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.

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