Category: Features & Support

Features and support for Rebus Community members.

Introducing Rebus Projects: A Custom Project Management Tool for Open Textbook Creators

We are very excited to unveil Rebus Projects, new web-based software that we think will be a better way to manage open textbook/OER publishing projects, and gather and organize contributors and collaborators. The platform is currently in beta (meaning it’s still in development! And there will be bugs!), and your feedback will be critical to future development, to make sure it meets the needs of all open textbook creators.

We encourage you to take a look, and see if there is an OER project you can help with. Or, let us know if you have a project in mind, and submit an application to join the beta.

 

We’ve been working over the past 18 months with a collection of almost two dozen open textbooks projects, with partner institutions and faculty from around the world. This has helped us develop a flexible yet clear open textbook publishing process, that builds in best practices, including attention to accessibility, and fosters collaboration on open textbook projects. We are building everything we have learned (and continue to learn) into Rebus Projects, to help guide open textbook projects through the publishing workflow, and to make it easy to find, recruit, and organize collaborators.

A quick FAQ about Rebus Projects:

Q: How do I access Rebus Projects?
A: It’s pretty simple! Just visit https://projects.rebus.community/ and Sign Up. If you’re already a member of the Rebus Forum, you can log in using the same account.

Q: How can I help on someone else’s OER/open textbook project?
A: Great question! Visit the site and find a project that needs help you’d like to offer (Peer review? Proofreading? Chapter authoring? And more …) Click on the activity you’d like to help out on and volunteer.

Q: How can I get my project listed on Rebus Projects?
A: For the moment we have only have capacity to support a limited number of new projects, but as that changes we will be inviting more to join us. You can request access to the beta for your project here.

Q: How can I give feedback on the platform?
A: Your input is critical to shaping the future direction of the platform, so we absolutely want to hear from you. You can leave comments and feedback in the Rebus Forum or email us at contact@rebus.community. You’ll find some prompt questions in the forum to help guide you.

Q: What if I don’t want collaborators on my open textbook project?
A: We make it easy to collaborate only on the parts of your projects you want help with. It’s up to you. Some projects only want collaboration on specific aspects, such as: peer review, editing, proofreading, beta testing, ancillary materials, marketing and more. Some projects want collaboration for authoring chapters, or even conceiving the project itself. The people behind the projects decide.

Q: Who owns the copyright on open textbooks in Rebus Projects?
A: The authors own the copyright. However, all open textbooks in Rebus Projects must be licensed under a Creative Commons license. We encourage creators to adopt a CC-BY license, but recognise that it is not suitable for some projects. In particular, for projects involving traditional knowledge or other similar content, we will work with project teams to amend our licensing policy as needed.

Q: What do I get if my project gets listed on Rebus Projects?
A: You get access to a brand new software platform, that is being developed specifically to help support the open textbook publishing process. You also get:

  • A public web listing of your project, where basic information of your project, team, activities, discussion threads, and documents can be shared. This listing can be used to promote the project, generate interest from potential adopters, and recruit collaborators.
  • Support & guidance on the publishing process from the Rebus team and the wider Community via the Rebus Forum
  • Guides and templates related to the OER publishing process
  • Amplification of recruitment calls and project updates in the Rebus Community’s media channels (newsletter, blog, social media, etc.)
  • An onboarding call with the Rebus Community, with training on how to use the platform
  • Four one-hour drop-in webinars, where you can pose questions and talk through challenges in the process
  • Access to the Rebus Press (powered by Pressbooks), if needed
  • An opportunity to contribute directly to the development of tools and resources that benefit the wider OER community

Q: Will it cost anything to put my project on Rebus Projects?
A: Accepted individual projects will always be free. We are actively working on a sustainable funding model, with educational institutions and state and provincial education systems. Stay tuned.

Q: Who is behind Rebus Projects?
A: Rebus Projects is a part of the Rebus Community, a project run the Rebus Foundation. The foundation is a Canadian non-profit dedicated to building infrastructure and communities to promote open education, and books on the open web. The Rebus Foundation is generously supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Q: How can I get more information?
A: If you still have questions, head to the Rebus Forum and ask away! Or, you can always email us directly at contact@rebus.community.

Changes to the Community Forum

Here at Rebus we’re always reflecting on how we do things, and changing as we learn. In light of this ever-evolving approach, we’ve recently made a couple of changes to the forum. These changes reflect how we have found the Community uses the forum since we launched, and will hopefully be more useful for those visiting our shores.

The biggest change is that we have two new categories replacing one that was intended for discussions about managing open textbook programs. Instead, we have added Projects: Working Groups which will house the single-issue projects/discussions we’re looking to foster, including our accessibility and peer review working groups. The second new category is a General Discussion where anyone in the community can share their experiences, challenges, ideas or interesting tidbits! We look forward to seeing you there.

Open is More Than A License: Why File Formats Matter for Revising & Remixing

I once wrote a 2500-word essay on why PDFs are terrible, so it’s safe to say that I have some thoughts about file formats (and also that I’m great fun at the right kind of parties). However, it’s also safe to say that not many people give file formats as much thought as I do. We probably collect quite a few of those who do in the OER community, but for anyone who doesn’t, here’s a little primer on why they’re important to what we do:

There is an ongoing conversation in the Open world about what being “Open” means beyond allowing cost-free access, from accessible language to inclusivity to leaving open unknown future uses of your work. In the educational context, we’ve talked about what it means to us here, and most famously, David Wiley has encapsulated “Openness” in OER in the 5Rs – the right to Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute content. Formats have big implications for all of these, and directly inform our approach to Openness at Rebus. Open content needs to do more than give permission to exercise the 5Rs (i.e. through open licenses); it also needs to offer the technical capability (and ease) to exercise them.

As an example, when it comes to revising and remixing, it helps if the content exists in a format that lends itself to editing. The Rebus Community is currently supporting a project that will see two OpenStax biology textbooks combined to create a new text. However, the books are only available in formats that don’t lend themselves to editing: web/HTML, PDF and OpenStax’s own format, CNXML. This means that before being able to work on the content, the team needs to figure out a way to turn one of those formats into something easier to work with.

BCcampus has been working on bringing the OpenStax books into Pressbooks (an open source book production software widely used for producing OER, including in the Rebus Press) and Rebus is working on converting OpenStax Biology in a similar way so it can be adapted (we’re currently doing this manually, but hope to build an automated process in the coming months).

While, in theory, we could have dropped the content into any editing software (e.g. Microsoft Word) for this current project, the advantage of Pressbooks is that it easily allows the work we do to benefit others; this, and many other Pressbooks books can be made available for download, in a range of different formats that each serve a different purpose, through a distribution option. Once activated, the distribution option automatically adds the most recently exported book files to the book landing page, where anyone can access them. The main formats available are:

  • PDF: This is best for print, and is preferred by some for digital reading (especially offline)
  • Ebook (EPUB and MOBI): Ebooks are another popular option for reading (but much less popular with those doing anything remotely technical with the files)
  • XHTML: The standardised nature of this format makes it very useful for moving content between systems & formats. HTML is the language the web speaks, and XHTML is the central source from which PDF and ebooks are created in the Pressbooks system.
  • Pressbooks XML: This is an extension of the standard WordPress XML output format, and allows a clone of the book to be uploaded to a new Pressbooks shell, with either all content or a selection imported. It makes revising and remixing in Pressbooks incredibly easy, with a new, editable version of a book able to be created in a matter of minutes.
  • OpenDocument Format (ODT): ODT is an open file format that is compatible with MS Word and similar word processors. While the ODT output produced by Pressbooks isn’t very pretty in terms of formatting, it does allow for content to be edited in a familiar system, which is sometimes a useful option.

One of our goals is to take the entire collection of OpenStax books and make them available in the Pressbooks format, so any Pressbooks-based network (opentextbc.ca, press.rebus.community etc.) can host copy of the originals that can then be taken and adapted by downloading the XHTML, Pressbooks XML or ODT (with the disclaimers about formatting).

The OER refrain of not reinventing the wheel applies here, too — openness means that we share our work so that it doesn’t have to be replicated, and everyone can build on it. We usually think about this in terms of content and licenses, but we should also consider the practicalities of how we can (or can’t) work with that content. An open textbook that exists as a PDF available online and a Word document buried on someone’s computer just isn’t reaching its full potential!

We should also consider how this kind of openness applies to all the other work that goes into creating an open textbook. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do at the Rebus Community: engage with the people who are making open textbooks and leverage their experiences to create tools and resources that can be used by everyone in the community.

Want to be a part of it? Join the forum and sign up to one of our projects.

The distribution option is currently available or can be activated on any Pressbooks network except pressbooks.com. Infrastructure upgrades are in process in order to be able to support it at the scale required on the main network and it is expected to be available within the next couple of months.