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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OER Roundtable Recap at #aha17

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Panelists (right to left): Sarah Randow, Christy Jo Snider, Ann Marie Davis, Jessica McCullough

Over the break I participated in a roundtable, “Free for All: A Discussion of Open Educational Resources (OER) in U.S. and World History Survey Courses,” at the the American Historical Association conference in Denver, Colorado. Members of our roundtable included Sarah Randow from LeTourneau University (Chair), Christy Jo Snider from Berry College, Ann Marie Davis from Ohio State University (formerly Conn!), and me. If you are interested in the topic of open and affordable teaching materials and textbooks resources, read on for my takeaways!

  • Two panelists, Sarah and Christy, adopted The American Yawp, a free online textbook collaboratively developed by historians (who very kindly attended the roundtable). This particular textbook is published under a Creative Commons license allowing others to adapt and share the material, so long as they allow others to do the same and attribute the original creators (Attribution-Share Alike). Both panelists not only adopted the book, but adapted it to suit their own specific needs. For example, Christy used a free online publishing tool, Blub, to create a new textbook to which she added images and selected primary source material.
  • The best outcomes come from a focus on pedagogy. For example, Sarah found that the while rigorous, the readability/accessible and focus on the essentials of U.S. History allowed her students to make connections and draw their own conclusions from the material presented.
  • Ann Marie conducted a survey among historians and found that many faculty use OER in their courses, but don’t often realize that these materials are considered OER. This finding resonates with me, as faculty I know have made the switch to OER for pedagogical reasons without realizing they were a part of a larger movement. One surprising finding was faculty who have been teaching longer were equally receptive and have adapted OERs at similar rates as more junior instructors.
  • In our discussion, it was clear that there is a real need for a World History textbook, similar to American Yawp. However, such a project comes with additional challenges surrounding content selection. There seemed to be real excitement surrounding this project.
  • Additional themes from the discussion included recognition (for tenure and promotion) for creating open resources. Institutions are uneven in their recognition of this work, and while students are grateful for free or low-cost course materials, they do not realize the effort required to create the resources.  There was also a lively discussion of access to technology and the continued need for printed materials.
  • My presentation focused on how to implement OER in courses, from the perspective of an instructional designer. I also included plenty of examples of OER initiatives, helpful repositories and interesting resources.

Swivl toward Lecture Recording

This semester Joe Schroeder is using a Swivl, a robotic mount that holds an iPad or smartphone, to record lectures in Behavioral Neuroscience. With the use of a remote that the presenter wears, the Swivl tracks a moving person and uses the camera on the iPad or smartphone to record. Lectures or presentation are stored and saved in the cloud using Swivl’s cloud service, and shared with students through a link.

Swivl robot
Swivl robot

Why Lecture Record

Last year Joe had a problem: several students were going to miss class but he needed to cover important material. He asked about ways to record his lecture, and we suggested he try the Swivl. He gave it a try, and found the technology easy and convenient to use. This year, due to scheduling difficulties in Behavioral Neuroscience (PSY/BIO 314), he has one student who needs the class but is unable to attend one day a week. Recording the class on this day was the only way that this student could enroll. Remembering the Swivl, he decided to record the Friday lectures.

How it Works – Technology

Joe assigned one student as the class videographer, and this student is responsible for ensuring that the device it turned on, recording, and working throughout the class period. After class, Joe initially downloaded the video, saved it as an .mp4 file, then uploaded that to Moodle (through Kaltura). This process, while simple, was time consuming. More recently, with the introduction of Swivl’s cloud service, which automatically processes the video after recording and provides a link to the video, he simply copies that link and shares it with all students through Moodle. While Swivl provides tools for editing, the integration of slides and video, and other features, Joe does not spend time editing.

Excerpt of Joe's Moodle site, showing links to outside resources, lecture slides, and class recordings.
Excerpt of Joe’s Moodle site, showing links to outside resources, lecture slides, and class recordings.

How it Works – Pedagogy

After a few weeks of recording one day a week, Joe decided to record every class. Initially he had concerns about attendance – would students attend a class they knew would be recorded and could be watched later? He found that this practice did not affect attendance. Students value class time for the interaction with Joe and fellow students, as well as the ability to ask questions and check for understanding – this is a challenging class and expectations are high. In addition, the course does not use a textbook (see When Risks Pay Off in the Classroom), but a collection of resources – an online animated textbook from University of Toronto, simulation software, videos, articles, and more. Students use the recordings as another resource to understand course material.

Final Thoughts and Next Steps

While the full impact of providing class recordings is not yet known, mid-semester feedback from students is positive. Using Swivl is low-effort, but may potentially have a high impact for all students in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Beyond lecture capture, I can imagine additional uses for the Swivl. Students or faculty could use it to practice presentations and review the recording, students could rehearse a performance, then send the video to faculty or peers for feedback.

If you have questions or are interested in exploring ways to record your classes, contact your Instructional Technology liaison.

Friday Fun with the Smithsonian Learning Lab

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Greensboro Lunch Counter, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.

Earlier this week I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC. I often forget about the amazing treasures that the 19 Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, and 9 research centers hold.  Fortunately, now we can explore these diverse collections virtually through the Smithsonian Learning Lab. The Learning Lab includes images, video, audio, text, and learning resources. The Learning Lab is a space for anyone to curate and create collections; you can even annotate or upload your own resources to a collection and share those collections with students or colleagues.

While the Learning Lab’s primary audience is K-12 teachers and students, the content available makes the site worth exploring for your own courses. Many images are scanned at a high resolution, allowing you to zoom in to see details. Creating an account is easy and allows you (or your students) to create your own collections and share them easily.

What can you find in the Learning Lab? Collections from some of the following institutions are represented:

  • Archives of American Art
  • Astrophysical Observatory
  • Conservation Biology Institute
  • Environmental Research Center
  • Marine Station at Fort Pierce
  • Museum Conservation Institute
  • Smithsonian Institute Archives
  • Smithsonian Libraries
  • Tropical Research Institute
  • African American History and Culture Museum
  • African Art Museum
  • Air and Space Museum
  • American Art Museum
  • American History Museum
  • American Indian Museum
  • National Zoo
  • Natural History Museum
  • Postal Museum
  • American Indian Museum Heye Center
  • Cooper Hewitt

Let us know if you find anything interesting in the comments below. Enjoy!

MIT OpenCourseware for Course Inspiration

MIT OpenCourseware Logo

During a recent consultation with a faculty member where we explored affordable online resources for a new Conn Course, I shared related course materials available through the MIT OpenCourseware website. If you are developing a new course, looking for inspiration to update an old one, or trying to incorporate different disciplinary approaches and content, MIT Open Courseware is well worth a visit.

MIT OpenCourseware shares materials from 2,340 courses taught at MIT. By sharing course content, MIT hopes to help educators improve courses, help students find additional information, and provide quality resources for independent students and self-learners. Courses include both undergraduate and graduate levels in all subjects taught at MIT. Many courses include a syllabus, reading material, assignments, and in some cases audio or video lectures, even online textbooks and supplemental material. 

screenshot of Anthropology course available through MIT OpenCourseware
Anthropology course available through MIT OpenCourseware

 

If you’re looking for new classroom activities, try exploring the related OCW Educator which allows you to browse instructional approaches and materials. For example, browse by Active Learning and find examples of case studies, discussion, flipped classrooms, teamwork and more. Other interesting topics include Critical Thinking, Diversity and Inclusion, Engaging Learners, Lecturing, and more. Some courses also include a section called “This Course at MIT” which explains how the course was developed and taught. 

Use the comments below to tell us if you find something interesting!

Important Workshop on Friday: Open Educational Resources

Access to course materials for all students is critical to their success in our courses. Are your course materials cost prohibitive? Join us on Friday for a workshop to learn about Open Educational Resources (OER). We will present strategies for finding and implementing OER and hear from members of our own faculty who have replaced costly textbooks with freely available, online content. The workshop will be held in the Advanced Technology Lab where you will have time to explore resources relevant to your discipline. As always, refreshments will be served.
Free Textbooks?! Using Open Educational Resources
Friday, February 19, 9:15-10:15 AM
Advanced Technology Lab, Lower Level, Shain Library

Workshop Recap: Free Textbooks?!

Logos from different OER resources

Thank you to everyone who attended yesterday’s workshop, “Free Textbooks?! Using Open Educational Resources (OER).” A special thank you to Karen Gonzalez Rice and Joe Schroeder who shared their experiences replacing textbooks with OER. We learned a lot hearing about your experiences – positive and negative! I wrote about their presentations in a previous post – available here.

I heard from several faculty who are interested in the topic but were unable to attend. If this describes you, click on the image above to view our full presentation.

What the presentation doesn’t include, however, is our great discussion about creating courses that are accessible to all students. While many students here can afford course materials, we need to keep in mind that this is not every student’s experience. We should be mindful, when designing our courses, to consider questions of equity and access to course materials. Here are a few points from our discussion:

  • For faculty in the sciences and social sciences, we highly recommend reviewing the open textbooks created for OpenStax. These books are widely used across the world!
  • Finding open resources can be time consuming. If you wish to explore the possibilities of open resources – including textbooks, interactive online modules, quiz banks, syllabi, etc – set up a meeting with your liaison. There is an amazing amount of resources available, but sorting through and integrating them effectively into your course takes time. An instructional technologist can help. This is a great project for Tempel Summer Institute!
  • Some faculty have collected enough materials – articles, websites, etc – that they are able to forego the textbook. We discussed the difference between reading on a screen and in print. There are several ways to deal with this: teach students how to effectively read on a screen and employ tools that allow students to annotate and highlight texts and/or require students to print materials. If you choose the latter, explain to students that the cost of printing is much less than the cost of your previously required textbook.
  • One drawback to using a collection of different materials is that a textbook provides cohesion and important supplemental materials, such as a glossary. You can often find useful glossaries and timelines online and in reference books. In addition, there are tools (iBooks Author, for example) that allow you to create your own book that combines these resources and provide connections and context.
  • If you’re excited and ready to dive in to OER, take a look at the slideshow above. In addition to many linked repositories and organizations, the section on pedagogy and carefully selecting and integrating OER is important.

There is a lot of interest in this topic so I am hoping to offer this again next semester. If you would like to be involved, have questions, or want to meet with an instructional technologist or librarian, contact your liaison. If you find a great resource or try something new, share it with us!

Final Teaching with Technology Workshop of the Semester Tomorrow!

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We hope you can join us for our final Teaching with Technology workshop of the semester tomorrow. We will meet in the Advanced Technology Lab (ATL) tomorrow (Wednesday) from 10:30-11:30. The ATL is located on the lower level of Shain Library, just on the other side of the stairs from the IT Service Desk.

Free Textbooks?! Using Open Educational Resources
Wednesday, November 11, 10:30-11:30
Advanced Technology Lab, Shain Library
Do your students complain about textbook costs? Are you frustrated by the format, content, or examples in your textbook? Open Educational Resources (OER) are shared teaching, learning, and research resources that are free for anyone to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. Using high-quality, peer-reviewed OER instead of costly textbooks has several advantages, including: equitable access to learning materials, increased student achievement, and complete flexibility. In this workshop we will hear from faculty who are using OER – Karen Gonzalez Rice and Joe Schroeder – and explore high quality examples. You will leave with strategies for finding, evaluating, and integrating OER in your spring courses!
Register

When Risks Pay Off in the Classroom

As we think about our courses, curriculum, and institution as a whole through the lens of full participation, we should not overlook the additional costs we ask (require) our students to bear in order to successfully complete their education. Textbooks are one such cost that I’ve written about recently.  

Last Wednesday, Joe Schroeder, Karen Gonzalez Rice, Lyndsay Bratton and I traveled to Fairfield University for a very well attended “Workshop on the Open Education Resources (OER) Movement.” The keynote speaker, Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), presented information about the economics of textbooks and the financial and academic impact on students. She shared alternative solutions, such as OpenStax, free, open-source, high-quality textbooks available online and in print sponsored by Rice University. She ended with a call to participate in the OER movement. You can review Nicole’s presentation here.

I would like to thank Karen and Joe, who presented their experiences making the leap from textbook to free online materials. We all benefited from hearing faculty perspectives from diverse fields, especially since faculty are on the front lines of the OER movement.

SmartHistory VideoKaren was able to replace her textbook by using a combination of SmartHistory and ARTstor. These online materials – videos and still images – better support her course goals by modeling how to talk about art, demonstrating that there is disagreement and ambiguity in art history, and showing how scholars engage each other in debate. One important result of Karen’s shift was better, more informed class discussion.  

Joe explained that he has had mixed success and continues to experiment with how best to Image from online textbookprovide required content in an introductory neuroscience course. In his field, the problem with a print textbook is that it does not clearly communicate the complex relationships, sequences and processes that occur in the brain. Recently he found an exceptional online textbook, Neuroscience Online, created at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, that, through  the use of animated images, does this very well. The online textbook also provides the content that students need and that would be found in a traditional print textbook.

One speaker referred to faculty experimenting with OER as brave, and Karen and Joe modeled what it means take risks with their courses. Thank you for your contributions!

Great Online Teaching Resources! Or, what are OER?

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Hewlett Foundation


As you might know, I am interested in exploring Open Educational Resources (OER) and considering how we might use them to enhance learning. They can be used to provide alternative modes of content delivery, reinforce learning through interactivity such as simulations or other activities, save students money by replacing costly textbooks, or even change how we teach through blended or flipped classroom models.

If you don’t know what OER are, you are not alone. According to this survey, 66% of faculty are “not aware” of OER. In this post I share some examples of existing resources so that we can better understand the potential of OER. Before looking at the examples below, understand that there is a huge amount of amazing material available for you to use; this is only a very, very small sample.

Textbooks

OpenStax College: Principles of Economics is part of the growing OpenStax catalog of professional-quality, open access textbooks that are both customizable and free to faculty and students. Read more here about OpenStax and view the full catalog (titles focus on the sciences and social sciences).

Le Littéraire dans le quotidien is an open French textbook created by Joanna Gay Luks, Senior Lecturer in French, Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University and which takes a “transdisiplinary approach to reading/writing at the first and second year levels.”

Gender and Sexualities: An Inquiry by Jason Gary Damron and Vicki Reitenauer of Portland State University “provides an interdisciplinary and intersectional framework for thinking critically about the historical and contemporary applications of knowledge about gender and sexuality.”

Case Studies, Activities & Simulations

Pixar in a Box, a collaboration between Disney and Khan Academy, is a free online curriculum that shows how Pixar artists use mathematical concepts to create animated films.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is one in a multimedia series introducing drama, epic poetry, and novels from many times and cultures brought together by Professor David Damrosch,  Harvard University. This project was funded by Annenberg Media.

Planet Money Makes a Tshirt, produced by NPR’s Planet Money, is a media rich (video, images, text, graphics, and links) series that deconstructs the global supply and production process involved in making a T-shirt.

The Virtual Chemistry Laboratory allows students to virtually mix chemicals “without wearing safety goggles.”

What Next

Next week Lyndsay Bratton, Karen Gonzalez Rice, Joe Schroeder and I will attend A Workshop on the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement at Fairfield University. Follow the event on Twitter using #OERFairfield. You can also expect more information posted to the blog after we attend this event!