8. Students as authors of e-textbooks


Students as digital scholars is not a new concept, even in a digital format. Students have long been encouraged to publish in blogs, wikis, etc., but it is suggested that publishing in form of e-books has long been the domain of the institution or big publishers. Publishing students work in the form of e-books presents an opportunity to change perceptions of quality and outputs and perhaps builds institutional reputation as student publishing is opened out. Key decisions must be made, however around where control lies and how is ‘what should be published’ decided.

This section represents one projects experiences of publishing students work as an e-book – what’s it about, why get involved and potential benefits and pitfalls. To accompany this section of the toolkit, Scott Connor from the Educational Development Unit at the University of the Highlands and Islands has written a case study on the transition from staff to student publishing.

Links and References
Finding Reasons to Publish Student Writers
Although 20 years old the sentiment of this 1998 publication in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan are still relevant. Rather than reasons not to publish the Author, Scott Sheldo, looks at the reasons to publish student work.


This section would be of interest to academics who teach or support students and have an interest in student publishing or e-textbook publishing. It would also be of value to those with an interest in students as creators or co-creators of learning. It may also be of interest to those providing advice on e-textbook publishing to academic staff including senior library staff, learning technologists or instructional designers. Those who deal with changes or update to processes such as ethics approvals or module/programme development such as registry or faculty teams may also have a passing interest.


This section looks at why we should publish student work and highlights the benefits to the student, institution and wider community that can be gained from publishing generally and more specifically in e-book format. Digital publishing whilst potentially increasing readership also opens publications to more scrutiny. The considerations of ownership, quality, ethics, support, contracts and selection are all discussed and guidance given on navigating these areas.

This section is very much drawn from UHI/ENU experiences of publishing student work and to an extent is forward looking.  There are very few references to this topic in the existing project outputs other than in one blog post and in a conference paper written by Laurence and others from the eTIPS team.  However, to mitigate this and to enrich the content we will draw from existing literature from out with the Jisc project.


1. Why publish students work
2. Selecting work to publish
3. Ethical issues
4. Support needed
5. Review
6. Contractual issues
7. Conclusion

1. Why publish students work

There are two clear opportunities where institutions and their students may benefit were students given the opportunity to author e-books. The first is through publishing scholarly or research outputs such as dissertations or other research projects, either in traditional journals or via student research journals. The second is in publishing digital outputs authored by students where they have engaged as creators or co-creators of their own learning. In this case outputs, be they reusable learning objects, blog posts or indeed e-book chapters, provide digital ‘copy’ which potentially could be published as an e-book.

Both use cases have multifaceted benefits to the student and to the institution and can be considered under headings in relation to the student experience, research and teaching linkages and are both inward and outward facing. For example, in higher education, much has been written about open access and the growing area of interest of the ‘Leaky University’ examples of porosity having public value.

For the project team the most significant of these are:

  • As opportunities to motivate and engage students and enable student centered pedagogies
  • As a practical approach to developing research teaching linkages
  • As a mechanism to involve students in public engagement in the curriculum
  • As a mechanism for wider stakeholder engagement including employers and regulatory bodies
  • As a mechanism for students to contribute to the university’s curriculum
  • As a response to a lack of available textbooks or information on that topic; improving knowledge in that area
  • The value of self-publishing in the context of niche – contributing relevant niche content to limited readership.

Links and References
This University of Illinois blog post gives 6 benefits of publishing as an Undergraduate.

This eLearning Industry blog post features the top 10 reasons why it is beneficial to publish online learners’ work.

This paper ‘Publishing undergraduate research: linking teaching and research through a dedicated peer reviewed open access journal’ is written by staff at the University of Huddersfield about students publishing their work in ‘Fields: the journal of Huddersfield student research’.

This paper, from the University of Manchester, gives another view of library-based publishing to support student research journals.

This article from the Guardian online focusses on the perception of e-textbooks versus hard copy in relation to prestige. To combat this perception e-textbooks must be of a high quality without compromising the on digital process and its benefits. Some useful ways of achieving this are highlighted ranging from ‘choice of topic’ to ‘updateability and interactivity’.

Sustainable Book Publishing as a Service at the University of Michigan
This journal article, published in the Journal of Electronic Publishing looks at sustainable publishing in the University of Michigan and the issues faced by institutions when they move from publishing journals to publishing books. It discusses issues of quality, copyediting and workflow and looks at how the university has created their own in-house publishers to meet the wider and evolving needs of the institution, its staff and its students.

Public Libraries as Publishers: Critical Opportunity
In this 2017 article Kathryn M. Conrad highlights the benefits that public libraries can gain from becoming publishers. These are not unique to public libraries and the underlying theme of engagement is equally relevant in academic institutions.

University Publishing in a Digital Age
This 2007 article looks at the evolving landscape of digital publishing and the opportunities it affords universities. It states that “a renewed commitment to publishing in its broadest sense can enable universities to more fully realize the potential global impact of their academic programs, enhance the reputations of their specific institutions, maintain a strong voice in determining what constitutes important scholarship and which scholars deserve recognition, and in some cases, reduce costs.”

This Edutopia article by Jim Moulton looks at self-publishing and what it offers the student. It is slightly dated now but the sentiment remains.

This article on the ‘porous university’ looks at the nature of openness within higher education. It looks beyond openness as releasing content towards openness in its widest context.

2. Selecting work to publish

As noted in the section why publish students work, there is a significant motivational opportunity in this activity, it should therefore be something students aspire to. However, with that comes a note of caution. It is very important that students’ expectations are managed carefully. Decisions about decisions are required – in advance.

It might be the case that the top two projects are selected or you might give students a voice in this decision or other stakeholders such as other academics or even employers.

Another consideration may be the perceived relevance to the sector of the student’s work. When the project or piece of work was undertaken it may not have presented an obvious opportunity. Here it would seem reasonable to make a choice to publish.

Staff must decide and communicate with students clearly how they will choose a piece of work for publishing.

To accompany this section of the toolkit, Scott Connor from the Educational Development Unit at the University of the Highlands and Islands has written a case study on the transition from staff to student publishing.

3. Ethical issues

Where students work to be published is based on a research project, it may be wise to consider the implications of publishing when seeking ethical approval at the outset. The student’s supervisor should alert the student to the possibility of publishing and the issues surrounding it, which need considering before the project commences. Consideration of possible publishing may need to be built into the ethical approval process for both undergraduates and postgraduates.

Even if the selection of a student’s work for publishing is not likely, this is a good activity for students to go through. An opportunity to learn about ethics, especially research students, would not be a wasted exercise and could probably be built into their learning as an activity.

The university and the ethics committee might assist this by having clear student publishing policies in place such as a policy on generated royalties.

Possible issues with research participants when publishing student work include the following:

  • It can be tricky to seek permission from research participants retrospectively
  • One ‘hold out’ of permission may fail the entire publishing project before it commences as data cannot be edited to delete one participant
  • The ‘hold out’ participant’s peer participant group may exert undue pressure to change their mind
  • Research participants may feel the need to become involved in the publishing process
  • Research participants may think there is a case for them sharing any profit from the sale of the work
  • Disagreements on dispersal of any royalties
  • Including approval to publish may pose a barrier to participants before taking part in a study.

There may be potential issues around publishing jointly with students and lecturers if the IPR resides in two different places. Where multiple students and/or lecturers submit chapters for publishing, there may be also issues around precedence of attribution. A consideration of the sensitivity and intellectual property of the subject matter of the research may be a reason why even the best piece of work may not be published. The research work could also have potential commercial value or further research value and is therefore not suitable for immediate exposure to the public.

Links and References
UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO)
This is an independent charity that provides advice and support to researchers, producing a Code of Practice guide that is used in over 50 UK universities: UKRIO Code of Practice (2009) and Recommended Checklist for researchers: UKRIO Publications

UK Research and Innovation, Research Integrity
UKRI is the non-departmental public body which includes the seven UK research councils. It publishes the RCUK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct

National Centre for Research methods
A body founded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and administered by the Universities of Southampton, Manchester and Edinburgh to offer training, support and access to resources in research methodology

4. Support Needed

There will be different levels of support needed to reach the publishing stage for each e-book or monologue. This will depend on issues such as the intended audience, whether the level of production reflects value and the level of support needed to ensure institutional reputation is maintained.  Multiple branding options could be considered to differentiate the publications. However, there are three general levels of input that could be chosen to ready a piece of student work ready for publishing:

  • A student could publish their work ‘as is’ with no editing required, but this may limit the audience to those comfortable with academic structure and language
  • Light editing could be carried out to ensure the language is accessible, references are changed to a non-academic format (e.g. in text citations moved to bottom of page) and chapter headings or e-book title made less formally academic
  • A full edit with proofreading and expert review could be conducted, restructuring the content for a non-academic market or to add additional relevant content. This would entail more extensive re-writing in a non-academic style, in addition to changing the references format, chapter titles and eBook title.

Links and References
This guide is aimed primarily at HSS early career scholars and explains how to turn a dissertation into a book.

This book is a practical guide in how to modify and edit your dissertation for publication.

This web article discusses the pros and cons of publishing student dissertations as books, particularly how this affects the students’ future career.

5. Review

Regardless of who the author of an e-book is; student or academic, a degree of review is required.  In terms of managing expectations, it is wise to inform prospective students of the process and the criteria involved.

Review of publications can be undertaken based on a variety of criteria including perceived value, worthiness, intended audience, circulation and other factors. These criteria can help to ‘categorise’ and influence who should undertake the review and whether it should be internal or external, academic or business experts. This in turn may be influenced by the credibility you wish the publication to carry. If the publication is going to a large global audience and is intended to represent the university at the highest level then perhaps it would be prudent to have some recognised experts listed as reviewers. If on the other hand the publication will be for circulation within the confines of the institution it might be sufficient to use internal peer reviewers. Not forgetting that there is also an opportunity to engage other students as peer reviewers.

Guidelines for reviewers are also of importance and the institution should decide whether they have a blanket set of criteria or different criteria for different ‘categories’ of publication. Presentation and structure factors are important and include writing style, format, flow, language, grammar, spelling and length. What is more difficult to judge using criteria is the content.  Content criteria will be influenced by audience. However, some of them will be common across all publications such as the topic/subject and whether it will be of interest to a readership, completeness, currency, objectivity and emotionalism.

To this extent, many of the sections in this toolkit can be adapted for student publications, such as publishing processes and marketing.

6. Contractual Issues

It is essential that the students who are publishing their work have a contract with the university that clarifies the expected role, tasks, timescales, output, IPR and any remuneration.

In the main students will own IPR of their work unless they have signed a previous contract with the University stating that the University owns the copyright (as for example, most PhD students do at the commencement of their research).

A contract will be required sharing the copyright between institution and student, but IPR may be retained by student.

Business model for the production of the e-book must be decided and agreed and laid out in a contract. Options for the different business models include: open access, digital open access with paid print editions, not for profit, profit for charities or profit for the university, self-funding through product sales.

As part of the forthcoming toolkit for New University Presses, Jisc aims to provide a set of model contracts and licences that can be adapted.

Links and References
Jisc on copyright
The Jisc Quick Guide Intellectual property rights in a digital world explains the law around IPR and explains licences and ownership and what these mean for students.

Business models
This is a 2011 report about economic models for scholarly publishing that discusses the characteristics and challenges of the various business models, including those for e-publishing.

7. Conclusion

Student publishing is not new and the integration of publishing as part of the student learning experience has great value as highlighted by Sheedlo in his 1998 paper. Students as digital publishers is more recent, but still not new and the publishing of digital content has been possible for years in the form of blogs, wikis and journals. However, the e-book offers new and exciting opportunities for the student, the institution and the wider community.

Opportunities include; personal profile raising, reaching niche audience, building portfolio, co-creation and active learning.

Institutions should consider; selection of potential publications, audience, processes, ethics and contracts.

It would appear to the project team that the opportunities outweigh any potential pitfalls. Although it is still early days and much has still to be learned, institutions thinking about publishing e-books should certainly consider students as potential authors.

To accompany this section of the toolkit, Scott Connor from the Educational Development Unit at the University of the Highlands and Islands has written a case study on the transition from staff to student publishing.