8 Things We Learned About Making Open Textbooks from Making Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship

When Rebus Community agreed to support the JMC Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship open textbook back in January of 2017, we had no idea the impact the project would have on our knowledge of the processes involved in open publishing.

Michelle Ferrier of Ohio University and Liz Mays, who is Rebus’ marketing manager and also an adjunct faculty at Arizona State University, had the idea for the open textbook.

For Rebus, the thought was one of us would personally go through the process of creating an open textbook start to finish, with Rebus’ support, and we’d use what we learned to inform Rebus Community resources, processes and software in development.

Ten months later, V1 of Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship is available, and it’s time to share some of those learnings with the broader OER community.

Why Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship Was Needed

But first, some context. In recent years, faculty of media, journalism and communications have begun to teach concepts of entrepreneurship in their classrooms, in response to the disruption the journalism industry has experienced. In some departments, entrepreneurship is a full course (or series of courses); in others, it’s part of an existing course.

As faculty who had been asked to teach entrepreneurial journalism and media innovation concepts in our classrooms, Michelle and I, along with others we knew, felt there was no one seminal text that covered the key concepts of media innovation and journalism entrepreneurship that media, communication or journalism students need, especially as the development of content and technology businesses is very different than traditional brick-and-mortar entrepreneurship.

When we embarked on this project, it was our aim to build the resource we ourselves needed, and make it freely available for use to others teaching media innovation and entrepreneurial journalism courses across the globe.

Michelle and I came to the project with two somewhat different drafts for a table of contents. First, we merged our TOCs into a new skeleton. Then, we held a webinar with others who teach these subjects to help us add to, refine, whittle down and revise that into a working, public Table of Contents, which was posted with the Rebus Community Forum call for contributors, along with an Author Guide and Precis. (Note: We stopped maintaining the TOC and moved to other working spreadsheets after beta launch.)

For each chapter, we identified a number of qualified and diverse potential contributors in our networks, and by around April, we were reaching out one by one. Here’s a sample of the baseline verbiage we used to reach out. Some chapters were easier to find authors for than others. (In fact, there are few sidebars and chapters that are still being written to add to the 2nd edition.) While some people didn’t have the capacity to participate, or weren’t interested in helping, by and large, author recruitment went smoother than I had expected. Which brings us to lesson one.

Lesson One: Don’t just build a textbook; build a community.

Throughout every phase of this book–TOC, author reachouts, peer review, beta testing and more–we leveraged community input and contributions around the book, and those efforts paid off. This project could not have happened as quickly had Michelle not been as well-connected in the discipline as she is, and able to bring a good many of her peers and colleagues to the project. At Rebus, we’ve seen the value of faculty leveraging their professional networks. Their involvement helps to drive participation.

I came to the project to build a textbook. Michelle came to the project to build a community. It turns out we could never have built the former without the latter. At the end of the day, 20 authors, 10+ peer reviewers, 12 official faculty beta testers, classrooms full of students–at multiple institutions across the U.S. and as far away as Chile, Greece, and Ukraine–were involved in the making of this book. Nearly 40 others have been following the updates, with an interest in adopting parts or all the book.

Contributors said they found the community aspect of the process rewarding.

“Many thanks…for the gift to join you in such a fascinating intellectual and collaborative journey for making the Open Textbook on “Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship” a dynamic learning, writing, and mentoring experiment,” wrote contributing author Betty Tsakarestou. “Along with the open textbook and the upcoming instructors’ manual, I think you are also helping to create a very dynamic network and community of practice.”

Lesson Two: Building an open textbook is going to take a lot longer than you think.

Once we assigned sidebars and chapters to authors, that’s when we learned the next major lesson. How long does it take to build a community-created open textbook?

In hindsight, we suggest people to allow more than a year, and that’s if you plan to be aggressive about staying on timeline.

One thing that lengthened our editing process was that we didn’t anticipate the questions authors would have about how their chapter ought to be different for an “open” textbook than a traditional textbook. We had never thought of them as any different, but realized we could have made clearer suggestions for the voice, which we wanted to be accessible to students rather than in a formal style. Quite a few authors sent us substantive outlines to edit to make sure they were on track before their full chapter, which added another round of editing that more clarity up front on our part could have eliminated. Also, in a transparent process, I learned it’s a good idea to give all contributors roughly the same deadline, assuming you’ve allowed ample time for editing and revisions.

After a frantic summer of editing and formatting, we found ourselves barreling toward peer review (which went quite smoothly) and then getting a “minimum viable product” up by Aug. 1 for the faculty who would beta-test it in fall semester. All the while we were scrambling behind the scenes to live-edit that version for when students would see it, mid-August.

We ended up in a similar scramble to implement the tail end of revisions from the extensive feedback we received in the book’s first semester of use, just in time to enter the book into the prestigious AEJMC Tankard Award competition, which required that the book be “available in print” in 2017. For teachers wanting their students to be able to get a print copy (that they didn’t print off at home), the timeline wasn’t much later.

If you want to produce an open textbook in a leisurely way, consider spreading it over a year and a half.

In hindsight, here’s how I would adjust to make a new open textbook happen on a roughly yearlong academic timeline. (I’ll note though that every open textbook has different nuances that may add or remove time from your schedule.)

Our Timeline Ideal Timeline
Jan-April: planning Nov: planning
May-June: writing Dec-Jan: writing
June-July: editing, peer review, formatting Feb-May: editing, formatting
Aug-Oct: proofreading, beta testing, open review June-July: peer review, make available for beta testers to consider, proofreading/fine-tuning, accessibility
Nov-Dec: POD first edition Aug-Nov: beta testing, open review
Nov-Dec-Jan: 2nd edition additions Dec-mid-Jan: POD first edition (most of this is waiting after you upload)

Lesson Three: Find collaborators who have different skills than you.

One of the startup culture concepts j-entrepreneurship faculty stress in their classrooms is the need to build a team around you with skills that are different from, but complement, your own.

Prior to Rebus, I had been a professional editor for 10 years full time and for another 7 years on the side. Michelle too, with her background in journalism, brought this expertise. But our editing skills were different and complementary, which enabled us to tag-team and divide the work fairly, without stepping on each others’ toes.

With a national profile from researching and practicing the teaching of media entrepreneurship and innovation in higher ed, Michelle served as subject matter editor and line editor–she did the intense “heavy lifting” types of editing and rewriting. I wore the hat of managing editor and proofreader, making sure project deliverables came in and were tracked; proofreading the book; and dealing with image logistics and footnotes. We also had help with additional copy edits on four chapters from some great volunteers–in retrospect, we wish we had put out a call more widely for volunteers who could assist with the editing. Supporting the process of finding collaborators for editing, images and similar non-writing, non-reviewing components is something Rebus will be working to expand in the future.

Lesson Four: Modularity for OER is a “capital D” decision.

Early in the project, we had to make some decisions, decisions we didn’t recognize as Big D decisions, and probably should have.

First, it never occurred to us to build the book in any way other than a modular way. This was because media innovation and entrepreneurship are taught in vastly different ways at different institutions. In some cases, there is a full class in journalism entrepreneurship, media innovation, or business of journalism. In others, these concepts are part of a media management, magazine writing, student media, or other reporting course. In some programs, students might be from the broader fields of media, communications or P/R, rather than just journalism. Also, at Rebus we care a lot about the remixability of open textbooks, and a modular format works really well for that. It means future faculty can take parts of the book or most of the book as a baseline and write just the pieces they need to accommodate the specific way they teach their class.

Knowing this, we designed the book modularly. And we stand by that decision. Some initial users were quite enthused by it.

“I really get why it makes sense to be a modular “book” because we could rearrange our curriculum and almost build courses around it. Like we could focus on 4-5 chapters per course, depending on how it makes sense to break up the coursework,” wrote Mark Poepsel to Michelle and I, who has been using portions of the book. “Then courses would be built to the professor’s expertise or they’d be designed around resource availability. You’re making the IKEA of information.”

However, we got a lot of feedback in beta testing about the modularity of the book from those who were using it straight through–some things are repeated because we’re cognizant that students reading only an isolated chapter of the book will still need background on a concept that might also be introduced somewhere else earlier. While we couldn’t fix that repetition easily, it’s something we would like to smooth out for the second edition.

Lesson Five: Pressbooks — did I mention we broke Pressbooks? (Don’t worry, we fixed it too.)

Most people who know the folks at Rebus know that some of us–Apurva Ashok, Zoe Wake Hyde, Hugh McGuire, and I–also work for Pressbooks. So here I’m switching hats. This was the first educational book we ourselves had tried to format, to see what problems we ran into.

Some of those included:

  • Because the book is produced from a single source, and will be available in multiple formats, including printable PDF and print-on-demand, anything that might otherwise have been a link from the digital formats also needed to be a footnote, because embedded links wouldn’t be clickable or visible in the print edition.
  • How to handle multiple authors in the metadata (we’re working on a new way to handle multiple contributors in the metadata of a book)
  • Wide charts and tables (temporary fix in place on this book; long-term fix in process)
  • Import from Google docs, including footnote and link import (we learned a few things)
  • Easier glossary making and figure numbering (on the Pressbooks roadmap)
  • Editing (I recommend doing as much of the editing process as possible before importing to Pressbooks as it does not have tracked changes or similar functions that copy editors rely on at earlier stages of editing.
  • Images (Apparently, in addition to throwing errors if you send too low-res of images, POD will actually throw errors or cause delays if your images are too high-res. For large images displayed in a small area (such as author images), this became a problem.

These are problems that lots of educational books would run into. This book turned into an opportunity to use our own product and find the flaws. We were able to put these issues into Pressbooks’ queue to improve the software not only for us, but for all the others using it for open textbooks and OER. Changing back into my Rebus hat…

Lesson Six: Someone (maybe us) should build a mechanism to track feedback from beta testing

We put the book through a formal peer review process, with most chapters getting their own single-blind peer review prior to the beta launch. The book was then formally beta tested in classrooms. We gave beta testers a guide and as many ways to give their feedback as possible. We enabled hypothes.is on the book. We asked for narrative feedback by email. We opened a “suggestion box” Google form and offered a place to suggest revisions on the Rebus Community forum. One student even reviewed the book as his honors project. (Read Kyle Kercheval’s review.) We then held biweekly calls with the community of practice teaching these subjects and using parts of the book. Through this process, we received hundreds of points of feedback. (And we still have three peer reviewers still working their way through the full book!) I can tell you from that process that there is no magic way to track and incorporate beta feedback–yet. Just a lot of heavy lifting.

We learned that having too many avenues isn’t practical but no one of these avenues was sufficient. This is another problem Rebus would like to help solve in the future.

Lesson Seven: Print-on-demand is still not instant.

Having a print book comes with many benefits, especially for students who prefer non-digital formats, but preparing the print format and ensuring its availability can be tricky!

No. 1: If you just want students to be able to purchase a print copy of the book in Amazon if they want it (rather than a university bookstore ordering a bunch of copies), you should know Ingram recommends you allow 6-8 weeks before you need them to be able to do so. (Createspace doesn’t allow CC BY content, so we went through IngramSpark for print-only distribution.) That’s two months of waiting added to the time it takes to bring an open textbook into the world. That meant for us, with a contest entry that required the book to be available in print by a hard deadline of Dec. 31, we had to declare a first edition a few weeks earlier than we would have liked.

No. 2: Some POD platforms only allow you to cite up to three contributors in the metadata (even though Amazon allows up to nine). This is going to be a challenge for the burgeoning cadre of open textbooks with multiple contributors. Also, we had issues with the metadata we used transmitting incorrectly, a problem we’re still working through on both sides. It seems neither Ingram nor Amazon can fix an Amazon entry that didn’t originate on the Amazon side.

Lesson Eight: Publishing versus authoring

The question in open textbooks, and the problem we’re trying to solve at Rebus, is how to help authors do, or find other volunteers to do, the things that publishers have traditionally had a staff to do, in the absence of a traditional publisher.

Among these are permissions, accessibility and other “invisible” labor.

We believe strongly that all those things still need to happen for open textbooks, especially those produced with support from Rebus. Editing, images, Pressbooks formatting, and accessibility are four areas where we want to specifically build up pools of potential volunteers interested in contributing their skill sets in these areas to open textbooks.

When we embarked on this project, we weren’t sure what accessibility for open textbooks really entailed. We have a much better idea of that now, after starting the Rebus Community Accessibility Working Group, but we didn’t have that information in time to tell the writers what to send us, so that we wouldn’t end up writing alt text for most of the images ourselves, for example.

At Rebus we have since been working on some guidelines for accessibility for open textbooks produced with Rebus support, and these will be part of the author guides for future projects.

Styling footnotes, from both an editing and a formatting perspective, was a monumental effort, and one that I can say with absolute confidence needs its own volunteer or volunteers.

Another of the inherent challenges to creating a CC BY-licensed open textbook is images. Our goal was to use all CC BY images. Some writers found that limiting (since traditional publishers help to source permissions), or did not quite understand the nuances (for instance, buying stock photos doesn’t skirt this problem).

We cut any images that weren’t necessary. Of the rest, some image suggestions were general enough for us to create new openly licensed images. I had the benefit of support for this from Rebus staff member Apurva, who with her design background was able to help create some illustrations for the book from scratch. (This is another job, by the way–one that needs a volunteer.)

In other cases, even if using an image would have been fair use, the fact we were setting the book up to be remixed downstream and would lose control of the content, made us err on the side of caution while we figure out all the nuances to this.

Some images were so central to the subject matter that we simply had to include them. How do you not include the Business Model Canvas in a chapter about startup business models, for instance? There’s no way to remake what’s important about that chart without exactly copying it. Thus, we had to hunt down permissions for some images.

Luckily, the Business Model Canvas folks, along with a few others, were awesome to us. They got the concept of what we were doing right away and gave permission to include their image in the textbook, and to them we are eternally grateful. There were others too who had to bend internal rules to work with our paradigm, but were ultimately able to grant us the permissions we needed.

Then there were the publishers that wanted to charge an exorbitant rate, which would increase with every format or new edition (exactly what does that look like for a book that is continually updated, and can be remixed?)

Still others were never able to grant us permission to use the simplest of things. These included one data chart that, according to the site’s TOS, could be embedded in our website with no problem but could not be published in something like an ebook or print book. With single-source formatting, this was unworkable. Our multiple calls and emails requesting a solution went unreturned.

In the end, the thing I thought would be hard about building an open textbook (getting contributors to write and review the content) was not the thing that was most challenging about building an open textbook. Our authors, reviewers, beta testers, and everyone else who played a role in refining the content for this book were awesome, and they built the content into the open textbook we envisioned.

What was hardest was getting these behind-the-scenes jobs, many of which take a lot of invisible emotional labor, done. We at Rebus will now be working to build up pools of volunteers to enlist in these efforts on future books. Of course, we will credit them with their efforts. In addition, the software we have in the works may help. If you have further ideas on this front, please reach out to us in the Rebus Community Forum.

Office Hours Recap and Video: Beta Testing Open Textbooks

In this month’s session, guests discuss the logistics of beta testing an open textbook, including: strategies to recruit beta testers, mechanisms for collecting and implementing feedback, and marketing this process. If you’re curious about how open textbooks are tested in classrooms, or how and when student and instructor feedback is incorporated, read the recap below or watch the video recording.


This Office Hours session began with brief introductions to the Open Textbook Network, whose member institutions pool expertise and promote best practices in open education, and the Rebus Community, a collaborative resource of open textbook creators and users. We also solicited suggestions for topics for future Office Hours sessions, and if you have ideas that you would like to explore or revisit, please let us know.

This month, we were joined by Michael Laughy, Dianna Fisher, Linda Bruslind, and Elizabeth Mays to discuss the process of beta testing an open textbook. The opportunity for beta testing is one of the main competitive advantages of open textbooks, as they can be updated and revised based on classroom feedback more quickly than traditional textbooks. Watch the video recap of the session, or continue reading for a full summary.

Speaking first was Michael Laughy, who is an assistant professor of Classics at the Washington & Lee University. He recently co-authored an open textbook on Ancient Greek, and has been using it in his language courses. The book is also being beta-tested by faculty at Louisiana University and the University of Illinois. Laughy says he makes live changes to the book to incorporate students’ feedback during class. Laughy judges students’ reactions to material as he teaches it, and in so doing learns how to edit chapters in the book for the next time he and others teach the course. The experience of teaching with the book also gives him a better sense of how to partition the book – and how much material can actually be covered weekly during a semester. The faculty at Louisiana and Illinois also have editing rights on the book, and make similar adjustments based on their experiences in the classroom. However, Laughy acknowledged that the live changes can prove confusing for students who may be trying to look for a piece of information from earlier in the course, which has been altered or deleted.

Next, Dianna Fisher, director of Open Oregon State at Oregon State University, described their process for beta testing. She asks faculty to first pay attention to areas where students have historically had difficulty in understanding subject matter, and test these sections of the book with students. Dianna says that they keep two versions of each book – one that is “in use” in the class, and one that is being “edited,” so that they can easily restore complete versions of chapters if needed. She said that they use Basecamp for project management, including managing beta testing changes. On some books, Dianna notes that beta testing is done in stages with specific groups of students – for instance, first with doctoral students, next with masters students, and later with advanced undergraduate students. With the final group, she encourages faculty to find out what students need to know to fully digest or comprehend the information in the book, so that different versions of the book can be created for different levels.

Linda Bruslind, who is a senior instructor and lead advisor in Microbiology at Oregon State University, was next to offer her perspective. She authored an open textbook for a 300-level general microbiology course, as she noticed that students weren’t using the traditional texts she had assigned, and since she wanted a simpler text for students. Linda first tested this book in her summer 2016 course, and later tested it online through Oregon State University’s eCampus. Linda found that students in the in-person class would access the text on their phones, or print out specific chapters, at the same time as they were completing group activities. She invited students to give her feedback, identify areas where information was unclear or lacking, and point to any errors in the book. She then passes this feedback on to Dianna, whose team makes changes to the book. Linda noticed that the post-assessment scores in her courses went up dramatically after using the textbook.

Our final speaker was Elizabeth Mays, adjunct professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and marketing director at the Rebus Community. Elizabeth combined forces with lead editor Michelle Ferrier at Ohio State University to create an open textbook on Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Mays said Ferrier quickly recruited 12 beta testers for this book by reaching out to people in her network. They, along with the book’s authors and 38 others in the community of practice teaching these subjects, were encouraged to join a fortnightly call to discuss each chapter of the book. Beta testers were given guidelines and many mechanisms to provide input. Feedback was also solicited through Hypothesis, which was enabled on the book; through the Rebus Community forum; through a Google Form; and via email. Mays compiled all the feedback into one spreadsheet. The co-editors then made decisions on what changes to implement and how. Elizabeth discovered this process was quite laborious, and said she wished there was a better mechanism on the book itself through which to collect, track, and respond to feedback.

The floor was then opened to questions from other participants. Participants were curious as to whether students in online courses and in-person courses provided different feedback about the textbooks. Linda noted that feedback from the two groups was very similar. Other participants wondered what types of feedback were solicited and how. Linda welcomed all kinds of feedback from spelling errors to the clarity of a particular chapter. Elizabeth mentioned that a Guide for Beta Testers was created with prompt questions for faculty using the book in their courses. Karen wondered what the pros and cons were of framing the book as being in beta testing. Linda liked the idea of a more formalized feedback process, and would want to provide all students with an opportunity to give feedback on the book. Michael noted that students were hesitant to critique, challenge, or correct information in the book as it has been written by “the professor” – he actively sought to make students comfortable to state their opinions about the book and its content. Dianna noticed that students overcame this initial discomfort and later feel more invested in their learning, and felt that their contributions made an impact. Linda said that students seemed excited about being engaged in the process and having some control over the content of the book. Another question was about who implemented these changes – in Michael and Elizabeth’s case, they made changes themselves; in Linda’s case, the implementation was done by the publisher.

Beta testing is a valuable process to gain student and faculty insights on how open textbooks can be improved. Thanks to our guests, and to participants who attended and shared their thoughts! If you would like to have further conversations on these or related areas, please let us know on the Rebus Community forum!

Resources

Rebus/OTN Office Hours: International Perspectives on Open Textbooks (December 2017)

December’s topic for Rebus / OTN Office Hours is International Perspectives on Open Textbooks, and this month, we’re doing things a little differently.

The Rebus Community headquarters is located in Montreal, Quebec, with our brilliant marketing manager based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our partners, the Open Textbook Network, are also U.S.-based, and as a result, we schedule our calls during business hours for mainland USA and Canada, and they are run in English. While there are practical reasons for this, we have to acknowledge that timezones, language, and undoubtedly cultural differences can be barriers to participation for many in the OER community.

So, this month, we thought we’d shake things up. With a nod not only to our guest speakers who are from different continents and in varying time zones, but also to anyone who faces barriers to engaging with our usual Office Hours format, here’s how things will go:

  1. Each of our guests will pre-record their comments.
  2. These recordings will be compiled into one video.
  3. That video will be made available on Dec. 4 at 2 a.m. CLST, 7 a.m. SAST, and 3 p.m. AEST in the Rebus Community forum.
  4. Our guests will lead an asynchronous discussion with participants in the forum, where everyone will be encouraged to ask and answer questions in their preferred language.

Office Hours Open Textbooks: International Perspectives title image

Currently, guests include Mark Horner, CEO of Siyavula Education in Cape Town, South Africa; Werner Westermann Juárez, Chief of Civic Education Program for the Library of National Congress of Chile; and Jessica Stevens, Doctoral Student in the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology.

Guests will discuss student, faculty, and staff perspectives on the creation, adoption, and awareness of open textbooks in their countries. They will also provide advice to creators who want to make their content useful to faculty and students in multiple countries.

In addition to changing the format for this call, we’d like to make all of our Office Hours events more friendly to our audience members, so we will be making the asynchronous discussion piece a permanent feature of all future events. We hope that this will prove a useful alternative for those who prefer to, or by necessity have to, ask their questions outside of the live calls, for any reason.

The video will be posted in the Rebus Community forum and discussion will take place on this thread. You can RSVP here.

Financial Strategy for Public Managers: Now Available!

Financial Strategy for Public Managers by Sharon Kioko and Justin Marlowe is the first Rebus-supported open textbook project to be officially released, and is now available for adoption and use in classrooms!

This book offers a thorough, applied, and concise introduction to the essential financial concepts and analytical tools that today’s effective public servants need to know. It has been reviewed by 8 subject experts at 8 different institutions, and is available openly available in web, PDF, ebook, and other formats from the book homepage. If you’re interested in adopting the book, let us know!

Kioko and Marlowe’s book covers materials found in most public financial management texts, but it also integrates foundational principles across the government, non-profit, and “hybrid/for-benefit” sectors. Coverage includes basic principles of accounting and financial reporting, preparing and analyzing financial statements, cost analysis, and the process and politics of budget preparation.

Book homepage on Pressbooks, with a short description and links to download formats including PDF, EPUB, MOBI, XML, WXR, XHTML, ODT

Throughout the text, Kioko and Marlowe emphasize how financial information can and should inform every aspect of public sector strategy, from routine procurement decisions to budget preparation to program design to major new policy initiatives. Their book is written in an accessible style, understanding that students in Master of Public Administration programs often do not have backgrounds in finance or budgeting. Marlowe says, “Our book covers the same basic material in just over 200 pages, with just a few selected cases and a couple dozen practice problems, and it’s written in the plainest possible language. And of course, it’s free and open, so students download it and get to work immediately. That removes another important psychological barrier to the subject. So our book is different because it’s more accessible, and the fact that it’s open really reinforces that message.”

The book is already being used in classrooms as of Fall 2017, and students are responding to the book well. Marlowe, who is using the book in his course at the University of Washington, says, “[The students] know that I can update it almost in real time, so they’re eager to offer suggestions for cases, examples, problems, exercises, etc. because they know their ideas might appear in it sooner than later.” He says that students are also appreciative of the fact that it is available for free, and adds, “but they also say ‘it’s about time.’”

The Rebus Community provided support for this project in the form of coordinating peer review at the chapter and book-level. Rebus also ensured that the book will be available through print-on-demand, in order to enable students who prefer print to obtain a copy for less than it would typically cost to print off using a home computer or at a copy shop. Students who would like a print copy, can purchase it on Amazon, where it was the No. 1 new release in Government Accounting for several weeks.

If you’re located outside the US, and would still like to use this book, you can adapt it to better fit your needs. Marlowe encourages this remixing of content, and says, “Public budgeting and finance is the same in most places, but it’s also different from place to place depending on the local laws, politics, history, and other factors. The OER structure allows professors using the book in other states and other countries to swap out our discussions of budgeting and finance in Washington State, and swap in a discussion that’s more relevant to their own context.”

If you’re interested in adopting or considering the book for use in your classroom, or if you’d like to stay abreast of future editions, please sign up here. Alternatively, if you are a librarian who knows faculty at your institution who teaches a course that could use the book, please help us spread the word!

First Open Textbook on North American Archaeology!

The latest Open Textbook project to join the Rebus Community is the first of its kind in its field. Aptly titled From the Ground Up: An Introduction to North American Archaeology, this book brings together an intergenerational and international team of scholars to shed light on the multiple voices and vibrant diversity within North American archaeology.

The project is led by Dr. Katie Kirakosian from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with support from a steering committee of colleagues who will offer support and advice throughout the process. The decision to pursue the project was fueled by feedback Katie had received from her colleagues in the field about existing textbooks, which don’t often contain diverse perspectives or include primary data with which students can practice.

Katie hopes that this book will “make North American archaeology more accessible and help archaeologists inspire and train the next generation.”

In contrast to existing books, this textbook is committed to including voices from descendant communities and community members, as well as perspectives from individuals in various archaeological sectors, including academia, CRM, museums, non-profits, and the government. It will discuss regional sections that summarize indigenous and non-indigenous cultures and allow students to explore culture change across space and time. In addition, this open textbook will include primary data whenever possible so students can see the data behind archaeological interpretations and can practice making interpretations of their own. The focus of the book is on presenting how material culture and other data help to understand the lived experiences of people through time and space.

As the first step, Katie is seeking contributors to form teams of 6-10 people around each chapter, who will be responsible for:

  1. Creating an outline for the chapter that will be shared with other contributors for feedback
  2. Writing the initial “background” chapter for their region
  3. Securing a case study of a particular site or landscape within that region
  4. Potentially contributing to peer review, beta testing, creating ancillary materials and other activities related to the project

If you are interested in joining one of these teams, you can view the list of chapters, and sign up on the contributor sign up thread in the Rebus Community forum. Or, if you want to find out more about the project, you can read the full project summary and post any questions you may have on the discussion thread.

From the Ground Up will be available for adoption in 2018. Follow the project on the Rebus Community forum for updates!

Office Hours Recap and Video: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Textbooks

In this Office Hours conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion in open textbooks, guest speakers and participants identified several aspects of OER that deserve attention and improvement. Read the recap below, or watch the video recording.

Office Hours, hosted by The Open Textbook Network and the Rebus Community, is a monthly event in which we create a space to discuss common topics in open textbook production. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Textbooks was this month’s topic.

We were joined by Maha Bali (American University in Cairo), Susan Doner (Camosun College), and Alan Harnum (OCAD University) to discuss how we can leverage the values of open education to create a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and vibrant publishing culture. Unfortunately, one of our original guests, Tara Robertson (CAPER-BC), couldn’t join us for this event.

We’d like to especially thank Maha for attending despite the large time difference. We are aware that scheduling our Office Hours events based around the time zones of a largely North American audience creates challenges for those outside this part of the world, and we are working to find ways to make the event more accommodating for all who might want to participate in future.

As a start, we always aim to provide a recap of the event within a few days (once the video has been captioned). So if you missed the event (for timezone-related reasons or not!), you can watch a video recap or scroll down to read the complete summary!

Karen Lauritsen and Hugh McGuire began the session with quick introductions to the Open Textbook Network and Rebus Community. Karen said that this event was an opportunity to ensure that diverse voices are equally valued and explore what barriers exist in open textbook publishing that currently inhibit these voices. Next each guest speaker gave an overview of the topic from their perspective.

Maha Bali is an associate professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She talked about inclusion from a postcolonial perspective and reminded participants that there was nothing inherent about Openness that means it will include everyone – inclusion is still something that needs to be intentionally worked towards. Maha asked us to reconsider a common analogy used for diversity and inclusion – “giving someone a seat at the [pre-designed] table” – and instead to give people opportunities to design the table with you, decide what goes on the table, what the rules of the table are, and the height of the table. This approach can be considered at many levels in our community, from community participation, to systems, organizations and technologies. Each of these should be approached with an acknowledgement and understanding of different backgrounds and contexts, and with considered thought given to who is “building the table.” With regard to OER creation, Maha said that while we need to empower people to be able to share work, we must also be aware of other barriers that may be involved with openly licensed content. (Footnote:Read what Maha has said about Creative Commons licenses elsewhere.) She also noted that there are all kinds of barriers to participation in open movements. For instance, she said, the Open Source movement requires one to have certain technical knowledge and be comfortable participating in a male-dominated environment. Other requirements can be more practical. As an example, the oft-touted Domain of One’s own requires a credit card to make payments, something Maha noted not every student may have.

Alan Harnum is a senior inclusive developer at OCAD University’s Inclusive Design and Research Centre. He brings a technical perspective and mentioned that IDRC is looking at ways to improve authoring tools to support alternate ways of creation, such as voice recordings and transcription. Alan said that they are experimenting with other aspects of the production line to ensure that materials have the widest possible reach, including accessibility, alternatives to images, touch, and sonified infographics. They are also looking at ways to create components that can be easily internationalized. Alan is also interested in looking at the remixing of content and ways to blur lines between authors and readers that is carried over from traditional publishing. On the question of the valorizing of content and remixing, Alan quoted Michael Caulfield’s blog post, saying, “What if the OER community saw the creation of materials as a commodity, but the reuse as an art?” He also cautioned against the replication of traditional power structures in publishing, a message echoed by others in the call.

Susan Doner is an Instructional Designer at the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Camosun College. She considers proprietary educational materials as laying claims to knowledge, and often being created by a homogenous group of people with a monoculture–they are a risk to diversity, she says. Susan thinks that educational materials should have input from a diverse variety of individuals and stakeholders, including student voices, if they want to stand the chance to be relevant to all students. For her, the default setting when working on any project should be open. Susan also said that openness creates opportunities to widen the circle of input, to build, share, and expand resources beyond what they could be in a closed system. She pointed to the BC Accessibility Toolkit as an example of a growing resource. It began as a small set of resources put together by her and Tara Robertson, and grew into the toolkit, which was later translated into French and adapted into a workshop activity. Overall, Susan sees OER as a collaborative vehicle for inclusion.

Once guests shared their insights, the floor was opened for questions and comments.

Esperanza Zenon pointed to the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity as a resource folks might collaborate with to make OER more inclusive and equitable. Other participants identified significant problem areas that need more attention:

  • Funding and Grants – Authoring OER is largely contingent on funding and grant money. How can we help granting agencies get better at recruiting diverse voices and funding a variety of authors?
  • Enrollment – How do we ensure that OERs are developed for courses that don’t qualify as “high enrollment”? How do we encourage authors both financially and in sentiment to create materials for all courses?
  • Position – We must acknowledge the extra challenges and risk faced by non-tenured, underrepresented, and/or part-time faculty when creating OERs. How can we involve and incentivise those in more secure positions to participate in OER creation and advocate for their colleagues in more precarious circumstances?
  • Content – OER creation teams should be diverse and inclusive from the point of conception. How can we ensure that diverse perspectives are taken into account when designing content, and that traditionally marginalised voices can be heard?
  • Remixing – How can we ensure the “source code” of an OER material is made available for easy remixing? What can content creators do to enable things like localisation and translation down the line? Remixing is a clear departure from traditional publishing models, and we should recognise and promote the new opportunities it creates.
  • Technology – Access to and fluency with all kinds of technologies varies widely for students and instructors, across communities, institutions, and geographies. How do we address and overcome these barriers to creation, use, and remixing of OER?
  • Existing Systems – The creation of new models of publishing offers a chance to reject the power structures of traditional publishing and embed our values in everything we do. How do we ensure that these new systems embrace diversity as the default, rather than having to try to retrofit it later?
  • Quality – The assumed quality of a resource can often be tied to institutional prestige and who contributes to a text. We need to put aside our preconceptions of supposed “high-” and “low-”quality resources when interacting with OER, particularly when integrating student voices and traditionally marginalised perspectives. How do we signal the reliability of an OER? If it is through peer review, how is this carried out?
  • Time – We must be aware of the amount of time that each stage of the publishing process takes, and whether faculty, staff, and students can devote this time. We should be conscious of their other responsibilities both at work and home, and how this can affect their workload. How can we avoid overburdening people, while also not privileging the voices of those with lesser time commitments?

As is evident from this list, these issues are broad, and cannot necessarily be easily resolved. However, recognizing that they exist is a first step. At the Rebus Community, we are committed to working with our partners, contributors, and other community members to find ways to make the OER community more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We plan to reflect on our own practices in the coming weeks to ensure that we continue to be supportive and inclusive of anyone who would like to be involved in OT creation, and will share our reflections with you.

Thanks once again to our wonderful guests, and to everyone who attended and shared their thoughts. If you would like to have further conversations on these or related areas, please let us know on the Rebus Community forum!

Resources:

A transcript of this recording is also available.

October Office Hours: Beta Testing Open Textbooks

Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community Host Office Hours

Beta Testing Open Textbooks

Oct. 25, 4 p.m. EST

Guest Speakers: Michael Laughy, Assistant Professor of Classics, Washington & Lee University; Dianna Fisher, Director of Open Oregon State; Elizabeth Mays, Rebus & Arizona State University; and others TBD

The ability to beta-test open textbooks with students and faculty in order to improve them quickly and repeatedly based on feedback, is one of open textbooks’ competitive advantages. What are the logistics of beta-testing an open textbook? Is the process different depending on whether the testing happens in the author’s or a colleague’s classroom? When and how can publishers of OER market a new work to benefit from beta testers? What are the best mechanisms for collecting and integrating feedback? How do you decide which suggestions should be implemented, and when?

RSVP for the session.

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

August Office Hours Recap & Video: Metadata for Open Textbooks

Are you an author, librarian, or staff member creating or using Open Textbooks at your institution? Learn more about the metadata that helps make these books discoverable in this month’s Office Hours session! Scroll down to read a recap, or watch the video recording.


This month’s Office Hours event, hosted by the Open Textbook Network and the Rebus Community, covered a technical but important topic in the growing world of Open Textbooks – metadata. To help us understand how metadata works, we invited special guests Naomi Eichenlaub (Ryerson University), Sarah Cohen (Open Textbook Network), and Hugh McGuire (Rebus). Laura Dawson (Numerical Gurus) was unfortunately unable to attend the event, but you can read what she has said about metadata in the past.

Watch a recap of the session below, or continue reading for the complete summary. Metadata is a complex topic, and there were a lot of acronyms thrown around during this call. Scroll down to get some clarification on the technical terms mentioned during this event!

Rebus Foundation co-founder Hugh McGuire started the session by introducing the Rebus Community, which is building a new, collaborative model for open textbook publishing. Next, Sarah Cohen introduced the Open Textbook Network, which is active in over 600 campuses and promotes access, affordability, and student success through the use of open textbooks. She said there were currently 425 books in their Open Textbook Library, and that number was growing.

As the universe of Open Textbooks expands, Hugh said, it is more important than ever that we think of how these resources are categorized, and how they can be discovered by faculty and other users: which means using metadata.

Metadata is a bit of a buzzword, but what does it mean? According to the Government of Canada Records Management Metadata Standard, metadata is “structured information about the characteristics of an analog or digital resource which helps identify and manage that resource.” In the context of Open Textbooks, metadata is information about a book, attached to a book file, including the usual things like title, author(s), subject, license, and ISBNs, as well as potentially more complex data around versioning and accessibility.

Okay… but why should I care about it? Because metadata:

  • provides everyone with useful information about a book and its content;
  • can be both machine- and human-readable;
  • makes a book you create discoverable in different repositories, libraries, and catalogues; and
  • helps people in their search for the right book to adopt.

You may not be involved in determining how information about a book is being shared with different softwares (like libraries or repositories), but it’s important to know that information is being sent and received! Without it, books would be all but impossible to find and collections impossible to navigate, meaning that valuable resources couldn’t reach the people who benefit from them.

Naomi Eichenlaub, a catalogue librarian at Ryerson University, first came into contact with metadata while working on an Open Publishing Infrastructure Project to extend BCcampus’ Open Textbook collection and migrate it to eCampus Ontario’s new Open Textbook Library. During the course of this project, Naomi looked at trends in metadata, trying to find the best schema (a schema is a “framework that specifies and describes a standard set of metadata elements and their interrelationships” (ISO)) that would help integrate BCcampus’ repository. Naomi said they looked at various schemas, and settled with Dublin Core for this prototype. She hopes that this project will allow them to integrate other schemas, allowing them to submit content to different repositories, and in so doing, expand access to all kinds of content (not just books).

Sarah Cohen, managing director at the Open Textbook Network, said that they used Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC records) in the Open Textbook Library, which can be downloaded by users if needed. The library does not host materials itself, but rather refers to other repositories, so OTN wanted a schema that worked well with Open Public Access Catalogs (OPAC) that most universities have. Sarah said that the challenge was to point to the right location for the content that was being searched, and allow for easy correction of any broken links. They are working with Colorado State University and the Online Computer Library Center to clean these records.

Hugh McGuire, co-founder of the Rebus Foundation, described the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) initiative to create web-native standards for web publications. While this process is a lengthy one, it involves first determining which metadata fields are mandatory (like author, title, license), and which can be optional. Next, the web publication working group will look at ways to link this standardized metadata file to existing schemas. Hugh says that Open Textbooks will be the first use-case for this new specification.

Melinda Boland, a guest at Office Hours from OER Commons, explained that they host and link to over 60,000 pieces of OER in their digital public library. Michelle Brennan, their information services manager, said that they follow the IEEE standard for Learning Object Metadata as a guiding profile to make it easy for content to be searchable and for users to find these resources. Their approach is to build different modules on top of this core that map to different metadata standards in the field.

Thanks to Naomi for sharing this comic on Standards by Randall Munroe (xkcd.com). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

After speakers discussed the importance of metadata, and their different approaches, participants had some questions. Some wondered what kinds of accessibility metadata were being used. Michelle Brennan, information services manager at OER Commons, explained that they use A11-Y, which is a community-driven effort to improve web accessibility.

Others had questions about versioning, and its implications on a book’s metadata. Hugh said that this was something to think about as we work to build a formalized means of handling metadata for books on the web. Melinda Boland, also from OER Commons, said that including a Version History to each book (or web object) is good practice. Participants also wondered how different versions of a book would be indicated to users searching in repositories or catalogues. Jonathan Poritz, professor at Colorado State University, pointed to versioning systems like GitHub and Wikipedia to help track the lineage of an Open Textbook as it undergoes revisions or remixing. Another participant suggested the GITenburg project as an example.

This session revealed that we still have a long way to go in working out best practices for metadata in the Open Textbook arena, and that many conversations need to take place to best lay out a universal standard for all kinds of web-native open content. However, metadata is a fundamental (if complex) building block for Open Education, and we hope to have more discussions about them down the line!

To keep the conversation going, head over to the Rebus Community Forum, or join us at another Office Hours event.

Resources:

Here’s a list of some metadata-related technical terms, and what they mean.
Technical Term Description
LMRI (Learning Resource Management Initiative) Co-led by the Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons to build a common metadata vocabulary for educational resources. It is for learning objects only, and was recently accepted to schema.org.
IEEE LOM (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association Learning Object Metadata) Specifies the structure of metadata for learning objects in the IEEE standard.
DCMI (Dublin Core Metadata Initiative) Supports innovations in metadata design and best practices.
Schema.org The closest thing to a standard for web content. It includes different schemas that help structure the web.
A11-Y A numeronym for accessibility, the A11-Y project looks to make web accessibility easier for developers to implement.
MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging) A data format introduced by the Library of Congress, it is now popular in most libraries.
NSDL_DC (National Science Digital Library) A variant on the Dublin Core standard.

New Resource from the Rebus Community: Guide to Making Open Textbooks With Students

Are you interested in doing an open pedagogy project to have your class create an open textbook or open educational resource? This new Guide to Making Open Textbooks With Students, from Rebus Community, will help!


At Rebus Community, we’ve heard a lot about projects that involve students in the creation of open textbooks.

In many cases, these were classroom projects with robust learning objectives. In others, students collaborated with professors as research assistants, TAs, or a similar role. Some of these resulted in completely new OER; others expanded upon existing resources.

The more we learned, the more we got excited for the possibilities when students get involved in the production of open textbooks. We decided to share these stories, and some related resources, in hopes of both inspiring and equipping others to follow suit.

The result is the Guide to Making Open Textbooks With Students, developed in collaboration with students and faculty who have been at the forefront of such projects.

This new resource contains:

  • An introduction to open pedagogy from experts Robin DeRosa, director of interdisciplinary studies at Plymouth State University, and Rajiv Jhangiani, University Teaching Fellow in Open Studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University
  • Project ideas, case studies, interviews with and first-person accounts from faculty and students engaged in open textbook projects in the classroom
  • Three sample assignments for creating or updating open textbooks from faculty who have done such projects
  • Resources such as a guide to CC licensing, an MOU for students and faculty
  • And more!

As with everything we do, this is a first edition that we plan to expand on in the future, so please let us know if you would like to see something added in future, or have something to contribute yourself!

You can leave feedback on the book using Hypothes.is, or let us know your thoughts by replying to this thread in the Rebus Community Forum.

We’d like to once again thank all the contributors that made this guide possible, and to all future open pedagogy explorers, we wish you luck! If you are embarking on an open textbook project with your students, please let us know in the forum as well — we’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.

Four New Part Editors for Introduction to Philosophy!

We’d like to welcome Dr. Benjamin Martin, Dr. Beau Branson, Dr. Douglas Giles, and Dr. Heather Salazar as part editors on this open textbook. Would you like to get involved as an editor or chapter author? Join the project on the Rebus Community Forum.


It’s been almost a year since Christina Hendricks at the University of British Columbia decided to work with Rebus to create a new, open (CC BY-licensed) textbook for use in Introduction to Philosophy courses. The project has grown tremendously, with dozens of collaborators, and we’re pleased to announce that four new editors have recently joined the team to kick off four new subject parts; Logic, Philosophy of Religion, Social and Political Philosophy, and Philosophy of Mind.

Benjamin Martin joins us from the UK, and will be working as the part editor for Logic. Since receiving his Ph.D. from University College London in 2014, Martin has held the position of assistant professor at Queen’s University. His current research interests include the philosophical implications of non-classical logics, responses to scepticism, and the relationship between negation and denial.

Beau Branson has taught in Almaty, Kazakhstan and Owensboro, Kentucky. He will be curating the Philosophy of Religion part. Branson received his Ph.D. in 2014 from the University of Notre Dame. He specializes in Ancient and Hellenistic Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Philosophical Theology. Branson’s current research focuses on the philosophy of the early Church fathers. By bringing the rigour of contemporary logic and analytic metaphysics to bear on deep historical questions in patristics scholarship, he hopes to show how both analytic theology and historical theology can benefit from a deeper engagement with one another.

Douglas Giles taught philosophy in the U.S. for twelve years, and will be compiling the Social and Political Philosophy part. He recently completed his Ph.D.in critical social theory at the University of Essex, U.K.. Giles plans to continue teaching at the university level. His research interests include political philosophy and phenomenology.

Heather Salazar is an associate professor at Western New England University. Salazar will join us as the editor of the Philosophy of Mind part in early January. Her specializations within philosophy of mind include substance dualism and externalism. Salazar’s current work focuses on enlightened self-interest both within Western perspectives (neo-Kantian constructivism and philosophical psychology) and Eastern traditions (Yogic philosophy and Buddhism).

These part editors will be responsible for:

  • Creating and sharing a part outline with a summary and short chapter descriptions
  • Soliciting & incorporating community feedback on the outline
  • Helping to recruit authors
  • Working with Christina Hendricks to answer questions from chapter authors
  • Helping to edit contributed chapters

We’re so pleased to have these incredible individuals onboard and thank them for their willingness to contribute! We’d also like to thank Christina, and our first two part editors Dr. Scott Clifton (Aesthetics) and Dr. George Matthews (Ethics) for their leadership to date, guiding and moderating debates on the Rebus Community Forum, shaping the direction of the content, and helping to work out the process for bringing the project to fruition.

The book is beginning to take shape, with chapters from the Ethics and Aesthetics parts beginning to come in. We are excited to see more content coming together in the upcoming months. Head over to the project volunteer page to sign up for updates or get involved!