This blog post was written by Laurence Patterson, Edinburgh Napier University.
Between 2014 and 2016, we created and published, from scratch, two eTextbooks, aimed at helping students that were undertaking their research dissertation and research project, as well as their academics. Over that time, we crafted the ideas that began with a small group of academics, to blend with the professional work of editors, designers and educational specialists. We worked with in-house resources, and an evolving knowledge of tools and techniques, and structured a workable and accurate timeline of the stages we went through together. This is the story of that timeline.
We proposed a project timeline at the start of the eTIPS project (Fig. 1). This was more useful, with hindsight, as an indicator of the stages of the project itself, than of the production of eTextbooks, but it did offer us a visual representation of the series of activities through which colleagues would be required to work in order to bring publications together. It also permitted us to propose what the overall output from each activity would be, from a summary document, to be taken forward, to a proposed design, and to the final eTextbook. We understood that stage outputs would offer feedback to previous stages – for example, that peer review and proof-reading would inform content – and wrote this into our initial timeline.
On reflection, this initial timeline indicated a broader range of activities, and was limited, in part, due to our understanding of the requirements of our distributing platform – Amazon, as well as our knowledge of our main production tool – Calibre. You’re going to need to know exactly what a proposed eTextbook is about – to define its scope – before you should even think about hiring an editor, commissioning cover artwork, or slapping an ISBN on the item, ready for Amazon’s Kindle marketplace. If you’re eTIPS, you’re going to need to spend at least two or three months doing this – but if you’re a College or University commissioning work from your teaching body, your submissions process will look to capture as much information as it possibly can. Granted, your creative work – design, editing, and so on, can probably be tasked alongside the later editing stages of the eBook, but provide sufficient opportunity for the academics to present fully-formed thoughts about what the eBook will be about, and the team running the publishing side will feel clearer about what’s to be achieved.
In late 2015, just as work began on the second eTIPS eTextbook, we created a production timeline (Fig.2) that we felt more would accurately reflect the work carried out, and which defined in further detail the stages to publication. The timeline was added to and revised as we went along. The new timeline can certainly be mapped to the old one, but it also offers further detail. It now recognised our understanding of the tools and the distribution platform required for our work. Importantly we were now able to assign stages to individual project members, and indicate the approximate time required for each stage up to publication. This permitted us to look at cross-overs, where an author might have been involved in a design stage and vice-versa, and where stages might have occurred simultaneously. We are able to reflect on this, to understand the resource implications of the complete process, and to tighten these as we move forward for future publications.
Our writing of content for the second eTIPS eTextbook required a structured approach. The publication would assemble written content from a handful of academics (whereas our first eTextbook was largely the work of just two), whose schedules made it difficult to meet and discuss. Our progress summary document (Fig.3) iterated chapter themes and content, assigning authors, and setting deadlines for completion. We worked with a simple, but effective, green/amber/red system to indicate and update chapter progress. Through the coming months we continued to collaborate, the development team and authors, to the point of publication. Our artist made notes on possible illustrations for each chapter (Fig.4) and shared for discussion and, as the authoring of the publication reached its peak, cover artwork was discussed with authors, a mindmap of ideas created (Fig.5).
We’re proud of what we achieved over a small amount of time, our second eTextbook truly a collaboration of efforts, with a growing knowledge of technologies and techniques required for publication. The timeline has become an invaluable tool for us, and will continue to offer a structured narrative to our project work.