Month: January 2017

The Rebus Mantra: If We All Chip In, the Effort Will Be Minimal and the Benefits Great

Before the Rebus Community was officially founded, Hugh McGuire wrote a post on Medium about the large-scale collaboration we hope to achieve around open textbooks. Hugh is no stranger to this kind of collaboration, having founded Librivox, a community of volunteers who crowdsourced the world’s largest collection of public domain audiobooks. In the post, he channels a quote by theology prof and techno-evangelist, A.K.M. Adam (AKMA):

“If we all chip in, the effort will be minimal, and the benefits great.”

With about 10 open textbook projects in the works, one of the things we’re trying to do is make it easy for anyone to contribute, no matter how much time or energy they have to offer.

Or, to quote our community manager’s mother:

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Our working hypothesis is that the best way to foster such constructive collaboration on a global scale is to:

  1. Identify specifically what needs to be done for a book.
  2. Break the work down into manageable chunks that can be divided among many collaborators.
  3. Reach out to potential contributors directly in a targeted way, with a clear sense of the needs we’d like to fill.

We’ll be doing this for all the open textbook projects Rebus supports.

The process is best illustrated right now by the History of Applied Science and Technology open textbook led by Danielle Mead Skjelver of University of Maryland University College and University of North Dakota.

The editors envision the book as 19 chapters in total, each with many subsections, but instead of tackling the whole lot at once, we are focusing the search for authors and other collaborators on a small block of chapters to begin. This is the first bite of the elephant, and will become the first volume of the text.

A spreadsheet with the chapters for volume one and their specific needs are posted on the project post in the Rebus Community.

Currently we are going even more granular than that, and focusing on the first four unclaimed subsections of Chapter One of the text, which are starred below. Each subsection is roughly 1,000 words.

Chapter One: The Ancient World (before 500 BCE) – Farmers to Pharaohs
Prehistory: Human predecessors and tools (to include plant/animal domestication)
*Mayans & Olmecs
*Egypt, northeast Africa, and Sub-Saharan Mettallurgy, Medicine & Mathematics
Mesopotamia & the fertile crescent
The Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties of China
*The Indus River Valley civilisation and Vedic Age of India
*A New World: Transforming Egyptian and Babylonian Science

Potential contributors can express their interest by replying to the project post. And if you know someone, we hope you’ll help connect us–in the forum on Twitter or by email.

Contributors Wanted: Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students

We’re excited to announce the newest open textbook project to receive Rebus support: Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students.

The project began as a collection of resources that lead author Linda Frederiksen, head of access services at Washington State University Vancouver, used in her classes. After various attempts at a format for the materials, including one that integrated them into her institution’s learning management system, it became clear that an open textbook would be the most appropriate and helpful format for students.

Along with co-author Sue Phelps, Frederiksen will be spending her sabbatical updating and adding to the materials. The result will be a new open textbook on how to do library research, designed for graduate students in the education and nursing disciplines.

The authors will be seeking help with editing, proofreading and peer review in particular, as well as formatting, accessibility checks and classroom adoption.

If you’re interested in helping, see the project post and reply with a note about your interest and expertise.

You can also reach out to us by email at contact@rebus.community.

Making Open Textbooks Accessible: A Test Case

The Rebus Community is pleased to announce the latest addition to our stable of projects: Financial Strategy for Public Managers.

Led by Justin Marlowe of the University of Washington, this text is targeted at Master of Public Administration students, but could also serve as the core text for a range of undergraduate, graduate and professional education courses on public financial management.

In addition to being a great contribution to students and faculty in the area, this project will be serving as a special test case for the Rebus approach to accessibility. We understand the importance of accessibility and inclusive design when it comes to both the production and consumption of open textbooks and are working to ensure appropriate checks and tools are built into our processes (read more about our approach).

If you can help with reviewing, proofreading or promotion, you can sign up at the Financial Strategy project post. Or, if you can contribute to our work on accessibility, head over to the forum and add your name to the working group we’re forming.

Found: A Lead Editor for The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature

We are pleased to announce that The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature has a new lead editor. Timothy Robbins, an assistant professor of English at Graceland University, has joined the project and will be leading the charge to expand the range of texts covered in the anthology.

This second edition will continue the work pioneered by Robin DeRosa of Plymouth University, a champion of open pedagogy. Robin has written about how she and her students compiled the first edition in this post, and we are grateful for her support as we pick up where she left off.

Tim has used the Anthology in his own Early American Lit course and is dedicated to student collaboration and innovative teaching practices. His research interests include literature of the “Long Nineteenth Century” in the United States, and his Ph.D. focused on the works of Walt Whitman (so expect that section to grow!).

In the coming weeks, Tim will be taking the lead in developing a table of contents, and we’ll be looking for more volunteers to help with finding public domain texts, writing introductions and getting the book looking good.

A list of detailed tasks to be done will be available soon, so make sure you sign up to help and stay up to date on the project page in the Rebus Community forum.

Office Hours: Making Open Textbooks with Students

Office Hours: Making Open Textbooks with Students

Jan. 31 2 p.m. EST

Our next office hours will feature special guests Robin DeRosa, Steel Wagstaff, Amanda Coolidge, and others who work with students to create open textbooks and open content. The conversation will encompass pedagogy, faculty responsibilities, student rights and agreements when students work on open textbooks and OER projects.

RSVP for the session. You can join the call here: https://zoom.us/j/935518135 (NOTE: This link has changed due to the session’s popularity.)

If you have any questions, or have difficulty entering the call, email us at contact@rebus.community.

How Rebus Can Help if You’re Already Doing Open Textbooks

We’ve gotten a lot of questions about how the Rebus Community can help if you are already creating open textbooks.

Those and related questions are answered in this (slightly edited) conversation between Hugh McGuire and Rebus Community member Billy Meinke of University of Hawaii, in the Rebus Community forum.

BILLY: Is there any info about what the advantages to using the [Rebus] Community Press [Pressbooks instance] are? I imagine many members are using a local instance of Pressbooks (with their own swath of plugins, or not) that may not jive with how the Community Press is set up. I personally can’t see using a Pressbooks instance that my faculty collaborators won’t have access to, and I don’t expect them to join this community anytime in the near future.

HUGH: Hi Billy, we’re actually about to have a call to discuss how to handle the issues you’ve raised … Basically, how do we:

  • clarify criteria/requirements for using the Rebus Community / tools
  • clarify/express the advantages doing Open Textbooks through the Rebus Community
  • deal with the very reasonable questions you’ve asked

In general, we are trying to solve three core problems with Open Textbook publishing, none of which has much to do with specific tools used to produce the text itself.

The things we are trying to solve are:

1/ Deciding (together) on the best-practice things that ought to happen in a good Open Textbook publishing process, among others:

  • instructional design
  • copyediting
  • creation of or sourcing of illustrations
  • copyright checks for images & assets
  • proofreading
  • peer reviewing
  • good formatting/HTML massaging
  • accessibility reviews & audits
  • metadata management
  • distribution to repositories, libraries
  • getting adoption of the text in classrooms
  • Etc?

2/ How do we build an open and collaborative process so all these things can get done, in a systematic way, for “all” Open Textbooks (going through the Rebus Community process)

3/ How do we build a global community of people who care about OER that will help do all the things discovered in No. 1?

So, if you have authors using whatever tools (your own PB instance, ours, something else altogether) to produce their textbook… how are they addressing the other parts of the process above? Will you or U Hawaii do this for them? Will they forgo parts of it?

BILLY: Thanks for the thoughtful reply. These are things to solve, but the REBUS project is in a good position to work towards it.

Re. the Open Textbook publishing process, there is a lot that can be borrowed from publishing workflows like those used by academic journals as well as instructional design companies. There are, however, unique challenges presented when doing this “out in the open” in terms of:

1) signaling when/where/what help is desired and

2) vetting the competency of individuals that want to contribute.

We are working out how this can function locally (in the UH system) but it will involve training/certification in copyright, basic instructional design, and using WordPress/Pressbooks. The signaling/tracking part hasn’t been approached yet.

IME open source projects tend to rely on task completion checklists done in project management tools like Waffle.io or Trello, or in documents as simple as Google spreadsheets.

I’m inclined to think that drafting the publishing process/workflow out in the open, accepting feedback from the REBUS/OTN community, and then piloting it with some Open Textbook projects would help it “stick” with the community of OER advocates that will be using it.

The other factor to consider is that many authors/editors/contributors may not be familiar with the tools or methods used in F/OSS projects.

HUGH: See some comments inline below:

the Open Textbook publishing process, there is a lot that can be borrowed from publishing workflows like those used by academic journals as well as instructional design companies. There are, however, unique challenges presented when doing this “out in the open.” …

Agreed. There are lots of existing processes that we need to lean on & learn from. The ones you’ve mentioned, plus open creation projects (LibriVox, Wikipedia), Open Source Software, and more.

But Open Textbooks will have their own set of needs/constraints, and I believe if we want to start making Open Textbooks truly at scale, we’ll need to approach that challenge as a global community & develop “system-wide” solutions, rather than, for instance, every campus with an OER mandate re-inventing the wheel. What OpenSUNY & BCcampus know about creating Open Textbooks should be “baked” into a shared process, that we can all benefit from … ditto what U Hawaii is doing, or will do.

And, we view our role as trying to encourage all of us to work together to find these solutions & hopefully start baking them into some software and approaches to these problems.

… 1) signaling when/where/what help is desired …

yes, this is our v0.1 software thought as well – how do we start surfacing:

  • a) projects that are happening
  • b) what they need (and when)

and just as importantly, how can we build ways to broadcast these needs to a global community who are willing to help.

… and 2) vetting the competency of individuals that want to contribute…

Yes, especially with OTs, we need to be cautious about “who gets to do what” … This is why we’re not approaching this with, eg, the Wikipedia model (anyone can edit!). Rather, it’s a matter of:

  • a) identifying the sorts of things that need to be done, and
  • b) finding ways to communicate to the people we want doing them.

For instance, you want chapter authors to be “experts”, and you want chapter reviewers to be expert as well. However, a chapter proofreader could be from a wide range of backgrounds, expertise.

… We are working out how this can function locally (in the UH system) but it will involve training/certification in copyright, basic instructional design, and using WordPress/Pressbooks. The signaling/tracking part hasn’t been approached yet…

Well, I wonder: could we work with you on this … rather than having that knowledge/process live within UH, wouldn’t it be great if this got baked into a “global system” that anyone working on OTs could benefit from? And, assuming that similar things are happening at, say BCcampus, it would be great to be able to exchange and build on these processes for everyone.

This is really what Rebus is trying to do.

… IME open source projects tend to rely on task completion checklists done in project management tools like Waffle.io or Trello, or in documents as simple as Google spreadsheets. …

Right. Our approach at Rebus has been to say: there are lots of tools out there that solve various problems, and we should use whatever works out of the box.

However there will be certain specific needs that Open Textbook publishing will have, and we’d like to do our best – with a community of practitioners, like, er you! – to better understand those needs, and where necessary, build software that solves specific pain points not solved already by existing tools.

… The other factor to consider is that many authors/editors/contributors may not be familiar with the tools or methods used in F/OSS projects….

That is a big issue, I think, and it’s one reason why we didn’t say: Use GitHub! Use Slack! Use Trello! We need to get a better feel for how people actually want to work on OTs, and stitch tools around that “natural” workflow, rather than either forcing tools onto people, or worse, building from scratch before we have a real understanding of how people will work.

POSTSCRIPT: After this conversation, Billy wrote a helpful post detailing research on production workflows for OER.

If you’d like to continue the conversation, or you’re interested in knowing more about how Rebus can help your open textbook projects, join the Rebus Community forum.

The Rebus Approach to Accessibility & Inclusivity

In part one of our series on accessibility, we covered what accessibility is and why it’s important. Now, learn about what we’re doing to ensure accessibility for the open textbooks we support.

How Do We Ensure Accessibility & Inclusivity of the Open Textbooks Created with Rebus Support?

The Rebus Community is committed to ensuring that all Open Textbooks coming through the Rebus process go through (and pass!) an accessibility audit, and indeed that we build accessibility right into the authoring process.

Currently we are using an in-progress open textbook, Financial Planning in Public Policy, as a pilot/test case for developing an accessibility audit on Rebus Community supported books.

The idea behind what we are proposing is to:

  1. make sure that authors making Open Textbooks are aware of good accessibility practice from the start of the process
  2. help them easily implement good accessibility practice
  3. provide a standard accessibility audit process after an Open Textbook is created (possibly with some tools associated)
  4. provide a mechanism to “fix” accessibility problems found in the audit process
  5. have an “accessibility stamp of approval” for projects that have successfully passed the accessibility audit

Collaborators will be developing an accessibility checklist, which we will then apply to the book, along with figuring out next steps for what such a process should look like.

This process is being undertaken in partnership with the Inclusive Design Research Center at OCAD University and the University of Washington. Follow updates on this topic on the project post in the Rebus Community forum.

For more on accessibility and universal design, check out these resources:

Pressbooks EDU Guide chapter on Accessibility and Universal Design
BC Campus Accessibility Toolkit

What is Accessibility?

At Rebus, we’re committed to ensuring that all Open Textbooks coming through the Rebus process are accessible. In fact, we are working on building accessibility right into the authoring process.

What do we mean by accessibility?

Accessibility is the term used for, roughly, “making it easy for people with disabilities (say people with visual impairments, people with learning disabilities, among others) to access content.” See:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_accessibility

In general the web is good at this … there is markup “behind” the text that you see on a webpage, and that markup (if done correctly) is semantic, meaning it tells you things about the kind of content you are reading. (This is not the case with, for example, a paper book, many PDFs, and some EPUBs).

For instance, in Pressbooks, you get markup that looks something like:

<h1 class=“chapter-title”>Chapter  Title</h1>

<h2>Section title</h2>

Some content.

<h3>Subsection title</h3>

More content.

Usually that semantic markup is translated into visual styling (bold text, etc.), so that a reader can distinguish different chapter/section levels, and this information is processed “automatically” as part of reading.

In the case, for instance, of a visually impaired user of content, who is using a screen reader (software that “reads” the text out loud to the user), the fact that the content uses semantic markup means that the screen reader tool “knows” that h1 is  a chapter title, h2 is a section title etc.

Another common use case is “alt tags” on images … which in good accessibility practice can/should describe the image so that someone using a screen reader can be told what is in the image automatically, even if they cannot see it.

Next: Read about what we’re doing to ensure the accessibility of open textbooks created with Rebus support.

Call for Contributors: A Guide to Authoring Open Textbooks

Are you an open textbook champion who wants to help others by sharing your experience producing open textbooks? Melissa Falldin of the University of Minnesota and Karen Lauritsen of the Open Textbook Network are producing a guide to authoring open textbooks and they’re looking for contributors.

The guide will be for authors or project managers/librarians working with faculty authors who want to write an open textbook.

Currently the editors are seeking authors for two chapters; Institutional Considerations and Writing Recommendations (see the project page for a full description). The project in progress is a first-edition release. Once it is complete and published, the authors will seek feedback to inform future iterations.

Interested in helping? You can let us know by doing the following:

  1. Read the project page in the Rebus Community forum.
  2. Register for the forum and reply to the authors with your interest.

Or, if you have more questions, you can also email contact@rebus.community.

authoring open textbooks image

Call for Contributors: Foundations of Biology

Would you like to help create an Open textbook for biology survey courses at community colleges?

“Foundations of Biology” is being led by a group of authors at Greenfield Community College who are looking to adapt two OpenStax textbooks (Biology and Concepts of Biology) to create a version suitable for the mixed groups that are taught in a community college setting. The project is one of a handful of Open Textbooks being created with the support of the Rebus Community for Open Textbook Creation.

We’re looking for people to help with getting the existing OpenStax texts into the Rebus Community Press (which means some Pressbooks wrangling), checking accessibility requirements and proofreading.

Interested in helping? You can let us know by doing the following:

  1. Read the project page in the Rebus Community forum.
  2. Register for the forum and reply with your interest.

Or, if you have more questions, you can also email contact@rebus.community.