects them? Come to the Student Government Association-hosted panel discussion on Wednesday, Feb 25th 12:30-1:45pm (Newman Library’s 1st Floor Multipurpose Room).
  • Want to meet faculty who have authored or are implementing openly licensed resources/open textbooks in their courses? Join us for an Open House at 3:30pm Wednesday, Feb 25th and stay for the panel discussion from 4-5:30pm (Newman Library’s 1st Floor Multipurpose Room). Panelists include Peter Doolittle, Mohammed Seyam, Heath Hart, and Greg Hartman (VMI).
  • Do you advise or assist faculty regarding learning materials or instructional design? Do you work or are studying instructional design? Join us for an interesting conversation about open educational resources (OER) and instructional design on Thursday, February 26th 11am-12:15pm (with Kristi Jensen and David Ernst, Newman Library’s 1st floor Multipurpose Room).
  • Do you work in an area academic library and want to be better equipped to talk with faculty about exploring open educational resources? Register for the Open Educational Resources for Librarians workshop on Thursday, February 26th 1-2:30pm (with Kristi Jensen and David Ernst, Newman Library Boardroom, 6th floor).
  • Are you a faculty member responsible for reviewing or selecting textbooks or other learning materials? Are you looking for other options or concerned about the costs for students? Join us for the Open Textbook Adoption workshop Friday, February 27th 9-11am. A limited number of $200 stipends are available for teaching faculty who apply, attend the workshop, and write a review of an open textbook (with Kristi Jensen and David Ernst, Newman Library’s 1st Floor Multipurpose Room).

Open Education Week at VT

Why are we hosting Open Education Week?

The cost of textbooks and learning resources is a burden for students:

Faculty are saving their students money by adopting OER:

And OER gives faculty opportunities for innovative teaching and learning:

  • Faculty may create a new resource or customize an openly licensed resource to make it best fit their learning objectives.
  • Openly licensed content may be copied, updated, reformatted, customized, and redistributed free of charge. This gives a tremendous opportunity to faculty (and students) who wish to integrate content into new and different learning resources (for example, changing the formatting of a book to enhance student interaction with the text, or pulling content into different platforms, or customizing problem sets, assessments, and links to other resources).

See our Open Education Week guide for more information on events as well as OER in general. Please contact Anita Walz at or 540-231-2204 with any questions. Hope to see you at one or more Open Education Week events! #openedweek #openeducationwk

Which CC license?

You may have noticed that CC-BY license over there on the right-hand sidebar. That’s the basic Attribution license from Creative Commons. So why not non-commercial (NC), share-alike (SA), or no derivatives (ND)? And why use a CC license at all?

Two caveats: I am not a lawyer, and the dust has not settled on some of these issues. Creative Commons is currently finalizing version 4.0 of their licenses, and the documentation should be out in the next few months.

The purpose of CC licenses is to reduce the friction in the exchange of information. Without a CC license, if others want to use your work, they must weigh the four fair use factors (often quite fuzzy and subjective), or they must ask permission. The first is a judgement call (which might result in a lawsuit) and the second doesn’t scale very well. In academia, the emphasis should be on sharing and building knowledge, not on permissions and lawyers. Friction is removed from the system when authors give permissions in advance by using a CC license.

I’ve personally cycled through using a variety of CC licenses, based on a somewhat face-value interpretation of them. Unfortunately things can get complicated, and the meaning of terms is not always what you think. The best example is “noncommercial.” I interpreted this to mean that for-profit entities could not use my work, but non-profits like universities could. Not necessarily, according to CC’s FAQ:

“Please note that CC’s definition does not turn on the type of user: if you are a non profit or charitable organization, your use of an NC-licensed work could run afoul of the NC restriction; and if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term.”

I became concerned when opinions were issued that would even block use in teaching under a NC license (see a translated report from German Wikimedia/CC, summarized in this blog post, and see an excellent blog post by Peter Murray-Rust).

So what about share-alike (SA)? This is the “copyleft” condition that stands copyright on its head by requiring all subsequent use to invoke the same license, and best known for its use in Wikipedia . The problem is that this “viral” license is a restriction that prevents use by those not able to license the same way.

I use CC-BY for this blog and my archived work for the reasons mentioned by Peter Murray-Rust: it’s the simplest license, avoids restrictions, avoids “infecting” other licenses when aggregated with other works, enables text-mining and other automated uses, and is the license used by major OA journal publishers like PLOS and PeerJ.

I encourage you to use CC-BY whenever possible for your work, but read the licenses carefully and choose your own.

Open licensing to enable greater downstream use has been a part of the open access movement from the beginning, and it’s starting to get a lot more attention (e.g., How Open Is It?). Open access is more than just making material available on the Internet.

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