Office Hours Recap & Video: OER Workflows for Open Textbooks

In this month’s Office Hours, organized by Rebus Community and the Open Textbook Network, special guests and participants discussed their experiences with OER workflows.

Watch the video or read a recap of the session below.

Guests included Allison Brown, SUNY Geneseo; Rebel Cummings-Sauls, Kansas State University; Billy Meinke, University of Hawaii; and Anthony Palmiotto, OpenStax.

Karen Lauritsen of the Open Textbook Network introduced this month’s guests, asking them to briefly describe the processes they use when making open textbooks.

Billy Meinke, an OER technologist at UHawaii, works with faculty at his institution to shepherd them through the process of creating OERs. He shared an OER workflow diagram that he created, which provides a high-level view of the major steps involved in adopting and adapting an OER: priming, pre-production, design, development, and publishing. In order to make for more efficient workflows, Billy said, OER training at all UHawaii campuses also now includes Pressbooks training, to make individuals comfortable with the software they use for book production.  

Rebel Cummings-Sauls is the director for the Centre for Advancement of Digital Scholarship at Kansas State University and specializes in copyright and Open Access. KSU provides grant funding for faculty to create open access textbooks and resources. Rebel said KSU prefers faculty to complete the resources commissioned within a year, though projects can take longer. Payment is one incentive she uses to keep projects on track. Rebel mentioned that one factor that can cause delays is that faculty members often want more rounds of private feedback on their textbook before it goes public.

Anthony Palmiotto is the editorial director at OpenStax, which creates open textbooks that are competitive with market-leading texts for specific college courses and makes them available free on the OpenStax website, generally under CC BY licenses. The OpenStax workflow begins with preparation: collecting market research, competitive benchmarking, educational research, length requirements, and so on. OpenStax involves faculty in this process, reaching out to them via surveys and at conferences. Often those who get involved in this way will continue to work on the project in later stages. OpenStax selects a team of faculty to work on the book as authors and reviewers. Later stages of production include revisions, originality checking, art rendering, fact checking and accessibility checks, and XML production. Anthony said OpenStax books typically take 18 months to 2 years to reach completion.

Allison Brown joined us from OpenSUNY, and described the production process for SUNY’s open textbooks. After a manuscript has been received, the workflow includes peer review, author revisions, copy editing, typesetting, proofreading, and finally publication. She said pain points included transitions (when a manuscript moves between collaborators such as writers and editors; or across platforms, such as from Word to Pressbooks) and copy editing. She said it’s important to forewarn authors of the expectations of them post-copy editing. To make the workflow more manageable, OpenSUNY conducts a thorough needs assessment of each manuscript prior to production. Allison says one common thread that ensures successful book projects is healthy communication with authors. She is transparent with authors, staff and freelancers, and clearly outlines expectations at various stages of the production process. She also mentioned the importance of someone acting as project manager to ensure projects stay on track.

The ensuing discussion touched upon a number of topics. Among these, the group discussed how to involve students in beta use and testing of books post-publication. Rebel said her institution obtains feedback on the books through several methods–evaluations, surveys, quizzes and forms from students whose faculty use the text in their class–and that they receive the bulk of student feedback and input in the first semester of a book’s use. Participants asked how OpenStax operationalizes originality checks and incorporates ancillary resources. Anthony said they use iThenticate and conduct spot checks of sections of copy with Google. Participants asked whether proofreading, copy editing, and design is assigned to freelancers or done in-house. Allison and Rebel both said that it varies with project, with Allison adding that she sometimes outsources cover design to students. One of the major themes that came out of this discussion was the importance of educating faculty and students about CC licenses and their implications, as well as copyright and fair use guidelines. New Prairie Press’ Permission to Publish was shared as a resource. 

There was a lot of talk regarding guidelines for peer review and ways to standardize the review process for open textbooks. Many resources were shared, including Rebus’ Peer Review Working Group, OTN’s chapter on Peer Review in their Guide to Authoring Open Textbooks, OpenSUNY’s guidelines, OpenUMN’s rubric, and UHawaii’s guide. The Rebus working group on Peer Review will delve further into these issues (and hopefully formalize some best practices), and we encourage you to join!

If you have anything more to add to these discussions, please join the Rebus Community Forum to continue the conversation. 

A transcript of this Office Hours is available here.

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