Project Summary: Guide to Making Open Textbooks With Students

Title: Making Open Textbooks With Students Handbook
Lead Editors: Zoe Wake Hyde / @zoe , Liz Mays / @lizmays
Rebus Project Managers: Zoe Wake Hyde, Liz Mays
License: CC BY
Target Audience: Faculty wanting to practice open pedagogy or involve students in building open textbooks and ancillary materials.
Subject: Education
Target Release Date: Fall 2017

Making Open Textbooks With Students will be a short handbook for faculty interested in involving students in making open textbooks or similar open educational materials.

We are still looking for a few contributors, namely:

  • Students who have worked with faculty on open textbook projects who are willing to write about their experiences in a 300- to 500-word sidebar.
  • Faculty with relevant experience who could contribute example assignments, ancillary resources that have been tested in the classroom, a short writeup about their classroom open textbook project, or similar.

Get involved by joining the discussion below!

As the project progresses, we will also need collaborators to help with:

  • Copyediting
  • Proofreading
  • Accessibility checks
  • Formatting in Pressbooks
  • Marketing

If you’re excited by this project, but still not sure where you’d like to get involved, just sign up to the forum, and post below for project updates. Give us an idea of your background, particular area of expertise, and interests. We’ll follow up and make sure we find ways to have you participate!

This project couldn’t happen without your participation. All contributing authors will be credited prominently in their chapter, the book, the metadata and promotional materials. All editors, reviewers and other contributors will also be credited.

The Table of Contents is as follows:

Open Pedagogy
Student Rights and Faculty Responsibilities
Project Ideas and Case Studies
Student Experiences in OT Projects

For a more extensive outline, see here.

Here’s a list of useful documents:

TWEET THIS PROJECT! (less than 140 chars, copy-paste into Twitter)
Help us make a guide to making open textbooks with students. Find out how to contribute here:

@zwakehyde (lead editor), @lizmays (lead editor), @egsmith3, @rajiv-jhangiani, @robinderosa1, @wardjulie, @davidsquires, @alicebarrett, @gabriel-higginbotham…and you?

I am working on a student-developed critical, annotated anthology of Hispanic literary texts. I would be happy to participate in interviews and/or contribute to Chapter Three. I would also be happy to help with Chapter One, sharing assignment instructions and rubrics. I’ll check in with my two student research assistants who are working on final drafts and formatting to see whether they’re interested.

@wardjulie This is fantastic! We would love to add a case study featuring your text to chapter three. I will put you down for assignment instructions and rubrics for chapter one. If possible, we would love to add some of your students’ voices in chapter four as well! Keep us posted on their interest, and we’ll be in touch soon to coordinate further.

@wardjulie Also, we will turn the rough outline above into a spreadsheet soon!

Hi y’all. Last fall I had my students create a prototype OA textbook about social media. We used Scalar as a platform, so the project is available online. See links below. I’d be happy to talk/write about the experience if it’d be useful for Chapter Three. I’d be happy to offer my experience teaching digital literacy, if that’s useful. This handbook looks useful. I’m happy to have stumbled across the project.

@davidsquires Hi @davidsquires This is fantastic! (I once taught social media at a j-school and could really have used a resource like this!) I will add your project as a case study or interview in Chapter 3 to the draft and put you down for the digital literacy piece of Chapter 2. Very exciting to have you onboard. More details will follow!

I would love to work on the opening intro, maybe with Rajiv. I know we are both limited on time, so it depends on the timeline. But we both have stuff that we could mash up to create an intro section like that, I think…

1 Like

Hi @robinderosa1 We would love if you and @rajiv could contribute to that section!


I’ve put together a spreadsheet of what is still a TOC in development. I am adding to it as people express thoughts here.

@wardjulie As one of the students contributing to the Dr. Ward’s project, I am happy to be interviewed for Chapter Four.

Hi @alicebarrett Thanks so much. I will be in touch to coordinate soon!

Hi Everyone, An update: Thanks to all of you, this project has been progressing at a clip! We are still looking for a few more students to tell their stories. These could take the form of roughly 500-word firsthand accounts from students/former students about their experience working on open pedagogy projects or through interviews that become Q&As.

Thanks to your recommendations, we have talked with several students already, but we would like to include even more student voices.

If you know of a student who has worked on an open textbook project who might be amenable to either doing a writeup or being interviewed, I would be grateful for an introduction or contact so that we can reach out.

I have worked on ~10 open textbooks over the past couple of years (as a student worker) and would love to share my experiences. What kind of info are you looking for? (e.g. technical, design, best practices, etc.)

Hi @gabriel-higginbotham Your experience sounds like it would make a perfect first-hand account for the guide, ideally as one of the sidebars offering the student (or former student) viewpoint on being part of these projects. You have so much experience it might make for a longer sidebar–maybe 800 to 1,000 words? For yours, I think it would be great if you could:

  1. Give some context by summarizing some of projects you’ve worked on and your role in them.
  2. Talk about how those were valuable learning experiences for you as a student–the skills you acquired, etc.
  3. Give your perspective on the processes or practices that lend themselves to best success when faculty and students work on these projects
  4. Key challenges and considerations you would like to see addressed in such projects
    Would you be amenable to writing such a sidebar?

Wanted to issue a quick update: This project is going well and nearing completion. We are hoping for a late August launch. Stay tuned!

@lizmays I am very sorry for the late reply. Hopefully this can still be used in the book, but if not maybe in a future version. Let me know if you would like anything changed or added, and feel free to remove any unnecessary parts:

  1. I have been involved with roughly 10 textbooks at Open Oregon State. A few standouts are:
  • A Primer for Computational Biology (Set to go to print soon!)
  • Introduction to Permaculture
  • Introduction to Microbiology
    I worked on converting professors’ texts (either Word or LaTeX) to HTML. I also designed the books (using CSS) to cater to either the needs of the professor or the purposes of the book. I learned HTML, CSS, and LaTeX on the job, and was one of the first student workers in the department.
    Books at Open Oregon State are created using PressBooks, a WordPress plugin. We use some other multimedia tools including video and, more recently, H5P. We also use a number of WordPress plugins such as a glossary, code highlighter, and broken link checker. Some of our books were created from materials used in online courses, others were LaTeX books that became online books to increase their availability.
    When I was first hired, I was tasked with making a list of open textbooks available online. I also found replacement materials that professors could use in courses. Over the course of a few months I made an Excel spreadsheet of 4,500 open textbooks available on the web, and this list is continually growing!
  1. As a student in information systems, learning HTML and CSS in my position were particularly useful as an introduction to programming before entering my actual programming courses. The tasks of my position allowed me to navigate the process of problem solving in a relatively risk-free environment. Conversely, my courses often introduced me to techniques and tools I could use in my position. For example, learning PHP in my programming course allowed me to edit a WordPress plugin to meet the unique needs of a particular programming textbook.
    Troubleshooting design issues in my position introduced me to platforms such as Stackoverflow and GitHub, where I could interact with other contributors and find solutions to problems I came across. I was able to apply the solutions in one problem to a similar context in another problem, often with a creative and unique approach. These proved vital in my courses later on, where I would encounter more complex problems such as querying databases and creating UIs.
    My position was also beneficial in the realm of project management. Working on a number of distinct textbooks with different needs, stakeholders, contributors, and deadlines improved my ability to estimate task times and switch back-and-forth between various tasks and requests. This was usefully applicable in my courses, where I had very different projects that demanded varying levels of attention. I needed to allocate my resources to succeed in my courses as efficiently as possible.
    Researching open materials for my position in turn made me more adept at finding free learning resources to augment my own course materials. Where other students may have paid for supplementary course materials, I could find suitable free resources, saving me hundreds of dollars on my undergrad degree. Most students I encountered had no idea such materials existed.

  2. Communication is key when creating open textbooks. It’s imperative that students (or any other contributors) understand the purpose and needs of the finished book. Everyone must be on the same page or there will be a lot of duplicate or superfluous work. Checking in with professors, faculty, and other student workers can ensure that nothing falls between the cracks. A task management system such as Basecamp or Asana may be useful to create project milestones and allocate work. This is more important as a team increases in size. Open Oregon State did not take full advantage of a task management system, but there were only about five student workers at any given time.
    A cohesive “vision” for the department may help limit the scope of certain books that may require special attention (in my experience, these include math-based or programming books). This “vision” may need to develop over time and can include strategic intentions for both content and style. Since open textbook programs (and the open textbook industry in general) are relatively new for most universities, I believe this process is still in its infancy. A few standouts have emerged including BCcampus and the University of Minnesota. These are definitely models to follow for the establishment of new open textbook departments. I believe that OSU is emerging as an exemplary model.
    It is imperative that the knowledge gained from students workers not be lost when they leave or graduate. There is a substantial learning curve that comes along with being hired in any position. Using previous student workers’ perspectives and experiences to train new hires can not only speed up book production, but create a more cohesive body of work and culture within the department. I cannot stress enough how important I believe this legacy knowledge is.

  3. Fostering a collaborative and open environment is vital for student workers to thrive and find creative solutions to complex problems. Create a space where students can work together and share input; this keeps them motivated and engaged when design work gets tedious. I was lucky to have a patient and open boss at Open Oregon State who listened to my ideas and considered my advice when making decisions. I would suggest that other open textbook department heads do the same: consider the opinions of your students workers. They have the perspective of both a student and a faculty member.
    For professors generously contributing content to open textbooks, they must be made aware of the limitations that certain platforms may have. For example, an HTML environment will not have the same cross-referencing or indexing capabilities as a LaTeX environment will. Illuminating these limitations from the start will prevent unnecessary work and avoid disappointment as the book progresses. However, the advantages and rewards of an open book must be emphasized over any potential shortcomings that may present themselves.
    The interactivity and availability of supplementary materials must increase as more textbooks are developed. I believe this is one of the main hesitancies of professors in adopting an open textbook for their course. As the trust in open materials gains momentum over time, ability to replace existing materials in courses with minimal effort and exceeded expectations will prove to be essential.

This book is a groundbreaking step in archiving the legacy knowledge of students. Their input is most essential, but can often be overlooked! I would like to see more projects emerge that aim to share the best practices of student workers, both within and across universities.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story!

@gabriel.higginbotham Hi Gabriel, Not too late. I will edit this into the format of the others and send your way to see before it goes live.

@gabriel.higginbotham Hi Gabriel, This is fantastic! Here is the edited version, which is currently password-protected. Password MOTS. I took some liberties to smooth out the first few graphs. Otherwise, I mainly edited it into Q&A form. Could you please send me your preferred bio and title asap? You’ll see that I left placeholders. Thank you again–this is a wonderful addition!

@lizmays Thanks! How do I access your version? I do not see a link.

Will write up a bio in a moment.

@lizmays Hopefully this works as a bio? :smiley:

Gabe Higginbotham worked as a student project assistant for two years at Open Oregon State. He received his B.S. in Business Information Systems at Oregon State in early 2017. Currently, he works as an IT consultant for OOS. Starting this fall, he plans to take a gap year and work at UCSD. In fall 2018, he will go to grad school abroad to study Human Computer Interaction Design. For his career, he plans to continue contributing to the open education field.