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.
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!)