The perfect textbook is possible! Tools for creating or customizing textbooks

American History textbook based on American Yawp and created using iBooks Author

We’ve written a lot about open educational resources (OER) on this blog, in addition to presenting at regional, consortial, and national  meetings. One area we could explore further is the ability to customize true OER. Don’t like a chapter? Edit it, or simply remove it. Don’t like the order material is presented? Reorganize it so that matches the way you teach. Like some parts of one text, and parts of another? Mash them up to create your own.

A quick Google search reveals that there are hundreds of platforms and software options that allow you to create your own textbook from existing OER. This post focuses on four inexpensive (or free) tools that we have experience using. We also want to point out that this is only one step in successfully implementing OER into a course, and that members of the instructional technology team are here to assist you through the entire process!

  • iBooks Author is a free app that allows you to create ebooks and either export them as epub files and share with students, or make them available through the iBooks store. This software makes it very easy to incorporate multimedia content – image galleries, movies, multiple-choice questions, and more. You can even add interactive widgets to your books such as maps, 360 degree panoramas, and timelines. Note that your students will need to have software that can read epub files, but there are free options we can recommend.
  • Scalar, a free online platform built by the University of Southern California, is a favorite authoring platform of digital humanists who wish to create long-form, born-digital content. Its structure is flexible, allowing for multimedia-rich, non-linear texts. Scalar does not require you to install or use any specialized software – all editing is done online. If you want students to access your course materials online and you have a lot of multimedia content, this is a good choice.
  • Pressbooks is book production software, but you don’t have to create a print book. If you have used WordPress, the learning curve will be small. I found the different templates to be attractive, and was pleased with the ease of reorganizing my book’s content and the ability to select page-level copyright licenses. Also exciting is the Hypothesis plugin so students can highlight, add comments, and take notes while reading! While it is free to use the platform and distribute your text online, it does cost money to publish your book in epub and pdf formats without watermarks (from $19-$99). There is also an option to order printed copies.
  • Blurb is an inexpensive option for creating professional-looking books that can be easily shared as pdfs. Blurb also has many print options if you wish to professionally print copies of your textbook. The free online editing tool, Bookify, is user friendly and offers many different page templates. The cost to create an ebook is free, but to export it as a pdf, you will pay a one-time fee of $4.99 per book. Note that every time you update the book, you’ll need to pay $4.99 for a new pdf version.
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