Month: November 2018

Surprise, surprise! What we learned while writing The Rebus Guide

As anyone who has contributed to the creation of open educational resources can tell you, there are often many surprises along the way! Here we share those that came up for us in the making of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far), but we also want to hear back from you. What surprises you about making OT? Whether they are grim or good, let us know on the Rebus Forum.

Having worked with so many remarkable open textbook project leaders and contributors over the past two years, we thought we knew the lay of the land. But as we wrote and reflected, we learned even more about our own processes, resources, and infrastructure. Over time, the Guide will continue to evolve, and we will keep working to make it easier and more sustainable for you to build books and community.

A stitch in time saves nine
It’s an old saying, but still relevant in the digital age. Over and over, we were reminded how important it is to put plenty of time into project scoping, establishing content tracking templates, and building up the initial leadership team. Even if it seems like a lot of labor at the beginning, make sure these pieces are really clearly planned up front, because they make your work much easier in the long run. While it can be challenging to plan a textbook, determine its structure, and prepare to write content before you know what that content will actually be, it is nonetheless crucial.

Small sparks can grow into burning interest
Surprisingly, we found that individuals who were initially outside the core team could eventually get very engaged in a project. For example, reviewers who were ‘only’ asked to critique a given chapter often developed an abiding interest in the book as a whole. Given encouragement, volunteers may became much more involved over time, making contributions (both big and little) beyond their original commitment. In the Guide’s section on engagement, we talk about how to make this happen, and in turn grow community connections and support for the book after release.

Keep rigorous but stay loose
Innovation is always characterized by change, and collectively driven publishing is a pretty innovative process! While it’s important to reach objectives and keep your team focused, it’s just as necessary to stay responsive to change. Adapt, revise, and improvise. It’s okay to change course, even if you’ve put a lot of time into the upfront planning. Remember: every project is different, so even though the Guide puts forward a model for creating open textbooks, you’ll always be modifying and renewing that model.

People are your key resource
Again, this might seem obvious when talking about collaborative publishing. And despite our commitment to providing great online tools, we recognize that human beings are the best ‘software’ out there. It can sometimes seem like an insurmountable task to recruit contributors, but if you spread the word widely, like-minded people frequently come out of the woodwork, keen and raring to go. You still need to remember, however, that once they’ve signed on, the interpersonal work needs to keep happening. Managing volunteers involves a lot of emotional and mental support, but there are tools and tips aplenty to help you navigate your way through.

Your audience is everywhere!
The readers of the initial textbook release are not your only audience. Those who eventually adapt the book, and take it to its next iteration, are part of the ecosystem too. Keeping adapters in mind is just as important as thinking about adopters and readers. This makes the planning and production processes a little different from conventional publishing—and somewhat more difficult—but that is also what makes open textbook publishing exciting and rewarding.

So these are a few of our happy surprises along the way. What has not been surprising in this experience is how much we learn and grow through collaboration with the OER community. None of these unexpected lessons would have come to light had we not had so many people share their voices and experiences. Thank you!

 

photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Media, Society, Culture and You — The Backstory on Our New Release

Media, Society, Culture and You by Mark Poepsel (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) is a highly approachable text that introduces a wide range of mass communications concepts, including their complex histories and compelling contemporary realities. What’s more, the backstory of this project is just as intriguing—an example of how making open textbooks can help change the way we produce and share knowledge.

Kyoto street view by Camille Villanueva on Unsplash

Mark’s work on this textbook began as part of a broader OER project initiated at SIU Edwardsville, one that challenged community members to explore the value of offering open texts in classrooms. Having decided that he wanted to create a more in-depth tool for examining such themes as the network society, the digital economy, and media entrepreneurship, Mark initiated the project with the help of instructional designers at his institution. In time, both the analysis of his subject and his reasons for creating an open textbook in the first place became more profound.

“I probably did a deeper dive than other professors in the original project,” says Mark. “I stayed with this text, and continued iterating it because I think our students are burdened enough with the costs of higher education.” A preliminary version of the book was created using Apple’s iBooks platform, which Mark found fun to use, but lacking in support for the academic editing process. Eventually he transferred the project over to Rebus’s Pressbooks instance, the Rebus Press, which he found simple-to-use, open to customization, and less limiting than iBooks Author.

“It was eye-opening to work with Rebus Community. People were ready and willing to edit one or more chapters of my 45,000-word text. The book is only about 150 pages, but with the help of project managers, peer reviewers, and a copy editor, we made it a solid 10 chapters that focus on precisely what I want to share with students. In other words, Rebus Community supports a level of academic freedom not widely seen.”

To his department’s credit, the textbook featured in Mark’s tenure application, pointing to growing recognition for the academic legitimacy of open publishing. The work has also led to other positive impacts in his professional career. He has been invited to write for other open textbook platforms (ones that even pay a stipend!), and has given three conference presentations about the process of OER development.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Media, Society, Culture and You represents a start for new pedagogical outputs, new ways of writing and teaching, and new ways to keep academic work fresh. Mark has called the book a “stub,” meaning that it serves to prompt more work. He intends eventually to double the extent of the text, adding more content and historical perspectives to each section, as well as quizzes and discussion questions at the end of every chapter. In time, an online teaching manual may also be created by the community of educators who use the book.

For Mark himself, the experience has also been a kind of stub: “This effort in some ways guides my future plans. I want to stay on the edge of pedagogy and research into participatory and entrepreneurial journalism. Establishing this text as a pedagogical option for a community of scholars will go a long way toward my efforts to contribute to a community of practice. Working on this has created to a positive feedback loop between my research and my pedagogical work.”

Now that the textbook has been released, it is open for use, including adoption and adaptation. Already, it is engaging both faculty and students at SIU Edwardsville. Readers there have found it accessible and easy to follow, as well as provocative in just the right way. Mark says that he hopes the book “serves as a shot in the arm for facing the realities of digital disruption” and that it will prompt users of social media and those within the network society to reflect on and recognize their own roles in how political communication and action unrolls. In that way, perhaps, the publication of the book embodies its own theme as a whole!

A special thanks goes to copyeditor Leanne Page, who dedicated a great deal of time to the project, as well as her keen eye for details and an invaluable progress-tracking spreadsheet (making sure the book would be ready before Mark’s tenure dossier was due!)

 

Take a look at the book online, download it in multiple formats, and let us know how it works for you, your students, and your colleagues!

 

photo by Camille Villanueva on Unsplash