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.


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!

A New Era of Student-Created Anthologies: Antología abierta de literatura hispánica!

Are you a professor of Hispanic literature? We need you and your students to help us expand the Antología abierta de literatura hispánica! We’re looking for instructors to run a critical edition assignment in their classrooms (with support) and submit the results to the second edition of the anthology. If you’re interested, head to the project homepage and let us know!

We’re pleased to share that the Antología abierta de literatura hispánica (AALH) is now available for use in classrooms! The AALH is a collection of public-domain texts from the Hispanic world, accessible to students of Hispanic literature as a free, openly licensed resource on the web, in PDF or as an ebook. It proposes an inclusive, broad, and evolving definition of the canon, and in so doing reimagines the ‘Anthology’ for a new era.

This project is spearheaded by Dr. Julie Ward at the University of Oklahoma, who ran an Edición Crítica assignment in her Introduction to Hispanic Literature course to produce the first edition of the anthology. Over the course of the semester, students prepared critical introductions and annotations that came together to become the AALH.

We are now looking for instructors to replicate this assignment (or something similar) in their Fall 2017 course, and contribute their own student-created critical editions to the next edition of the anthology. As these editions are collected and compiled, we see the AALH becoming a robust, accessible, and valuable resource for students, instructors, and researchers in the field of Hispanic literature.

To support faculty who will be conducting the assignment, Dr. Ward has prepared a comprehensive implementation guide, complete with assignment materials, student guides, and instructor resources. She and others running the assignment will also be available to consult on questions or challenges that may arise.

The AALH is unique in its incorporation of student voices and perspectives, drawing inspiration from the highly regarded Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature (first produced by Robin deRosa and now being expanded by new lead editor Tim Robbins & the Rebus Community). These projects redefine conceptions of an Anthology from a static collection put together only by faculty to a dynamic, accessible compilation of both faculty and student work.

If you’re excited by these developments, and want to participate in this project, sign-up on the Rebus Community Forum and leave a comment on the discussion thread!

September Office Hours: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in OER

September 26, 12 p.m. EST

Guest Speakers Maha Bali, Tara Robertson, Susan Doner, and others TBD

We have an opportunity to leverage open educational values to create a vibrant publishing culture. How do we increase diversity, equity and inclusion in OER publishing? How can we work together to ensure that diverse voices are equally valued? What barriers may exist in open textbook publishing that inhibit this vision? Join us for a discussion about how we can best move forward.

RSVP here for the session.

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

July Office Hours Recap & Video: Updating Open Textbooks

Are you an instructor, staff member, or librarian using Open Textbooks at your institution? Do you want to know how you can keep this resource updated over the years? This month’s Office Hours session on keeping open textbooks relevant will help you do just that! Watch the video recording, or read a recap.

During this session of the monthly Office Hours event organized by the Open Textbook Network and the Rebus Community, special guests Lauri Aesoph, BCcampus; Shane Nackerud, University of Minnesota Libraries; and Kristen Munger, SUNY Oswego discussed the challenges of keeping Open Textbooks up to date.

Watch a recap of the session, or read the full summary below.

For host Karen Lauritsen, of the Open Textbook Network, the topic of updating Open Textbooks is especially pertinent to their Open Textbook Library initiative – which acts as a database for reviewed and published Open Textbooks. Hugh McGuire, founder of the Rebus Community, also emphasized the importance of revising open textbooks to ensure that they remain a relevant resource in the post-publication years.

Following a quick introduction to Rebus from Hugh, Karen invited our special guests to describe their experiences.

Lauri Aesoph, manager of Open Education at BCcampus, explained some procedures that they perform, beginning with a comprehensive record of their collection in an internal document. This document includes date of creation, the type of license, and more, and is accompanied by a versioning history page for each book. Next, Lauri says that each book is updated for minor corrections and revisions. At BCcampus, they keep a static copy of the book available for use, while also giving individuals access to different editions (American and Canadian, for instance). The original edition of the book is always available for reference if needed. Similarly, Karen said that the Open Textbook Library has a dark archive in DSpace. Lauri ended by describing how BCcampus regularly polls faculty and staff to find out gaps and areas of improvement in certain books, and use this feedback to move forward with other updates.

Shane Nackerud, technology lead at University of Minnesota Libraries, discussed the process of taking Open Textbooks and revising them in Pressbooks. UMN has published three new open textbooks in-house, and is currently working on five more books. Their decision to republish a book, and update it in the process, is based on the hit count or the popularity of the book in the Open Textbook Library database. They also check to see whether the content of the book, such as images, is openly licensed. Another means by which they have been able to build the robustness of the Open Textbook is to ask institutions for supplementary or ancillary materials, and make this available to instructors. So far, responses to these calls have been limited, with only one institution providing supplementary material, but Shane hopes this will pick up as OER becomes more popular. Shane explained that these materials are placed in a restricted Google Drive, and are only shared with a faculty once their affiliation is confirmed. Since this process might get cumbersome with time, Karen suggested Proola as an alternative tool.

Kristen Munger, associate dean in the School of Education at SUNY Oswego, brought the author and editor perspective to this process. In her work with other authors using the SUNY system, she has found that even the most minor things in an Open Textbook require maintenance – for example, hyperlinks. Dead links are not helpful to students or faculty using the textbook, and need to be checked regularly. Any errors that are also flagged once the textbook has been adapted is helpful for updating the book. Kristen acknowledged that the Open Textbook provides a lot of flexibility to preserve its lifespan, meaning that it can be updated more easily than a traditional print textbook. However, at the same time, this poses certain challenges: How do you label a new edition of an Open Textbook? How is a new edition different from a revision of the book? Can you easily identify where you are in the process of updating the book?

Karen directed some of Kristen’s questions to the other participants. Alina Slavik from OpenStax jumped in, saying that for them, revisions refer to errata changes, while major content changes warrant a new edition. Alina pointed to an errata tool, allows people to submit suggestions for correction, displays a public list of errata that have been spotted, and allows individuals to see how errors have been dealt with. OpenStax also provide release notes accompanying each PDF that documents the changes made to that revision or edition.

Another participant wondered how best to deal with dead links, and how often these need to be checked.  Alina suggested a program called Spider, that crawls through links monthly and notifies them when it catches a 404 error. Further, she says that OpenStax uses a redirect to an external link (eg.: http://www.openstaxcollege.org/l/24detplaceval), which means that they can update the link internally when needed without having to update the content. Regarding frequency, Alina added that the subject matter of a textbook is a good indicator of how often it needs checking. Kristen brought up the idea of having the author involved to care for the book, and implement changes like these, over a span of 5 years after the book’s release. Lauri said that BCcampus doesn’t have a system in place as yet, but just corrects the dead links as they are reported.

Other questions from participants included: How does an instructor ensure that students are using the most up-to-date version? Kristen said that instructors who are adapting the book can update it for their course, and in this manner, would be using the most “up-to-date” version. Lauri agreed, saying that it is up to the faculty member who adapts the book and in fact, this is a useful skill for an instructor to have. Participants asked if there are built-in versioning systems to track the life of an Open Textbook. Shane mentioned that an easier method of versioning is needed, and Hugh responded saying that a version control mechanism is in the works at Pressbooks, where the book’s metadata would capture and reflect information about its particular version.


The session concluded with the agreement that the driving force behind both the creation and upkeep of Open Textbooks are groups of willing and motivated people. It is critical to ensure the survival of Open Textbooks by working together, and thus ensure that OER creation is scalable in the long term. If you have any thoughts or resources you would like to share, please post them in the Rebus Forum.


New Modular Open Textbook on Introductory Human Geography in Development!

Are you a Canadian geographer looking for an alternative to the traditional human geography textbook? Help us build one! We’re looking for contributors to write chapters for an Introductory Human Geography Open Textbook, and you could help! Read more about the project below, then head here to participate.

The latest project to join the Rebus Community is Human Geography: Principles and Applications, an introductory textbook that the authors hope will serve as an alternative to the traditional human geography textbook and ultimately, become a replacement for it. Unlike the traditional textbook, this book will focus on applied human geography and help students build practical skill sets that complement core concepts.

In addition, this book will be a Canada-first textbook, written from the ground up to focus on Canadian human geography and human geographic perspectives, patterns, and conditions, but with a twist: while this edition of the textbook is Canada-focused, the content produced will be modular, so that instructors in different jurisdictions will easily be able to adapt the text to suit their regions. This modularity is exciting as it points to the ease of revision and adoption of this textbook in geography courses all around the world. Instructors can also adopt portions of the text as is useful for their classrooms.

Leading the project is Dr. Paul Hackett, an Assistant Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, whose interests cover historical and geographical patterns of the health of western Canada’s First Nations. Joining him is environmental geographer Dr. Arthur G.Green, an affiliate assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and college professor at Okanagan College, whose interests lie in natural resources, legal geography, GIScience, development and sustainability, and quantitative techniques. Heather Ross and the team at USask’s Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching & Learning have also be instrumental in the development of this project.

Both professors are committed to producing a resource that is uniquely and intrinsically Canadian, while still remaining adaptable for non-Canadian use. The long-term goal is to have an open lab manual with exercises related to human geography that accompanies the text and that will be freely distributed with an open license.

We are currently looking for chapter authors to join this project. In particular, we are looking for Canadian geographers who have advanced expertise in and and can author these sections:

You can indicate your interest in these roles by commenting on the forum discussion.

If you’re teaching geography at an institution in Canada or elsewhere and would like to participate in this project or if you would simply like to follow this project’s progress, you can head to the project page in the forum, sign up, and let us know you’re interested!

August Office Hours: Metadata for Open Textbooks

Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community Host Office Hours

Wednesday Aug. 30, 2 p.m. EST

Guest Speakers: Laura Dawson and Naomi Eichenlaub

What are best practices for open textbook metadata, in order to maximize discoverability and account for the utility and remixability of openly licensed materials? How might we standardize metadata across open textbooks? What attributes should be included? How should metadata be handled across multiple versions of textbooks?

RSVP for the session. (Note that the session will be recorded.)

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


History of Science & Tech: Updates!

We are very excited to share some of the progress we have made with the first volume of The History of Applied Science and Technology Open Textbook. In the past few months, we have managed to secure contributors from institutions across North America, Europe and Africa for chapters ranging from the Ancient World to the Medieval Period.

Lead editor Danielle Mead Skjelver of the University of Maryland and University of North Dakota is delighted at the impact this textbook will have on students. She says,

“In the open access ecosystem, The History of Applied Science & Technology Textbook Project is well underway in producing a resource to fill a need that is as yet unmet. We are excited to contribute to the growing number of open access Humanities textbooks!”

This first volume should be available for adoption as early as January 2018. We are grateful for the enthusiastic response and support from members of the Rebus Community, and elsewhere.

What’s Next? Volume II!

Moving forward, we are looking for contributors for the second volume of the book. This project was conceived as a wide-ranging survey text that would provide instructors with content structured around a narrative focused on human transformation across time and geographic space. Volume II will encompass the following chapters:

  • The Medieval Period (500 to 1400 CE) — China
  • The Remarkable Fifteenth Century (1400-1500)
  • The Early Modern Period (1500-1600) — Europe Phase I: Breakthroughs in Scientific Thought & Technological Application
  • The Early Modern Period (1500-1750) — Global Technologies
  • The Early Modern Period (1600-1750) — Europe Phase II: The New Science of the Seventeenth Century & the Enlightenment

Interested in contributing to one of these chapters? We’re looking for ~1000 word section contributions on a range of topics. We invite you to sign up via our forum, or claim (or suggest!) your section in the more comprehensive Table of Contents.

If you’d rather contribute time as a proofreader, reviewer, or something else, let us know on the forum! At Rebus, we believe that collaborative publishing is the model for the future, and welcome faculty, students, and other participants to work together to build this new model.