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At The Ohio State University, Pressbooks has become an integral platform for the university’s open textbook affordability initiative.
The university already has 18 published books on its Pressbooks network, a handful of private books being used in OSU classes, and almost 60 new books in development, says Michael Shiflet, Digital Publishing Coordinator, Affordability and Access, at The Ohio State University.
Among these are Environmental ScienceBites Volume 1 and Volume 2. The books are part of an open pedagogy project in which undergraduates in the Introduction to Environmental Science class at OSU produced content for the texts.
Writing for Strategic Communication Industries is another popular open textbook from the OSU collection. It was produced by lecturer Jasmine Roberts. The nature of a traditional publishing cycle made it hard to produce textbooks sufficiently up to date in her fast-changing field, Michael says. “She found authoring her own work was just a much more effective teaching strategy.”
Michael says single-author textbooks like Roberts’ are the bulk of what’s being produced on their network.
“We haven’t seen a lot of the “adopt and remix” kind of traditional Creative Commons open work. What we’re seeing is a lot more people authoring their own original material,” he says.
Michael says a lot of authors come to him to produce open textbooks because there is no text out there for what they want to teach.
This has led to some extra-specialized titles in the catalog, such as Atlas of Renal Lesions in Proteineuric Dogs, a book about dog kidneys intended for veterinary pathologists and nephrologists.
“It’s the only thing out there in this highly specialized field,” Michael says.
Other faculty may have books already in progress and need a tool to produce them with, or have an ebook that can be converted using Pressbooks.
Faculty come to the open textbook program through their grant program or learn of it through word of mouth. Sometimes they hear about it by being asked to contribute to another book, or from a faculty colleague in their department who participated.
As the digital publication coordinator, Michael provides project management – including weekly check-ins, a roadmap with milestones, and tech support – for all projects funded by the affordability initiative. He also provides tech support for OSU’s Pressbooks network to projects not funded by the initiative.
Michael runs a Pressbooks user group at the university, which meets virtually every two or three months to share updates, show and tell, and discuss best practices.
Michael says he used to encourage users to author outside of Pressbooks using something like Google Docs or Word, then bring their manuscript into Pressbooks when it was about 90 percent complete. But as Pressbooks has improved, he’s become less adamant about this workflow.
The revision history and editing capabilities of Pressbooks have undergone major improvements, Michael says. “I’m kind of less insistent that people do that these days. It’s a lot easier to recover things if you do make a mistake, [and] it’s easy to track.It’s really hard to lose something forever, so I’m more open to people finding a workflow that works for them.”
He thinks the new H5P plugin, which enables faculty to add quizzes in their books, will be a big selling point to instructors considering making open educational resources in Pressbooks.
The cloning tool has also proved useful, Michael says, enabling his team to clone great books they’ve seen elsewhere and then suggest those books to the subject matter librarians who can encourage adoption.
OSU originally came to Pressbooks in March 2016 when the program was piloted and presented as an option to them by Unizin, a consortium of which OSU is a member.
“We weren’t necessarily looking for something new,” Michael says, but they were unhappy with their current solution, which required editing code in an XML editor to create EPUBs.
When approached by Unizin, they did a landscape survey of five or six other options, including existing tools, but found that “Pressbooks was by far the best option.”
Michael says one solution they looked at required a regular dedicated server for every book. “We weren’t going to go around giving faculty members servers,” Michael says.
They had also tried iBooks, but the learning curve was problematic – they were spending two to three months of a six-month book development process getting people used to the tool. Plus, students who weren’t on Mac computers couldn’t access the books published in iBooks.
With Pressbooks, Michael says, “Now we’re down to a couple hours, if that, and most of that’s dealing with minutia, not necessarily related to the tool itself.”
One of the things that drew them in initially was the fact Pressbooks was built on WordPress and had a familiar interface.
“Most faculty have some familiarity with WordPress, and even if they don’t, it’s pretty intuitive,” he says.
Having multiple output formats was another selling point. In a research project conducted by OSU, it was discovered that 90 percent of users were reading the texts online, but that they still liked having the option to download other formats.
“The fact that now we can send it to a Nook or a Kindle or just a kid’s PC laptop [is an asset]”, Michael says.
He also likes having the responsive webbook version.
“A lot more students than we would care to admit are simply using their phones and not using anything larger than a tablet [to read the books],” he says.
In the future, Michael would like to see more of the books in progress become a reality, and going forward, he is focused on increasing the completion rate.
“I’d like to see more books get finalized and in the catalog,” Michael says.