Category Archives: OpenTextBooks

Why is open education resource creation, management and publishing important?

A reflection for Open Education Week.

I was asked by Open Book Publishers to write a short statement/testimonial on “why it is important to publish educational resources in Open Access and/or why do you think Open Education is key to the future of learning?” The original is posted on their site with other reflections from people who have published open books. Do read them. I’m cross posting here as part of my own curation.

The suggested subject for this reflection was “why it is important to publish educational resources in Open Access,” but I’m not happy with that emphasis on the end point. It’s important that learning resources are not static once published, rather on publication a resource enters an iterative cycle of revision-reuse-evaluation-reflection.

My starting point for sharing educational resources was that high quality teaching and learning resources are difficult and time consuming to create; and like anything that is difficult and time consuming they are costly in terms of money or, more frequently, unpaid effort. To me, OER made sense as a means of sharing the effort of creating learning resources, dividing work between partners with different skills and viewpoints. It also made sense to get input from a wider range of contributors in such a way that the result is of use to a wider audience, providing a greater return for this effort.

This view has consequences not just for publishing, but for authoring and resource management during an extended lifecycle. Key among these are the need for collaborative authoring processes, tools that support these processes, and publication in formats that are interoperable with these tools. So, it is important to publish educational resources in open access because this supports a sustainable approach to the creation and widespread use of quality educational resources.

Just to expand a little on that final paragraph, I would stress that David Wiley’s ALMS framework is as important as his 5Rs (“Poor Technical Choices Make Open Content Less Open“) and highlight the interoperability of ePub in this context. When it comes to book publishing would like to call out people such as PressBooks, BookSprints and the CoKo foundation for their leadership on tools that facilitate open, collaborative authoring (though I know that this only scrapes the surface of people doing great things in collaborative content creation). Finally, thanks to Open Book Publishers for the excuse to spend a few minutes thinking about this.

Quick Notes: Defining Textbook Structure and Elements

Yesterday I joined an Office Hours session run by the Rebus Community, which was a presentation by  Dave Ernst, (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and  Executive Director of the Open Textbook Network). He spoke about  Defining Textbook Structure and Elements, essentially summarizing a chapter on developing text book structure from guide by the Open Textbook Network for teachers who are creating open textbooks. That resource, and the Rebus community look like they are well worth a look if you are not already familiar with them. Here are my notes mixed with my own reflection & comment.

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Using the WordPress REST API to post a book from WikiSource to PressBooks with python

I am using Pressbooks to build an online edition of Southey and Coleridge’s Omniana. I transcribed the text for Volume I on wikisource. This post is about how I got that text into pressbooks; copy and paste didn’t appeal, so I thought I would try using the WordPress REST API. You could probably write a PHP plugin that would do this, but I find python a bit easier for exploratory work, so I used that.

Getting the data from Wikisource is reasonably trivial. On wikisource I have transcluded the page transcriptions into a single HTML file of the whole book. This file is relatively easy to parse into the individual articles for posting to Pressbooks, especially as I added <hr /> tags before each article (even the first) and added stop at the end.

In the longer term I want to start indexing the PressBook Omniana using wikidata for linked data. This will let me look at the semantic graph of what Southey and Coleridge were interested in. Continue reading

PressBooks and ePub as an OER format.

PressBooks does a reasonable job of importing ePub, so that ePub can be used as a portable format for open text books. But, of course, there are limits.

I have been really impressed with PressBooks, the extension to WordPress for authoring eBooks. Like WordPress it is available as a hosted service from PressBooks.com and to host yourself from PressBooks.org. I have been using the latter for a few months. It looks like a great way of authoring, hosting, using, and distributing open books. Reports like this from Steel Wagstaff about Publishing Open Textbooks at UW-Madison really show the possibilities for education that open up if you do that. There you can read what work Steel and others have been doing around PressBooks for authoring open textbooks, with interaction (using hypothe.is, and h5p), connections to their VLE (LTI), and responsible learning analytics (xAPI).

PressBooks also supports replication of content from one PressBook install to another, which is great, but what is even greater is support of import from other content creation systems. We’re not wanting monoculture here.

Open text books are, of course, a type of Open Educational Resource, and so when thinking about PressBooks as a platform for open text books you’re also thinking about PressBooks and OER. So what aspects of text-books-as-OER does PressBooks support? What aspects should it support?

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Initial thoughts on EPUB-WEB (Portable Documents for the Open Web Platform)

In a W3C Unofficial Draft White Paper “Advancing Portable Documents for the Open Web Platform: EPUB-WEB” published 21 Nov 2014, Markus Gulling of IPDF (curators of the EPUB standards) and Ivan Herman of W3C (curators of web standards) have highlighted the potential of a specification that brings EPUB on to the Web. Informally known as EPUB-WEB, the vision is that this specification would make “EPUB a first-class citizen of the Open Web Platform and as a result significantly reduce the complexity of deploying EPUB content into browsers, for online as well as offline consumption”

EPUB3 is based mostly on web standards, i.e. a collection of HTML5 files with associated bells and whistles (embedded video, audio, SVG, JavaScript, CSS) held in a zip archive with an XML manifest  to tell an application what is there and what order to display it in. So at first EPUB-WEB seems straightforward: get rid of the zip archive, use the manifest to point to files anywhere on the web (IMS Content Packaging has allowed a similar route with “logical packages” which allow for both local and remote components). But the draft white papers raises some interesting points

Firstly, on that manifest, in section 3.1 the authors note that while the zip file + XML manifest is a common pattern:

“W3C’s Web Application Working Group has, in its new charter, the task of defining a general packaging format for the Web to encompass the needs of various applications (like installing Web Applications or downloading data for local processing). It is probably advantageous for EPUB-WEB to adopt this format, thereby being compatible with what Web Browsers would implement anyway. While this general packaging format could hypothetically be compatible with the ZIP+XML manifest format used by EPUB (and also by the Open Document Format [ODF]) the broader requirements of installable applications and other types of content, and efficient incremental transmission over networks, may well imply a different and incompatible packaging format.”

Secondly, there’s a question about how you identify documents (and fragments within documents) reliably when they may be either online or off-line depending on whether the user has decided to “archive” them (and I think archive here includes download onto an ebook reader to take on holiday). “What is the URI of the offline version of the document”. Interestingly there is a link drawn with the W3C Annotation Working Group:

The recently formed W3C Annotation Working Group has a joint deliverable with the W3C Web Application Working Group called “Robust Anchoring”. This deliverable will provide a general framework for anchoring; and, although defined within the framework of annotations, the specification can also be used for other fragment identification use cases. Similarly, the W3C Media Fragments specification [media-frags] may prove useful to address some of the use cases.

And thirdly there is (of course) Metadata. EPUB 3 has plenty of places to put your Metadata. Most conventional publishing needs for metadata inside the EPUB file are covered with the range of metadata allowed in the manifest. However, there is additional potential for in-line metadata that is “agnostic to online and offline modes” that will “seamlessly support  discovery and harvesting by both generic Web search engines, as well as dedicated bibliographic/archival/retailer systems” The note points to schema.org in all but name:

The adoption of HTML as the vehicle for expressing publication-level metadata (i.e., using RDFa and/or Microdata  for metadata like authors or title) would have the added benefits of better I18N support than XML or JSON formats.

And what about application to learning? Taken in conjunction with the Annotation work starting at W3C, the scope for eTextBooks online (or whatever you want to call educational use of EPUBWeb for education) seems clear. One area that seems important for education use that seems inadequately addressed in the draft white paper is alternative presentations that would make the material remixable and adaptable to meet individual learner needs. There a little in draft about presentation control and personalization, but it rather limited: changing the font size or page layout rather than changing the learning pathway.