Textbook modification tools

Hi folks! I’m planning an open textbook modification project, with the end goal being a diversified text. The idea is to reach out to a wide swath of individuals to get stories and information that may otherwise be ignored and involve new people in knowledge production/recording. I’m working on the format of this process so far and am not sure what tool(s) will work best. My initial thought right now is to just use something like Hypothesis, but that might not work on its own if we’re hoping to collect contact info from people for follow-up. Any thoughts/ideas? Thanks!

@amy.nusbaum Really excited to hear about the project and the concerted effort to highlight stories and information that might not otherwise be surfaced. Regarding tools, before making any recommendations here, could you possibly describe what you’d like to do with the tools/process? Are you looking to give people an option to leave comments/annotations on something, and then contact them afterwards? Or perhaps just want a tool to gather all the people working on the project and have a space for them to share stories/discussions? Or something else altogether?

If you’re looking for something that is more multi-use, then I can do some more thinking depending on what these uses are! @zoe might also have some recommendations for you, so she might chime in. Safe to say that we both like thinking about tools and process, so this is a great question for us :slight_smile:

The main goal will be for anyone (including people outside of the core project team) to leave their thoughts/ideas/comments So, we’ll be putting out a wide call for input and will need somewhere people can provide suggestions. It seems like it might be a good idea to be able to contact the people in case something needs clarified, but if that can’t happen it isn’t the end of the world. Hope that makes sense, and thanks!

Hey Amy! Great to hear from you about this, it sounds like an awesome initiative :slight_smile:

We’ve used a few different mechanisms for gathering input/feedback, including Hypothesis (both public and in a private group), Google Docs, Google Forms, this forum and a regular ol’ memo. Any or all of these might achieve what you want - sometimes it’s good to open up a few different options to folks so they can choose their preferred mechanisms, but if you do so, you’ll need to think about how best to collate the feedback.

Here’s a bit of a breakdown of each:

  • Hypothesis public group: You could create a new version of the book that is explicitly for gathering feedback and encourage people to use the public layer in Hypothesis. This will require them to create accounts, which has pros & cons, and the output of all the comments can be a bit difficult to parse through given you’re not in an editing interface. Feedback is also obviously open to anyone to see, which can be pretty cool, but up to you whether that’s appropriate for your context & the people involved etc (may impact what/how they share).

  • Hypothesis private group: Same as above, but private! This means you can do it on an existing copy of the text, but you do have to add/invite everyone to a group which may be more of a barrier than you want to impose (plus we’ve run into several cases where people accidentally leave all their comments in the public group anyway which is a pain).

  • Google Docs: This might not suit if the content is already in a presentation format - it’s typically pretty easy to get it back into an editable form, but incorporating GDoc changes back into the original text is a bit of a nightmare, so beware (and be prepared to create a totally new version). No doubt GDocs is a fantastic collaborative tool, one advantage being it lets everyone both edit and comment in the same space (an advantage over Hypothesis) and it’s fairly accessible (allows both anonymous and named contributors, too). It can still be used in a fairly open process, but with a little more control/boundaries than the public Hypothesis group. Using a Google product for this kind of work isn’t right for everyone, though, and it might still be a little chaotic to manage.

  • Google Forms (or other form/survey tools): This can be a nice, structured way to gather feedback (it spits out a tidy little spreadsheet on the other end - yay!) but it does mean you’re giving your reviewers quite a bit of structure, which you may not want to do. Setting up questions requires you to pre-empt what you want to hear from them to a large extent, although that does also let you guide them in positive ways. This option also creates a bit of a break between content & feedback input (whereas with Hypothesis and GDocs let you comment as you read), especially if you had one form for the whole text. A better idea might be to ask reviewers to submit the form once per chapter, but that’s quite a big ask. Overall, using a form is a higher barrier to sharing their thoughts, which can mean there’s greater investment from them, but might also mean you ‘price out’ others who have something to offer.

  • Forum/Our new discussion space (coming soon!): Forgive the plug, but what you describe sounds like something we’re working hard to support, and we’re about to relaunch our platform to add a bunch of discussion features that will replace this forum. In the next couple of months, that will include dedicated discussion spaces for individual projects, so its usefulness to you will depend on timing for when you’re starting up this project, but hey, I know some people, we might be able to make an arrangement :wink:. This would likely pair best with one or some of the other options in this list, as it’s like a form/survey in that the comments aren’t directly on content, but it gives a less structured place for people to comment, share, exchange and ask questions in a more organic way. Plus, it makes the process transparent and inviting - it sounds like this will be a real community effort, so having a place for that community to connect might be interesting to you. It can also help to have a central organising space for the practical things like sharing docs, sending reminders etc.

  • Memo: A classic, but it can be very useful! Asking people to just collect notes as they read through and submit them as a memo can work, although it’s probably an idea to suggest some general structure to what you want them to submit. These memos can be shared publicly if you want to keep an element of transparency, but are also a good option for those who don’t (and you could have both as options). This format also allows a lot of depth that some people don’t feel they get from the more direct commenting options, but on the other hand, some things work better tied directly to content. As such, this can be a nice supplement. As with the survey, it’s a bit of an extra effort for folks to commit to, but that has its advantages, and in combo with other options can bring a lot. One other downside to this and the survey option is that they’re pretty uni-directional, so need to be complemented by something like the discussion option if you want to be able to, you know, discuss things :smile:

A few more general thoughts:

  • All of these can include paths back to reviewer (with the right permissions), so you’re covered there.

  • Offering some structure/guidance for those giving input in the form of a guide is always a good idea. You can give people lots of room to interpret and explore the content themselves, but simple things like structuring feedback by chapter vs. full text can help you as you process their input (e.g. one discussion thread per chapter + one for general/overall thoughts). Guiding questions are also helpful if there are things you know you want the review process to address, without them being to the exclusion of other ideas they come up with.

  • Keep a master spreadsheet of feedback, especially if you’re gathering it from many sources. Keeping everything straight in your head can be tricky when you’re juggling a few different channels, so set up your system early and keep to it. We’ll have some templates coming out soon, but it can be pretty simple to start. Organising by chapter is, again, a useful starting point, and including something like estimated scale of change can be helpful, too (e.g. from fixing typos through to adding entirely new chapters).

  • A lot of the decisions you make on the feedback mechanism(s) will depend on your goals for the review and who you’re hoping to reach, so you’ll know best what suits. You might want it all out in the open, you might want to offer the chance for private feedback, you might want to have very low barriers to participation, or you may want them a little higher, or any combination of the above! We have taken the approach of self-determination for reviewers before, which can be great for letting them work in their best conditions, but it does tend to mean more management on your end to process everything.

Phew! So that’s a whole lot. I’ve based this a lot on our experience of review, but what you’re describing is a bit different, so if I’m off-base with any of this, just say the word. I’ve only focused on gathering feedback here, but if you’re looking ahead to incorporating it too, I can speak to that a bit (spoiler alert: it will involve Pressbooks).

In any case, I’m really interested in how you approach this and what the goals are, so would love to keep chatting about how we can adapt the kinds of channels we’ve used before to your context.


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@zoe you are the best! Thank you so much. I would definitely be interested in chatting more about the discussion spaces y’all are working on, as I think that would be a great supplement to whatever main way(s) we go with for the actual editing. One of the coolest things about open is the sense of community, and I’m totally down for any way to enhance that.

I’m going to think some more about all of the info you’ve provided on different tools - I super appreciate your time/work here. Thanks!!

@amy.nusbaum No problem, Amy! This has all just been circling in my head, so thank you for the prompt to get it all down on virtual paper. (I’m thinking we’ll actually tidy it up and add it to our documentation as a comparison of feedback mechanisms, so that’s an added bonus for us :smile:)

Let me know if any questions come up as you think over things, and we’ll definitely talk more about the community aspect. The first round of platform changes will be coming next week, so we can pick up again then once you’ve seen a bit more concretely what we’re planning.