I received a series of questions about open textbooks from a person who attended my keynote at the University of Georgia in October of 2017.
Greetings! I heard you speak at UGA about publishing open textbooks with your students and I decided that I had to do this too.
So here I am, teaching a class with 20 undergrads, and this crazy idea to have students research Confederate monuments in the state, and write up a resolution to a specific monument in Georgia that they researched over the course of the semester.
The goal of the book is to document each monuments' specific history as well as allow students to express their solutions as to how they believe the monuments should look in the future.
I know that I will get my students research and writing where it needs to be, but I am totally ignorant to this self publishing process. Looking through the different publication options, I wondered why did you choose Pressbooks over just uploading straight to Amazon?
I do not want to charge any money for the book as I am fearful that my students may think that I am profiting from their work–which I know will not be the case–but that still nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I would love any and all advice that you might have for me regarding the process. I am hoping to include photographs (taken by my students) in the book as well.
Also—I love your podcast in every way imaginable. It re-energizes me daily.
At the end of 2017, I wrote up some details on My First Experience Co-Writing an Open Textbook, in case you haven’t seen that post yet.
You pose some questions that I didn’t address in that post, however. Here are some thoughts about what you asked.
My experience with Pressbooks has led me to the belief that it is probably the best option out there for creating open textbooks. That being said, I am very new to this process and haven’t done an exhaustive search or extensive comparisons. This open textbook about how to write an open textbook is a good guide and happens to be written using Pressbooks. Another similar and excellent resource is A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students.
Options like using Github or Gitbook to get started with open textbooks seem daunting for those who are less familiar with those tools, already. Since Pressbooks is based on WordPress, people who have done some blogging in the past are likely to feel quite comfortable in that environment.
For those who aren't ready to write their own open textbook, it is well worth exploring the many sites that offer open textbooks that you can adopt as is, or customize. To name a few such sites: Open Textbook Library, KPU's resources and links, and Harvard DART.
Mike Caulfield’s Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers gives you a look at how this works. His book is available on any computer or device that has a web browser. His book is an example of what’s available with the free version of Pressbooks.
Why Amazon (CreateSpace)?
If you wanted to make a copy of your book available in print, the free version of Pressbooks would not be a good option. There are many options for print-on-demand services and I have also not done too much investigation in this area.
I went with the advice from a guy I met who works for Pressbooks. He said that if I didn’t have any ethical issues with using an Amazon-owned company, that CreateSpace had some good options.
Most of my “heavy lifting” happened in Pressbooks. I used their cover creator and one of their templates for all my design and formatting. Then, I used CreateSpace to distribute hard copies across various publishing platforms (most namely, Amazon).
I completely understand your concern about charging students for a textbook that you would potentially profit from. If I were teaching undergraduates and writing an open textbook with them, I would likely keep everything in digital form via Pressbooks.
My class was a group of doctoral students who were thrilled with the potential of having something they wrote in printed form. As of January 16, 2018, I have made half of what I paid for a Pressbooks paid book. I suspect that I won’t likely make all of it back, but don’t mind losing money on this kind of an endeavor.
I shared with the students that there was a potential for me to eventually make a small sum of money. I had them sign an online document indicating their understanding of that possibility.
What helped me with the potential ethical challenges in this process was that students were not bound to purchase a copy of the book. It was an option that they had if they wanted to buy one. Transparency was essential. Everyone understood my costs and how I was attempting to reduce them or eliminate them in this way.
Many Questions Remain
I know I still have so much to learn about open textbooks. As I was researching your questions, I came across Ingram Spark, a self-publishing platform that uses Pressbooks as its content editor, that looks like it could potentially save me money with having a print and ebook created of my doctoral students’ books in the future.
I wish I would have documented more of the steps that I had to go through in generating all the needed information for the printed and ebook editions. I suspect that come March (the next time I will be co-writing an open textbook with students), I will be scratching my head, trying to remember what I selected the last time I was in Pressbooks and Createspace.