Behind the Scenes: Reflections on December’s Office Hours (International Perspectives)

Rebus Community and the Open Textbook Network held an Office Hours session sharing some international perspectives on open textbooks. Keep reading to learn more about the process involved in this unique session. If you missed it, you can still watch the session online or read a full transcript.


For December’s Office Hours session, the Rebus Community and the Open Textbook Network did things a little differently. Instead of conducting the usual live one-hour session where people can join in via video conference, we made some deliberate changes to our format. This was partly out of necessity as the speakers for this session – Tomohiro Nagashima, Jessica Stevens, Werner Westermann Juárez, Mark Horner, and Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou – were spread out around the world, and it would not have been possible to get them all on the same video call. However, it also gave us an opportunity to shake things up and highlight the limitations of our usual format. In the end, we pre-recorded the session, shared the video and transcript, and conducted a week-long discussion period in the Rebus Community forum. In another change, we thought we would use this recap to reflect on the process, more than the content, though we still very much encourage you all to watch the video or read the transcript to hear our guests’ insights!

Why did we change the format of Office Hours this month?

Since Rebus’ team is mostly located in Canada and the USA, we tend to fall back on North American defaults. The Office Hours events are typically scheduled for afternoons in the Eastern Time Zone (EST), and as a result, most of the attendees for these events feature people located in similar time zones. While we have been recording these sessions, and posting the videos and transcripts after each event, we felt that we could be doing more to engage people for whom our events aren’t easily accessible for lots of reasons. The Rebus Community is working hard to be a global community, and we are involved with projects and collaborators all over the world, but most of our projects are currently based in North America. Similarly, the majority of the Open Textbook Network is within the USA. However, last year the community welcomed new members in Australia, and is collaborating with communities in the UK and Chile. As Rebus also expands, we will be working hard to change this and ensure that collaborators all around the world can get involved in an open textbook project (or start their own!), but first we have to work to understand their unique contexts and challenges.

Given the topic for this session – International Perspectives – it only seemed right to find speakers from different countries. We tried to get broad geographical representation, aiming for at least one speaker from every continent, while at the same time being aware that guests couldn’t be asked speak for everyone in their region. We deliberately kept the focus local in our prompt questions for the guests, asking them only to speak about the context they were most familiar with. We also committed to preparing translations as needed, if our guests preferred to speak in a language other than English. Thomas took us up on this offer, recording his portion in French.

Online time zone conversion tool, showing the time in Montreal, Canada (12:00am, Dec. 4 2017), Chile Summer Time CLST (2:00am, Dec. 4 2017), South Africa Standard Time, SAST (7:00am, Dec. 4 2017), Australian Eastern Time (4:00pm, Dec. 4 2017), and West Africa Time (6:00am, Dec. 4 2017).

Converting the time of our video release across different time zones. It’s an extra step that people outside North America do to attend regular Office Hours sessions.

We also wanted to make a point about how those located outside North America often face an extra challenge when converting from EST to their local times and in trying to accommodate events in their schedules, which can often fall outside working (or even waking) hours. There’s also a sense of being an outsider when North American standards, such as time zones, are the norm. So, in our promotion for the event, we only included times in the speakers’ time zones: Chile Summer Time (CLST), South Africa Standard Time (SAST), Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), and West African Time (WAT). We hoped that our usual set of attendees, located in the USA or Canada, would run these conversions to see when the video would be available. Calculating these differences is fairly easy with online tools, but this is an extra step that people outside of EST do very often, so we felt it was time to switch it around.

Reflections on how we set up the international Office Hours event

As we were writing out the event description, we struggled to choose whether to keep the focus on Open Textbooks or Open Educational Resources, as the latter are more commonly used in some regions over others, but the former is typically the focus of our Office Hours events. We also realized that the very topic or name “International Perspectives” implies revolving around North America.

What’s more, as one of our guests, Tomo, rightly pointed out, our own assumptions of OER internationality led to our framing the event a certain way.

On a more logistical note, we could have done better with securing translators well in advance. We learned that captioning translations is difficult, and that uploading a video to YouTube with captions to match different languages presents its own challenges. We relied on YouTube’s ability to match captions to speech, but any French speakers watching the session will notice that the translation is not quite in sync with the speech. A lot more careful planning was needed than we initially anticipated, and had we more time, the results would be significantly better.

During the week-long discussion

We planned for an asynchronous discussion to take place on the Rebus Community forum once the video was released, to give viewers a chance to interact with the speakers, ask them questions, or share their own comments about the topic. Unfortunately, the discussion did not take off as much as we had hoped, which was disappointing. However, we plan to re-run the discussion as part of Open Education Week in March 2018, which we hope will bring a larger audience to the event.

Our regular Office Hours sessions have about 20-35 participants in addition to the guest speakers, and typically five to ten of these attendees tend to ask questions during the session. In contrast, this Office Hours session has ninety-three views, making it the third-most-watched video on our YouTube channel. In the forum, only five people posted questions for our guests, out of whom four were staff at Rebus or OTN. Three of our guests engaged in the discussion on the forum. We hope that people will go back to watch the video even at a later date, and if they wish to, share their reactions in the forum.

We made sure to promote this event in the same way and through the same channels that we have our previous events, so we believe the lower rate of participation had to do with the changed format. It is possible the time of year had an impact as well (the video was out on December 4), but we do think that the difference between a scheduled call and a pre-recorded session plus asynchronous discussion was notable. Again, we take this as an indicator of how difficult it can be for those unable to attend a scheduled session (for any reason) to then catch up later.

We learned some lessons (on inclusivity and OER internationally), and hope others have too

We’ve learned some valuable lessons from conducting this session, including that engaging community members who can’t attend scheduled events takes time, effort, and a bit of imagination. While the first attempt at this format perhaps wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped, we will be continuing in our efforts to create more inclusive events.

In particular, we will be keeping the asynchronous discussion option for future events. We hope that this will allow for more engagement from people in different time zones, but also for those who have a preference for written communication, or another language, as we can accommodate these preferences using tools like Google Translate.

In the future, we will also still make the effort to invite and include speakers from outside North America at our events, especially since we have learned that we have the technology options to support it.

Most important, we were thrilled with the video we were able to put together with our guests’ insightful contributions. We encourage everyone to watch it to hear more about the amazing work happening in OER around the world. It’s an opportunity for everyone to reflect on their practices, and think on ways to form more cohesive, inclusive communities around OER.

This Office Hours session was an important one for the team at Rebus; our mission has always to build a model for publishing open textbooks that can be used all around the world. It resonated deeply with Zoe and Apurva in particular, too, who both feel like they one foot in the North American context and the other out, being transplants to Canada from New Zealand and India respectively. We hope that it also resonates with you, and that you have also gotten something valuable from this session!

If you have any thoughts about our format, process, or this session, please let us know in the Rebus Community forum!

UPDATE:

We will be reopening the discussion as part of Open Education Week March 5-9! Anytime that week, you can join the conversation in the Rebus forum.

(updated) Office Hours: Barriers to Open Textbook Adoption

Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community Host Office Hours

Barriers to Open Textbook Adoption: Common Questions and Concerns Explained


February 21, 2018, 2 p.m. PST /  5 p.m. EST

Guest speakers: Jasmine Roberts, Strategic Communication Lecturer, The Ohio State University; Sarah Cohen, Managing Director, Open Textbook Network; and others TBD

Open textbooks reduce the costs of attending college and increase access to knowledge. Still, they have their (vocal) detractors. In this session, experts will dissect common arguments for and against using open textbooks, and discuss ways to overcome these objections in the higher ed landscape.

RSVP for the session.

Click link https://zoom.us/j/607565732 to join the session day of. (Note that the session will be recorded.)

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

Updates: Open AmLit Anthology, Media Innovation OT & January Office Hours

Catch Tim Robbins at MLA18 with an update on The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature!

This unique open textbook project has come a long way since Robin DeRosa and her students put together the first version of The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature. Rebus has been supporting the anthology’s expansion, with Timothy Robbins as the lead editor. Tim will be sharing the anthology’s evolution to date at the annual Modern Language Association convention on Jan. 5, at 8:30 a.m. EST. He will show Robin’s initial book shell, Abby Goode’s recent revisions, his own class’s revisions, and thecurrent work in progress with Rebus. If you’ll be at the conference, we encourage you to attend Tim’s session, and learn more about this dynamic project!

P.S.: We’re still looking for more contributors for the project. If you’d like to collaborate with us, please let us know in the Rebus Community forum.

Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship Open Textbook at Scripps Institute

Lead editor Michelle Ferrier will be presenting the MI&E open textbook this week at the Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute to spread the word to potential adopters of the book. The annual institute held at Arizona State University trains a dozen competitively selected faculty across the country to infuse entrepreneurial journalism concepts and practices into their journalism classrooms. 

January: Open Textbook Adaptation
When: January 24, 4 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. PST 

Guest speakers: Lauri Aesoph, Manager, Open Education, BCcampus; Dave Dillon, Counselor/Professor, Chair, OER Task Force (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges), Grossmont College; & others TBD

One of the benefits of open textbooks is that they can be adapted for various faculty and student needs. Content can be adjusted for various student audiences, updated to include current events, or otherwise customized to reflect specific teaching approaches to the subject matter. In this session, we’ll talk with faculty who have adapted open textbooks. They’ll talk about their process, insights, and recommendations for others considering adapting an open textbook for their course.

Like what we’re doing? Please get in touch if you’ve got any ideas, feedback or thoughts for us!

Tim Robbins Presents Open Anthology of American Literature at MLA Convention

The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature continues to grow and evolve. Robin DeRosa, professor at Plymouth State University, and her students, who were looking for a cost-savings anthology for their classroom, started the project. Now, with support from the Rebus Community, the book is under the wing of a new lead editor, Timothy Robbins, assistant professor of English at Graceland University. The anthology has since expanded to include more texts, with collaborators from institutions around the U.S. contributing to the book.

Next, Tim will present the anthology and its iterations at the annual Modern Language Association convention on Jan. 5. He will show Robin’s initial book shell, Abby Goode’s recent classroom-led revision, his own class’s revisions, and the current work in progress with Rebus. If you’re in New York, we encourage you to attend Tim’s session and learn more about this dynamic project.

Inspired by Robin’s experience, Tim included an assignment in his course for students to help expand the anthology. His students read through the texts in Robin’s shell, which included what Tim calls a “potpourri of canonical and ‘minor’ writers.” Tim says his students completed activities to guide their classroom discussions and also give them the skills needed to build the anthology, which they did in teams near the end of the semester.

As part of the process, Tim’s students read about and discussed open education and Creative Commons licensing. Early in the term, student teams participated in developing criteria for evaluation and grading. Tim says that he found this “practice forced students to take a kind of critical ownership of the project by thinking both proactively and reflectively on their own learning and engagement.”

During the term, students used the Pressbooks software to format the anthology. They located and annotated secondary research, edited texts, wrote introductions, all while focusing on “how to make the texts ‘teachable.’” At the end of the semester, teams led a classroom lesson based on their newly designed anthology chapter. The expanded anthology included entries for authors and texts not yet represented in traditional texts.

“My own ‘American Literature to 1900’ course charts some of the various, often contentious stories of “American” culture’s movements towards inclusion, emancipation, and equality across those four centuries of coverage,” Tim says. “When I took on the project with Rebus, I knew that inclination would color the anthology’s roster, a case reinforced in the current Table of Contents. As expected, the sections track roughly chronologically and feature representative authors and texts. Indigenous creation stories confront European colonial documents; the early texts of New England’s Puritan pulpits are met and challenged by the voices and pens of native peoples, African slaves, and women writers. The American Revolution gives way to an explosion of social movements and an expansion of the canon stretching from Thomas Paine’s republican propaganda to the birth of African-American letters in Phillis Wheatley. The selections from the early nineteenth century include the familiar names of the ‘American Renaissance’—Emerson, Poe, Hawthorne, Whitman, Melville—in tandem with the literature of abolitionism. The post-Civil War sections aim to balance the significant social writings of the Gilded Age and Reconstruction era with the emergence of realist fiction.”

Robin DeRosa reflects on the expansion, saying: “When my students and I created the first version of The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature, we were mainly trying to save money. Students were regularly paying about $85 to purchase an anthology full of literature that was virtually all in the public domain. The first Fall that we used the book started off a little rough: We realized it didn’t have any of the introductions or illustrations or annotations that students generally rely on in commercial anthologies. So that semester, students started adding these things to the book, and before long, we realized that the cost-savings were the least exciting part of our dynamic, student-generated textbook. By the end of that semester, students had created lots of great content, other schools had begun using the book, and I had a whole new sense of the pedagogical possibilities inherent in open textbooks.”

Rebus is excited to be building off of Robin and her students’ work, and could not be more grateful to have Tim at the helm. With Rebus’ support, further entries have been added to the anthology, with more expected in 2018. Roughly 30 entries are completed and polished, and we’re seeking more contributors, including people to take the lead on organizing and writing introductions to the various periodized sections. Tim’s student assistants at Graceland have been charged with line editing, and he has also enlisted a graphic design major to help create a new cover for the anthology.

Robin is proud to see the anthology grow. “Now that Rebus is facilitating a more coordinated expansion of the project, you can’t imagine the pride that my students and I feel knowing that our initial work was the seed that led to the emergence of what will be such a game-changing text,” she says. “There is nothing in my career I feel prouder of being a part of than this project, and I am so grateful to the current editors and team at Rebus for taking our small idea and growing it so beautifully: What a wonderful example of the open community at work!”

The open text is gearing up towards an official launch in the summer, but given the nature of this project, the text will continue to evolve and grow indefinitely. Stay tuned for more updates later in the year, and for those who’ll be in New York in January, please support Tim at the MLA convention on Jan. 5!

If you’d like to collaborate with us on this unique project, please let us know in the Rebus Community forum.

Looking Back; Looking Forward

2017 has been a big year for our team and all the incredible projects and collaborators we’re lucky enough to work with. This was Rebus’ first full year working hands-on with pilot projects, and we’ve learned a lot about what goes into publishing open textbooks. In particular, we’ve discovered that there’s a lot of work that happens day-to-day that doesn’t always get shared here in our newsletter, or in other public-facing channels. We thought we’d take this chance to share with you a recap of all our ongoing projects, so you can see what’s been happening even when we’re not asking you to join in!

  • Accessibility Working GroupEarlier in the year, we convened this group and invited a handful of experts to review one of our books in order to take stock and guide the development of a comprehensive strategy for ensuring all books support by the Rebus Community meet accessibility best practices. The draft strategy has been out for comments, and we’ll be releasing a revised version in January.
  • Antología Abierta de Literatura Hispánica – Eight instructors (including one teaching an AP Spanish class!) have been working with their students all semester to create new entries in the Anthology, following lead editor Julie Ward’s assignment structure. Once they’re submitted & formatted, we’ll announce the second edition!
  • Blueprint for Success in College & Career Series – We’re just wrapping up the review process for these three texts, created by Dave Dillon from new and existing resources, and they’ll be heading into his classroom in January. He’ll soon be incorporating both student and reviewer feedback, working toward a summer release.
  • Digital Citizenship Toolkit – Led by authors at Ryerson University, with others as far flung as Cairo and Christchurch, the last chapters of this toolkit will be completed by the end of January and we’re just kicking off the review process.
  • Financial Strategy for Public Managers – As announced a few weeks ago, this text has been released and is ready for adoptions in 2018! We’ll also be sharing some reflections on what we learned from the process in the new year. And if you haven’t done so already, you can read the book online, or download it in other formats.
  • Guide to Making Open Textbooks with StudentsThis collection of case studies, advice, resources, and ideas for working with students on creating OER has had a wonderful response and we’ll soon be getting our hands on some print copies, so keep an eye out at conferences next year! Take a look at the digital book here.
  • History of Applied Science & Technology – This wide-ranging text has been gradually gathering authors from all over the world. We’ll be looking to finalize and release Volume I by mid-next year.
  • Human Geography – With our last contributor joining recently, the authors will be kicking into writing mode in January and February, working toward classroom beta testing in Fall 2018.
  • Introduction to North American Archaeology – With a big team assembled, lead editor Katie Kirakosian is aiming to collect chapter drafts early next year and work through the editing and review phases by the Fall semester.
  • Introduction to Philosophy – Our most experimental project has been booming, with almost 20 new authors joining in the last few weeks. The first few parts should be ready for review by mid-year, with the others following soon after.
  • Literature Reviews for Education & Nursing Students – Our most recent release, this text from Linda Frederiksen and Sue F. Phelps is just out the door! Next steps will likely include making it available in print and soliciting feedback from instructors and students using the book in their classes.
  • Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship – The fourth release on this list, MI+E has been a huge community effort to bring together, and taught us a lot of good lessons that we’re already sharing with other projects. We’ll continue marketing it for adoption into the new year, and the second edition will soon be underway.
  • Media, Society, Culture, and You – A newcomer to the Rebus family, lead author Mark Poepsel is currently working on reformatting this book from iBooks to Pressbooks to make it available in more formats, and we’ll be helping to coordinate the review process.
  • Northern & Indigenous Health and Healthcare – Another recent addition, the project has gathered nearly 50 contributors who will be submitting abstracts for their sections in the next few weeks, with full chapters to follow. The team are also in the early stages of defining what a review process inclusive of expert indigenous and community perspectives should look like.
  • Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature – We’ve added dozens of new entries to this anthology this year, and lead editor Tim Robbins will be sharing the progress at the MLA conference in early January. Another call for contributions will follow soon after, and we’re targeting an official release in Summer 2018.
  • Peer Review Working GroupsKnowing that peer review is critical to the success of open textbooks, we set out to convene a handful of small groups to consider things like different kinds of review, recognition for reviewers, how to indicate the review status of a text and more. This initiative has fallen quiet in recent months, due to the demands of other projects, but we’re keen to get it back up and running next year.
  • Science of Human Nutrition – Having completed the peer review process earlier in the year, this text will be rolled out in the classroom at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in the Spring semester. In tandem, one of UH’s librarians will be monitoring student responses and performance as part of a research project.
  • Sight Reading for Guitar Performance – This unique book has been stretching our formatting muscles for the past few months, but we’re excited to now be launching the review process. Combining video, audio, images, and scores, it’s great fun making it work as a multi-format text!
  • Social Psychology Ancillary Materials – The team of collaborators on this project managed to create a nearly complete set of slides to be used alongside the 1st International Edition of Principles of Social Psychology, currently adopted by several universities around Canada and the United States. We will be looking to complete the set and create even more ancillary materials next year.

The progress we’ve made on these 17 projects and two working groups has only been possible due to the incredible dedication of their project leads and the (collectively) hundreds of volunteers who have so generously given their time and expertise to the cause. We are so grateful to everyone who has contributed, from writing a chapter right through to retweeting a call for contributors! We can’t wait to continue working with you through 2018 and beyond.

Looking ahead to next year, we’ll be continuing to support these projects, and also start sharing some of the tools and resources that we’ve been developing. We’re also hoping to grow our team, so we can dedicate more time to those resources we know will benefit many of you. We’re as committed as ever to our goal of creating a new, collaborative model for open textbook publishing that can help all those working to create open textbooks and change the face of education worldwide.

Thank you once again, and we wish you all a very relaxing holiday break.

All the best,

The Rebus Team (Zoe, Liz, Apurva, Hugh, Boris & Baldur)

Office Hours: Open Textbook Adaptation

Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community Host Office Hours

Open Textbook Adaptation
January 24, 4 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. PST 

Guest speakers: Lauri Aesoph, Manager, Open Education, BCcampus; Dave Dillon, Counselor/Professor, Chair, OER Task Force (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges), Grossmont College; & Anita R. Walz, Open Education, Copyright & Scholarly Communications Librarian

One of the benefits of open textbooks is that they can be adapted for various faculty and student needs. Content can be adjusted for various student audiences, updated to include current events, or otherwise customized to reflect specific teaching approaches to the subject matter. In this session, we’ll talk with faculty who have adapted open textbooks. They’ll talk about their process, insights, and recommendations for others considering adapting an open textbook for their course.

RSVP for the session.

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

Literature Reviews For Education & Nursing Graduate Students: Available for Adoption!

Written by Linda Frederiksen and Sue F. Phelps, Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students teaches students how to prepare better literature reviews that are vital to their research. Read the book for free on the web, or download it in other formats from the book’s homepage!


Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students is the third open textbook produced with support from the Rebus Community to be released! The book has been peer-reviewed by seven subject experts, and is now available for adoption and use in courses or as a library resource. If you’d like to adopt the book, please let us know.

This book helps students recognize the significant role the literature review plays in the research process and prepare them for the work that goes into writing one. Developed for new graduate students and novice researchers just entering into the work of their chosen discipline, each of the book’s eight chapters covers a component of the literature review process. Students will learn how to form a research question, search existing literature, synthesize results, and write the review. Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students also contains examples, checklists, supplementary materials, and additional resources.

Linda Frederiksen

Authors Linda Frederiksen and Sue F. Phelps are both librarians at Washington State University, Vancouver, with many years’ experience guiding students through research and writing assignments. Linda is active in local, regional and national organizations, projects and initiatives advancing open educational resources.

Sue F. Phelps

Sue’s research interests include information literacy, accessibility of learning materials for students who use adaptive technology, diversity and equity in higher education, and evidence-based practice in the health sciences. Both Linda and Sue are committed to equitable access to information.

The Rebus Community worked with the authors throughout the writing process, advising on formatting, licensing, images and other questions that arose. We also recruited reviewers and coordinated the peer review process for the book, and were fortunate to find a wonderful group of reviewers who generously shared their expertise, giving chapter-level feedback. You can read more about the reviewers and the review process in the book’s Review Statement. Rebus also assisted the authors in formatting, running accessibility checks, and the other final stages of publishing and are very excited to be celebrating the first release!

Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students can be used in graduate-level research methods courses or by librarians preparing subject guides and resources. If you’re interested in adopting the book, please let us know! We would also love to hear from anyone interested in adapting this resource for another discipline. You can always reach us on the Rebus Community forum or at contact@rebus.community.

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.