As we have explored digital writing and publishing in previous posts and workshops, the focus has been on short to medium length texts, such as blogs and Google Docs, with which most academics are familiar. But when it comes to book-length manuscripts, you may not be quite as informed about the options for digital publication. This week, our AC Digital Pedagogy workshop will introduce you to Pressbooks, a platform developed for web-based and e-book publication, and designed in particular to permit open access, an open peer review process, and the collaborative production of open textbooks. Our workshop times will be as usual…4:30 pm on Tuesday, and 1:30 pm on Friday, in Abell 102.
As a book publishing platform, Pressbooks competes with alternatives such as iBooks and Scalar, but with some notable advantages. It is actually a specialized version of WordPress, so the interface and dashboard layout and functionality will be quite familiar to WordPress users. You can use a free hosted version of the software at PressBooks.com, where you can be up and running in a matter of minutes. While you can create books for free on PressBooks.com, when you output the final PDF or ePub version, there is some PressBooks.com branding and watermarking, though with upgrade options you can remove the watermarks and increase storage capacity.
However, with access to a self-hosted version of WordPress (such as acdigitalpedagogy.org, or acsites.org, or your own WP version), you can roll your own PressBooks installation, because it’s actually just a particular theme in WordPress that is activated via a plugin. Still free in itself, this version of PressBooks also allows you to maintain the book as an HTML document or export it to .epub, .mobi (Kindle), and .pdf versions, as well as various formats designed specifically for printing. Epub is the most flexible and open format for e-books, and displays smoothly on various screens and e-readers. It does not display natively on the Kindle (which uses Amazon’s proprietary .mobi format), but you can either export a .mobi version of the book for reading on a Kindle, or use the free e-book management application Calibre to convert the .epub file to .mobi. Calibre is an outstanding tool for management a collection of e-books and other long-form digital publications, supports all major formats, and gives you a wide range of features. It probably deserves its own post and workshop, but if folks are interested, we can talk about it this week as well.
As noted above, PressBooks incorporates support for a collaborative and open process of writing, editing, commenting upon, and annotating the text. Some instructors are making use of PressBooks as a platform for textbooks, including textbooks that are produced in collaboration with students. For example, Robin de Rosa of Plymouth State University describes how she worked with students to create The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature. In the context of describing her practices of open pedagogy and the creation and use of open educational resources, de Rosa observes that, when it comes to textbooks, students are particularly well-situated to create, and not simply consume:
People often ask me how students can create textbooks when they are only just beginning to learn about the topics that the textbooks cover. My answer to this is that unlike many other scholarly materials, textbooks are primarily designed to be accessible to students– to new scholars in a particular academic area or sub-specialty. Students are the perfect people to help create textbooks, since they are the most keenly tuned in to what other students will need in order to engage with the material in meaningful ways. By taking the foundational principles of a field– most of which are not “owned” by any prior textbook publisher– and refiguring them through their own lens, student textbook creators can easily tap their market. They can access and learn about these principles in multiple ways (conventional or open textbooks, faculty lecture and guidance, reading current work in the field, conversations with related networks, videos and webinars, etc.), and they are quite capable, in my opinion, of designing engaging ways to reframe those principles in ways that will be more helpful to students than anything that has come before.
So if you are interested in exploring your options for writing and publishing a book, either on your own or as part of a larger project, join us this week for some conversation and demonstration.