The cost of creating Using Primary Sources

This blog post was written by Alison Welsby, Editorial Director at Liverpool University Press.

Anyone contemplating publishing an e-textbook will undoubtedly have cost at the forefront of their mind. This blog post concerns the expenditure associated with Using Primary Sources, an Open Access teaching and study resource that combines rare archival source materials with high quality peer-reviewed chapters by leading academics, published by Liverpool University Press and the University of Liverpool Library. The library had subscribed to the platform, Biblioboard, prior to discussions regarding the e-textbook as it provided students and academics with material curated by other libraries and institutions (including The British Library) and gave academics the opportunity to create their own collections for teaching and research purposes. So we already had the software in place to create Using Primary Sources, which was certainly an advantage in budgeting for the project. The remaining costs to create and publish Using Primary Sources are as follows:

  • Commissioning. As part of the contract agreements, payments were made on publication to the General Editor, the Assistant Editor and to the individual contributors for their work on the e-textbook and essays. We also paid external academics to write independent peer reviews of the e-textbook on publication.
  • Acquisition of third party material. We tried to use as much primary source material as possible from the University of Liverpool Library’s Special Collections and Archives department. However, some of the contributors requested material for their essay that was not available in Special Collections, so we sourced and paid for primary source material from other institutions, museums and collections, from whom there was an acquisition / supply of material charge as well as a permission / licence charge. In one instance, we paid for the specialised and high-definition digitisation of a rare and fragile medieval text so that we could include it in the e-textbook. Whilst this was relatively expensive, we considered making this material available for the first time in a digital format and therefore accessible to students as being essential to the aims of the e-textbook
  • Production. This included copyediting and typesetting of each chapter as well as an e-book cover design and logo.
  • Marketing. Many marketing activities have been relatively ‘cost free’ – see blog post by Emily Felton on Marketing Engagement and Creativity. However, we did employ traditional marketing activities such as printing colour flyers, which were, and continue to be, distributed to students at lectures, as well as at conference attended by Liverpool University Press and the General Editor. We also included Using Primary Sources in our seasonal catalogues and created three standing display banners: one for permanent display in the Sydney Jones Library foyer, one for the reception area of the Department of History at the University of Liverpool and one for Liverpool University Press to take to conferences.

However, the biggest cost of all would be staffing costs. The staff members at Liverpool University Press and the University of Liverpool Library working on this e-textbook in addition to their current employment and workload are listed below in alphabetical order:

  • Patrick Brereton (Head of Production, Liverpool University Press)
  • Paul Catherall (E-Learning Librarian, University of Liverpool Library)
  • Emily Felton (Marketing Executive, Liverpool University Press)
  • Heather Gallagher (Books Marketing Manager, Liverpool University Press)
  • Jenny Higham (Special Collections & Archives Manager, University of Liverpool Library)
  • Catherine McManamon (Liaison Librarian, University of Liverpool Library)
  • Karen Phair (Finance Assistant, Liverpool University Press)
  • Emma Thompson (Education Lead, University of Liverpool Library)
  • Alison Welsby (Editorial Director, Liverpool University Press)

The number of hours invested by these people over the past three years is incalculable. At times the project was quiet, as the contributors worked on their essays. At other times, it was the main daily activity and workload of some of the people listed above, often for prolonged periods of time. Special mention must be made to Dr Jon Hogg (General Editor), whose commitment and energy to the project has been essential throughout, and, whilst a six-month research leave was granted during the three years of the project, still had to manage this e-textbook on top of his teaching, research and administration duties. In hindsight, a project manager should have been employed to manage the project once the chapters were completed and sources identified (approximately two days a week for the final two years of the project, increased during intense periods such as the three months prior to launch in January 2017), to support the library in the acquiring and scanning of the primary source material and to take full responsibility of uploading all the material onto Biblioboard. Whilst the project manager would not require a high level of technical expertise, it would be essential they were competent in the digitisation of primary source material and data software platforms.

Authors motivations for writing e-textbooks

This blog post was written by Professor Frank Rennie, University of the Highlands and Islands.

There was no single motivation to engage with this institutional e-publishing process, but among the range of perceived benefits, the idea of being able to get our own academic ideas available quickly and inexpensively out to students was certainly a key incentive. The motivation to design an effective and flexible method for institutional, in-house e-text production was also a strong factor. A couple of the authors had previously worked with conventional publishers and were disillusioned both by the time taken to produce the books, and by the high retail price of the subsequent products, which were felt to reduce the benefit for students. For both e-textbooks we used a combination of texts which were specifically written for each book, together with a re-working of texts which we had earlier written for other purposes, such as course handouts or website resources for students on our modules. There was a secondary motivation to be able to re-purpose earlier work in a new and more accessible format.

For the second book we wanted to experiment with bringing together a small group of academics from different disciplines and with different experiences, in order to create a textbook which had a greater scope and applicability than the views of a single author. Once the preferred authors had been selected, from different parts of the university, we facilitated two “writers’ sprints”. These were one-day-long working sessions during which the team clarified the individual contributions of each author, established how these would relate to other authors’ texts, and then set to work with our laptops in different corners of the room to collate, edit, and generate our respective chapters. Although this did not produce the final version of the draft chapters, it substantially speeded the process along, and the group interaction with colleagues whom we knew but rarely directly worked with, was an unexpected but significant bonus motivation in the production process. We would certainly repeat this methodology for future books, reports, and papers.

An early motivation in the e-textbook production process was the perception of enhanced participant control of the production process, and though this was realised, it comes with a caveat. While the small, tight-knit group involved in the project did enable individuals to intervene to influence the appearance of the final product, this also created a slight drag on the production process and could have been avoided with greater streamlined decision-making. We realised during the process that it is not desirable for everybody to have an equal say in every aspect of production, and this has resulted in a clearer flow-chart of activities, decision-making, and responsibilities which will be utilised in the institutional production of future e-texts.

It is probably also worth mentioning aspects which were not key motivational factors. None of the authors gave any real consideration to gaining any income from either of the publications, although this might be a consideration for future authors and future publications. The key motivation was to have the opportunity to disseminate our academic ideas, perhaps to be able to use these e-textbooks with our own students, and to keep the retail price down as much as possible in order to reach as many students as possible. In each of these initial motivations, the team is very satisfied with the outcomes. Neither was the “fame” element given much consideration, although with the success of the first e-book gaining so much attention in a global market, there was certainly a motivational stimulus to know that the products were of much greater significance than simply for internal use. Working through the production processes of peer-review, proofreading, and design was a rewarding exercise in itself, and this has in turn produced a motivation to explore other topics and forms of academic textual output. There is an appetite among the staff who engaged with this project, and also with other academic colleagues in this university and in partner institutions, to identify further opportunities to experiment with different authors, topics, and academic formats to produce more institutional e-publications.

More information on the e-textbooks:
How to Write a Research Dissertation
Undertaking Your Research Project

Dissemination, distribution and discovery of e-textbooks

This blog post was written by Alison Fox, Marketing and Distribution Manager, UCL Press.

UCL press published two open access e-textbooks with Jisc as part of the ‘Institution as e-textbook publisher project’. The first was Textbook of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Published in June 2016, content from this book was downloaded 23,067 times in 156 countries and with 3998 page views of the HTML version in the year to December 2017.This was followed by an HTML edition of Key Concepts in Public Archaeology in February 2017 (with 15559 page views to the end of December 2017) and PDF version in September 2017, from which content was downloaded 4011 times to the end of 2017. They were both also made available for sale in print via traditional retail channels.

Both textbooks are available in a variety of formats, each requiring a different strategy in order to reach the target readership. For this blog post, we’ll concentrate on our open access formats (PDF, HTML and app) and how each of the decisions that we made makes the books more discoverable.

Both textbooks are based on popular, well-respected courses at UCL, and their publication reflects a UCL Press goal to provide open access textbooks to students in order to enhance their experience, something which is captured in UCL’s 2034 strategy. Open access textbooks are increasingly important to both provide high-quality educational materials to students, as well as open important research to a wider audience for free. With this in mind, our marketing and distribution strategies are inevitably different from a commercial publisher, as are our goals and the markets we wish to serve.

Textbooks follow a unique pattern — those who make the decision about which book is used (faculty members), aren’t the same as those who use the textbook (students) or those who make the book widely available (librarians or booksellers). This cycle still applies with open access, and, though there are fewer barriers to reach the reader directly, students still rely on lecturers in order to signpost relevant reading material, and for librarians to make sure that this content is easily available and discoverable via internal systems. In order to reach all parts of this cycle, our dissemination strategy reflected this knowledge – in order for the textbooks to be successful in their aims, we needed to reach all three groups, and work with trusted infrastructure.

In addition to UCL Press’s in-house open access platforms UCL Discovery and ucldigitalpress.co.uk, we also worked with a number of other vendors to maximize the reach of our open access offerings. Many of the platforms that we worked with help to enable discovery via provision of a suite of discovery tools for library catalogues; including MARC records. These platforms included JSTOR and OAPEN. We have also benefited from the assistance of UCL’s library services, who have added the textbooks to the reading lists system, created MARC records, and disseminated these more widely to the library community and made the books discoverable in UCL’s library discovery system.

Other platforms were chosen for their wide reach, and included Internet Archive, WorldReader and Google Books (from Jan 2018). The app versions of the books were made available via the two biggest app stores: Apple’s App Store and Google Play. The apps were created as an experimental format, and downloads of these were low in comparison to other open access formats – why this was may be worthy of additional research at a later point.

We also worked within the traditional publishing trade ecosystem by producing a for-sale epub version, which was distributed to booksellers, wholesalers and library suppliers via NBN International’s Fusion system. An Amazon Kindle version was also available via Amazon, with POD print (both paperback and hardback) available to booksellers, library suppliers and wholesalers.

Metadata was provided to many of our partners via an ONIX feed, which was enriched with additional keywords and information to aid discovery. Our marketing efforts also aimed to reach each of the key audiences using a number of different methods including social media, email, advertising, online campaigns and author activities.

As a small, institutional publisher with the goal of meeting the needs of those affiliated to the institution, and limited resources in comparison to the commercial textbook publishers who have large global teams that include campus marketing teams, many of our marketing activities have been UK-based, with a primary focus on serving the needs of UCL students. However, the open access nature of the textbooks, and the platforms we have worked with in order to distribute the content, allow those who have not been actively marketed to organically discover the publications.

The textbooks were well supported by the editors’ and contributors’ departments, and have been adopted for course usage. For the Textbook of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, we produced a credit-card sized flyer to help stimulate usage, and similar materials are in production for Key Concepts in Public Archaeology for the next intake of students for the linked module. Authors have also emailed links to the books to their contacts, attended conferences with materials, featured their books on their department communications channels and websites, and carried out a number of other activities to support the books. We have been delighted to receive feedback from the editors of Textbook of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, about the wider reputational benefit to the department and the authors themselves.

Compared to monographs, textbooks have a longer period in which to gain traction – their usage varies within the academic year, and it is essential to reach lecturers at the right time. With this in mind, we are currently working to identify routes to academics that we have not yet reached, by undertaking market research to reach a much wider targeted course adoption as well as ways to make the books more discoverable via indexing services and dedicated textbook platforms e.g. the Open Textbook Network.

Competitor Analysis: the basics

This blog post was written by Steve Stapleton, University of Nottingham.

Each project that has been part of the Jisc funded e-textbook programme was required to carry out a competitor analysis as part of the early stages of the project work. This blog post talks about the basics of competitor analysis and does so by looking at how we approached our competitor analysis at Nottingham.

The starting point for our competitor analysis was to define the scope of the analysis, or in other words, to define what we wanted to find out about and why. The list below shows the areas we decided to look at, and they can be adapted to other contexts as appropriate:

    • Understand market place
    • Examine and define price point and commercial model
    • Understand licensing options
    • Examine and define pedagogic approach
    • Evaluate quality of competitor texts
    • Understand the current usage by our own students of competitor texts

We were keen to use the competitor analysis to help us understand the market that we were moving into and to help us understand how we might position ourselves competitively in the already busy market of introductory texts in the areas of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSP) and ‘Applied Ethics’. The CSP e-textbook was going to follow a commercial path, so it was important to look at price points and consider where we wanted to pitch our own e-textbook. The Applied Ethics e-textbook was to be offered for free under a Creative Commons licence, so while price point was not a consideration, it was important to examine licence choices of competitors.We also wanted to use the competitor analysis to get a sense of what the existing leading texts in the subject areas offered in terms of pedagogic approach were, so for example were they simply traditional textbooks or did they have any accompanying materials or accompanying websites that supported learning. This was especially interesting to us as the authors of both our e-textbooks were keen to move away from traditional text only approaches by providing supporting online activities. This strand of analysis also included an evaluation of quality of competitor texts. Over 50 competitor texts were evaluated and quality scores allocated by the authors.

The final driver for our analysis was a desire to understand how our own students were already using competitor texts as part of their studies, and what the availability of texts was like in our own library. This was important information to us as one of the key aspects of the Jisc project is to examine if self-publication of e-textbooks can reduce the cost of higher education for students. So it was essential to understand how students were already using competitor texts in order to start to unpick that question. The list below shows the specifics of what we investigated for this aspect of our analysis:

  • Title Author/Editor Publisher
  • Publisher date
  • Versions held by The University of Nottingham Library
  • Price that The University paid for different versions of the title
  • Current open market list price for titles
  • Usage data
  • Other formats available for purchase (not held by The University of Nottingham) and the current open market list price
  • Access to titles or parts of titles through the institutional VLE
  • Academic authors view of the current situation

Several analytical tools and processes were used to carry out the competitor analysis. This included a SWOT analysis for both e-textbooks that looked at what the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats were for the title. The SWOT analysis for the Corporate Social Responsibility e-textbook is included below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the SWOT analysis, a review of the main competitor books was also completed. For both e-textbooks this first involved defining what the main competitor texts were. The data gathered about this for the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) e-textbook is listed in the table below:

Title Author/Editor Publisher Date
Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility Werther Sage 2010
The Sustainable MBA Weybrecht Wiley 2013
Managing Corporate Social Responsibility Coombs and Holladay Wiley-Blackwell 2011
The Sustainability Handbook, The : “The Complete Management Guide to Achieving Social, Economic and Environmental Responsibility Blackburn, William R Taylor & Francis 2012

Once the main competitor texts had been defined, the next step was to identify cost and library data on the titles. The data gathered for this for the CSR e-textbook is listed in the table below:

Title University of Nottingham Library Holdings List Price Usage Other formats available for purchase
Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility Not in central library stock £24.99 No usage data is available as not yet in central library stock ·         Hardback ISBN: 9781118760635 with a list price of £24.99

·         myilibrary ebook ISBN: 9781306140904 with a multiuser licence price of £59.98

The Sustainable MBA In stock as an ebrary ebook £24.99 No usage data is available as not yet in central library stock

 

·         Hardback ISBN: 9781118760635 with a list price of list price £24.99

·         myilibrary ebook ISBN: 9781306140904 with a multiuser licence price of £59.98

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility Not in central library stock £58.50 No usage data is available as not yet in central library stock

 

·         Hardback ISBN: 9781444336290 with a list price £58.50

·         Paperback ISBN: 9781444336450 with a list price of £24.99

·         myilibrary ebook ISBN: 9781283927550 with a multiuser licence of £100.00

The Sustainability Handbook Not in central library stock £25.00 4 copies borrowed a total of 178 times since January 2011 ·         Hardback ISBN: 9781844074952 with a list price £55.00

·         myilibrary ISBN: 9781281105196 with a multiuser licence of £130.48

 

 

For the CSR e-textbook we also carried out a comprehensive review of more than 40 competitor titles to try and understand how they approached the delivery and presentation of their materials. The table in attachment lists the first 10 titles that were reviewed in order to provide an example of the work that was completed in this task.

One result of the SWOT analysis and comprehensive competitor book analysis was the decision on what pedagogic approach would be taken for the e-textbook, with the lead author deciding to embrace and integrate technology. The SWOT analysis had highlighted the potential for using technology to drive home a competitive advantage and the comprehensive review of competitor titles had shown that very few competitors had taken this approach. Producing a technology rich end product became a core principle and requirement of the design of the book. Another result of the competitor analysis was the decision on commercial model, with the lead author deciding to move away from a standard commercial model, and move to a fermium model where part of the e-textbook would be provided for free and the later parts of the e-textbook would be available by joining a professional Corporate Social Responsibility organisation that would make the full book available to their members.

In addition to the pedagogic and commercial decisions that the competitor analysis underpinned, it also helped to define what subject areas and content should be included in the e-textbooks. The lead authors of both e-textbooks made decisions based on content having reviewed what was available in the market. A good example of this is the lead author for the Applied Ethics e-textbook choosing to limit the number of chapters in the book to ensure that only high value subject content for the module they were teaching was included. The competitor analysis had shown that many of the competitor texts including chapters that were not immediately relevant, meaning that students would potentially be purchasing texts that had information they would be unlikely to need. Because of this understanding reached through the competitor analysis, the lead author decided to focus in on only 6 topic areas.

So in conclusion, the competitor analysis was essential to the Nottingham project. It helped us take stock of the current position of the market and helped us to understand how we would like to engage with the market. The analysis underpinned significant decisions that we needed to make in the areas of pedagogy, commercialisation; technology, licensing and content. And it also meant that we felt confident that we were making evidence based decisions from the outset.

 

E-textbooks technology: BiblioBoard

This blog post was written by Alison Welsby, Editorial Director, Liverpool University Press.

For the University of Liverpool’s e-textbook Using Primary Sources, we chose BiblioBoard, a ‘community engagement software for libraries’ which helps libraries, universities and museums curate digital collections of books, images, articles, audio and video for either the public or their patrons.

Before the call for bids from Jisc was made, the University of Liverpool Library had acquired BiblioBoard to provide students and academics with material curated by other libraries and institutions (including The British Library), as well as to encourage academics to create their own collections for their teaching and research needs. As Using Primary Sources is an e-textbook containing a wide variety of material from the University of Liverpool Library’s Special Collections and Archives department, it made perfect sense to use BiblioBoard on this project, especially as additional software would not be required and the BiblioBoard team had already demonstrated the software and its features to members of the library and Liverpool University Press. Another factor in choosing BiblioBoard was the fact there were various ‘exposure levels’: we could curate a collection and make it available to only students at the university, or we could share with our own students yet sell to others. We could also make it available Open Access, which was always our intention for Using Primary Sources and what made BiblioBoard particularly appealing. Design is very important to BiblioBoard, which ensured the collections always looked professional and were user friendly with clear sign-posting. In addition to this, accessibility was of utmost importance and BiblioBoard’s collections can be viewed online both on and off campus on computers, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, Nexus tablets, Android tablets and phones. We knew that if the resource was easy for students to access on whatever device they had and looked modern and professional, then there would be more engagement. From the beginning, BiblioBoard seemed perfect for this project and with the e-textbook now complete (although more chapters are continuously being added as this is a living e-textbook), we are delighted with the result.

Like many things, once you have done something a few times, it does become easier, and this is the same with BiblioBoard. The first few pieces uploaded and placed on BiblioBoard were part of a steep learning curve in terms of understanding the process and terminology of the software. However, as we worked on the project further it did become easier. A major plus to working on BiblioBoard was BiblioBoard themselves, who were very approachable, answering our many questions during the curation of our e-textbook and supporting us through the process. In fact, the BIblioBoard team worked hard on developing new features in the software to ensure we created the e-textbook we envisaged (such as linking out from the epub chapters to the documents within the collection).

A major feature of BiblioBoard is the zoom-in facility on the documents and chapters, allowing students to analyse primary source material such as fragile hand-written letters and rare medieval manuscripts in exceptional detail. This not only ensures students have invaluable access to primary material at easy reach but crucially supports visually impaired students. If an institution isn’t subscribed to BiblioBoard, then their students would still have access to the collections that have been made available on an Open Access licence, such as Using Primary Sources. However, if an institution has purchased BiblioBoard, then additional features are available to students and academics such as their own login, saved favourites, bookmarking, personal notes feature and a download content feature.

As previously mentioned, we would certainly choose BiblioBoard again for Using Primary Sources and our aim is to curate more e-textbooks on the site for other courses at the University of Liverpool. Why not have a look at Using Primary Sources and let us know what you think? Send any feedback and comments to ups@liverpool.ac.uk

Future opportunities for e-textbooks to be used by other HE and FE institutions

This blog post was written by Steve Stapleton, University of Nottingham.

This is an introductory blog post that will be discussed in detail in another blog post in May 2018.

One of the last things that we need to do as part of the project at Nottingham is to investigate the potential for our two e-textbooks to be used by other HE and FE institutions. The basic premise being that if they are useful for our own students, which are survey results seems to suggest they are. Then could they also be useful for students at other institutions.

Our Applied Ethics e-textbook is available in its entity for free under a Creative Commons Licence. And most of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) e-textbook is also available for free, with the later chapters available at low cost for any student that wished to access it. The free or low cost entry points for students means that the books could be incorporated into other institutions. However, in reality there are likely to be barriers that need to be overcome for this to happen. And other institutions would of course need to see value in adopting them.

Work will start soon on looking at this in detail. The initial plan for this is to work closely with the lead authors and faculty teams that produced the books as the most likely route into other institutions is through their contacts. There will be a further blog post in May 2018 that will talk through the detail of what we did and what the results of the work has been.

Data from the Applied Ethics e-textbook and the Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability in Practice e-textbook

This blog post was written by Steve Stapleton, University of Nottingham.

As part of the project at Nottingham we have surveyed our own students that have been provided our e-textbooks as part of their modules. This is for both the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSP) and the Applied Ethics e-textbooks.

The questions that were asked of both student groups were:

  • How satisfied with the e-book materials were you?
  • Did the e-book materials meet your expectations?
  • If you used other textbooks books as well as the e-book materials provided in the module, how did they compare to the e-book materials?
  • What books, if any, have you bought to for use in this module?
  • What books, if any, have you borrowed from the library or from others for use in the module?
  • What books, if any, have you accessed online for use in this module?
  • What formats have the books been in?
  • What price, if any, did you pay for textbooks to support this module?

The Applied Ethics students were asked one additional question to ascertain how they had accessed the e-textbook, was it through the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Smashwords website, iBook store or another route.

Corporate Social Responsibility

We received 49 responses to the survey from students that used the Corporate Social Responsibility e-textbook as part of their module in the business school. The module was a first year undergraduate module called ‘Business sustainability and responsibility’.

The results of the first two survey questions about satisfaction and expectations are listed below:

1

2

Some of the key information gained from the other questions included the fact that Only 2 out of 17 respondents indicated that they had purchased a book to support the module. This may support the core principle set out by the lead author of the book that they would like to provide sufficient core content in the e-textbook and supporting module materials to reduce the need for students to have to purchase materials. Also, none of the 18 respondents to the question about whether any books had been borrowed from the library to support the module had in fact borrowed any. And all 18 respondents to the question about which format of book had been used stated that they had only used e-books. It is unclear from the data whether this was just the e-book provided for the course as some respondents (4) stated that they had accessed free online supporting materials. These included articles found online and website browsing.

Applied Ethics

We only received 4 responses to the survey from students that used the Applied Ethics e-textbook as part of their module in the Department of Philosophy. The module was a first year undergraduate module. This makes comparisons across both e-textbooks difficult to do.

The results of the first three survey questions about satisfaction, expectations and how students accessed the e-textbook are listed below:

3

4

5

A summary of the responses given to the other questions includes the fact that none of the 4 respondents reported that they had purchased any textbooks to support the module. One similarity across the two student groups included that some of both groups had used free online articles.

Other similarities across the two student groups include 100% of Applied Ethics students being satisfied with the e-textbook and over 95% of the CSR students being satisfied with their e-textbook. The majority of both groups also stated that the e-textbooks met their expectations. It is difficult to do any meaningful comparison of the two groups in relation to the other questions asked as only 4 Applied Ethics students responded to the survey. However, in the responses that were received, across both groups only 2 students had paid for any material to support the module and most respondents had worked with online support materials only.

For those that may be more interested in the full data gathered in the surveys, it is included in Appendix A.

Internal Distribution and Promotion of eTIPS eTextbooks

This blog post was written by Laurence Patterson, Edinburgh Napier University.

The eTIPS project, sponsored by Jisc, is a collaboration between The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), and Edinburgh Napier University (ENU). eTIPS saw two eTextbooks authored, formatted, and completed by academics and others. A fundamental objective of the project was to take steps not only to distribute the eTextbooks across the online Amazon Kindle network, but also to embed, as far as was possible, within the learning and teaching of both academic institutions involved.

The objective was successful to some degree, through the life of the project. The Further and Higher Education sector has certainly turned the corner when it comes to understanding the significance of digital learning materials. ENU’s library, along with many others, has a ‘digital first’ acquisition policy, and students and academics are offered instruction in finding electronic materials in their first few weeks. Digital discovery is now the principle way that the sector offers information to its users.

The two eTIPS eTextbooks published offer universal interest for undergraduates and postgraduates, discussing student preparedness for research and project work. Through word-of-mouth introductions, at UHI, a number of module and programme leaders pledged, at an early stage, to introduce to their teaching the first eText, created by eTIPS in 2016. Despite the project evaluation team’s efforts to reach out, it was clear that feedback was very limited – academics had said that whilst they had mentioned the eBooks in passing to their class, they had no way of knowing if the students had downloaded and were reading them.

Why might this be? In a University, the cycle of an Academic Programme, from an Academic Team’s point of view, may be up to five years, with Programme Validation affecting everything that came before. At the end of the cycle, the Programme Leader must normally prove the capability and viability of the Programme, should look to rewrite content, and bring up-to-date core and recommended reading. After Validation, it may be difficult and troublesome for an Academic Team to bring in new core reading for anything more than formative assessment – a suggested reason as to why eTIPS’ eTextbooks haven’t been more widely adopted for learning and teaching.

But in 2015, and then again in 2016, Edinburgh Napier’s Masters in Blended and Online Education used the eTIPS publishing model, and the resulting first eTextbook itself, as a case study, asking its students to critically evaluate methodology and output. The comprehensive and constructive feedback returned was offered to the eTIPS team, whose subsequent work on the second eTIPS eTextbook was informed by this.

Over the 2016/2017 teaching cycle, and after both of eTIPS’ eTextbooks had been published, new efforts were made by the project team to bring light to the creative process, for academics, and to the eBooks themselves, for students and Programme Leaders. eTIPS’ authors gave talks to colleagues both in UHI and ENU, with time devoted at internal Staff Conferences, in academic publications, and in corridor conversation. Academics were interested in the idea of writing something that could talk directly to their students, and wholly to the course content, and which could be used across a number of cohorts. The team felt momentum build over the year, and surveys returned this time would suggest moderate, but still informal use of the titles.

For years, students had been used to accessing electronic materials – perhaps a journal article or chapter of a book, normally for a limited time, from a central resource, mediated by their University’s library, without direct cost to them. The eTIPS model turned this around and bypassed the library, permitting the student to download to a Kindle (or computer) their own copy of the entire text, for a small amount of money, from Amazon.

In 2016/2017, the eTIPS team took the decision to produce the eTextbooks as print-on-demand paperbacks, making them available to purchase from across the Amazon network, as well as to borrow from their academic library, and UHI and ENU now had these in stock. The move appeared successful, with more loans than expected taking place, and a commitment from at least three Programme Leaders at UHI to bring one of the books – either in print or as a Kindle title – onto their core reading list. As we approach the final six months of the project, eTIPS evaluators are ready to speak with students, to discover the degree to which ‘in-house’
publishing may benefit learning and teaching engagement across an academic institution.

 

 

IAP e-textbooks embedded in modules – student usage, feedback and engagement PART 1

This blog post was written by Errol Rivera, Edinburgh Napier University.

Everything that happens in an educational environment should be for the students, and e-textbook publishing is no different. Whether you’re a university team looking to provide your students with a more affordable or personalised experience, a lecturer looking to forge their own path in academic writing, or simply a module leader who rightly feels like you could write the best textbook for your own module, you’re ultimately thinking about your students – at least I hope you are. In education, innovations based in research are well equipped to stand under scrutiny, and make it easier for us as educators to hold our decision making and implementation to account. The challenge is producing data that serves several masters. You want your research to inform your innovation as well as justify it. It also needs to show that word that many hard working academics can find contemptible in the messily qualified world of day-to-day teaching: Success.

If you’re adopting an Institution as Publisher (IAP) model for producing your own etextbook, this becomes a unique challenge. This practice is new and under-researched, making it easy for us to ask questions that might seem reasonable, but may not lead to the most useful or clearly meaningful data. As evaluator on an IAP project, we used academic research to support the embedding of IAP texts into modules, and the embedding of an IAP model into normal university operations. The following is a brief of how we developed and executed this research, as well as what’s come of it so far:

Making no assumptions: This is a given in research, but it’s worth saying here. The IAP etextbook is a new concept, which means we took plenty of time to discuss the kinds of questions we wanted to ask, and why we were asking them.

Avoiding bias: We saw a lot of potential for IAP etextbooks. Cheaper for students. More money directly to lecturers who wrote them. Textbooks fully tailored for a single lecturers designed learning journey. I was constantly looking for questions that were some version of “tell us why this idea is so good?” or “what are you scared of?” and after some hard interrogation, I found more than a few questions that I had to re-write.

What are we trying to do and who’s this for?: We knew that we needed to learn whether or not there was a place for an IAP model of producing etextbooks, but we also wanted to inform how that was done. We also wanted to make sure about all of our definitions for success, so that we could decide how to measure it. Those definitions were chosen by looking at the stakeholders.

  • The IAP team: A cheap, easily accessible text, that has the quality of a mainstream produced textbook. One that takes advantage of the “e” in etextbook, and could be produced sustainably. The IAP team at The University of the Highlands and Islands wasn’t just interested in making one book for one class, and this had a broad influence on our questions. Their full focus was on a well-developed process that wouldn’t run the danger of, say, working better for one disciplinary culture than another. To fit this philosophy, they decided to make an etextbook that could be used in any number of disciplines: research projects and dissertation writing. Our surveys had to be flexible in terms of subject discipline, sample size, and type of university. This is also important to note, because we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about subject-centred questions. For that expertise, you’ll want to consult the other Jisc funded IAP teams.
  • The Student: a cheap text that’s easy to get and easy to understand, and relevant to what they’re learning.
  • University leadership: an IAP process that is financially sustainable, easy to manage, with a positive effect on the student experience, as well as the reputation of the university.
  • Our funders: Jisc was good enough to give us a list of things they wanted to learn about, all of which added up to all-the-above, and much much more. Ultimately, our understanding is that they wanted a knowledge base for forming IAP models, one that lecturers and universities alike could participate in and benefit from, as well as understanding the economic influences that might occur from a shift in the landscape of higher education publishing. They also wanted to know how much students were already using etextbooks and whether that had a meaningful difference on how they experienced higher education.

As mentioned before, your data should inform the design of your IAP model. So, we asked a lot of questions about price, quality, where students get books, on what devices and platforms do they read etextbooks. We also asked what makes them get books that are only recommended as opposed to required. There were more than a few questions not just about etextbooks but texts in general. This started to feel like market research, and this is where the “who’s this for?” question really kept us in line – that and good old fashioned research ethics.

We weren’t the authors and producers of the etextbook, but we worked with the people who did and we support them. We were also responsible for getting lecturers to volunteer for this project – that meant, welcoming the UHI IAP etextbook onto their reading lists, as such we were constantly policing ourselves to make sure we weren’t acting like salesmen. If I learned anything in this process, it’s that when you’re trying to introduce an innovation you care about (especially one that makes money), the ethical rigors of academic research aren’t just helpful – they’re necessary. That doesn’t mean you can’t collect data from students who pay for the product/process you’re researching, but there should always be a free option. As such we created a two-stage survey collection – one survey about textbooks and etextbooks in general, and one about the etextbooks in question which they could acquire for free after finishing the first survey.

What we learned was that students, more than anything, prioritise usefulness. They put a lot of trust in their lecturers, to guide them in finding texts. We were also happy to learn that a majority of our respondents made good use of the university library for their texts. However, out with the library and required reading lists, low prices can actually give students second thoughts about the prospective quality of textbooks – so, IAP teams have to do different things to ensure students that their etextbook is worth it. This can encompass everything from search engine optimisation, to recommendations from prominent academics and award winning students, or even just engaging with individual lecturers who could benefit. We also learned that lecturers consistently want their books available in libraries, which provides licensing challenges for IAP teams. Finally, we learned that the IAP concept presented lecturers with exciting professional development possibilities for their own writing and academic careers.

This is just a quick look at the kinds of questions and data that could be used to justify an IAP pilot, but what about when you get them in the classroom? For that, you’ll have to read part two of IAP Etextbooks embedded in modules – student usage, feedback and engagement.

In the meantime, feel free to have a look at our stage-one survey, and interrogate it for your own usage. This annotated PDF will detail question structure and explain a bit of the thinking behind specific questions.

Marketing engagement and creativity

This blog post was written by Emily Felton, Marketing Assistant, Liverpool University Press.

One of the foremost principles in academic books marketing is to ensure that the research of an author gets the exposure it deserves. Publishing within the academic markets of the humanities and social sciences ensures that we often encounter some of the more niche denominations of wider subject areas. As a result of this, determining the most effective approach for our market segments can be challenging. Where one segment of the market is responsive to one method of marketing, another often is not.  A consistently effective books marketing strategy is thus reliant on a combination of both digital and traditional tools to which various audiences are receptive.

Whilst traditional methods of books marketing enjoy a degree of success, digital marketing methods are increasingly preferred by publishers for their wider outreach, accessibility and ability to create an ongoing dialogue with customers. Digital marketing platforms have the potential to be profoundly useful owing to their ability to be measured though metrics, views, shares, likes, and retweets. Because of this, publishers can identify what works and disregard unsuccessful approaches and therefore build a successful digital marketing campaign in a relatively short space of time.

The force that is social media must now be acknowledged as one of the most useful tools in books marketing. The ever-developing platforms of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow publishers to showcase new titles and their content in a way that is easily accessible and cost effective. Social media platforms are used to announce the release of titles, share reviews, engage with the academic community and project the content of our titles directly to our followers. The marketing campaign for Using Primary Sources is continuously conducted predominately on Twitter and allows us to creatively interact with our five-thousand followers to encourage them to engage with the resource. Recently, we have used the hashtag trend ‘Flashback Friday’, posting images from Using Primary Sources to demonstrate the resource’s rich archival material, from the historical to the humorous. If nothing else, we provided pictorial evidence that Friday Feeling was a thing in 1890! Our ‘Caption this’ campaign also encouraged and challenged our audience to engage with the content of Using Primary Sources by tweeting us their own captions for the resource’s images. The response from our followers, alongside the metrics obtained from Twitter, reveal how effective social media has been in spreading awareness of Using Primary Sources to a wide international audience, as users in over 31 countries have engaged with the e-textbook within the first year of its launch. This is something that would have been much harder to achieve through traditional marketing activities.

As the first port of call for many customers of the press, the Liverpool University Press website is a natural space for marketing activity. The blogging aspect of our website provides a space where we can devote considerable attention to a title, which we did for Using Primary Sources. Recently, categories were introduced to the blog, so that visitors could browse the content by subject area. We are thus able to promote the content of our books more directly to each segment of our audience through our multitude of marketing platforms. Marketing activity for a title can be accompanied by a link to the subject area blog which directs a potential customer to content of relevance to them.  We regularly release interviews and original pieces to promote the content of books and research of the authors. By interviewing an author, we draw out the most interesting aspects of a book, asking how an author’s work furthers scholarly discussion within their field. Snippets of the content of blogs can be adapted for social media to draw in readers. This year, for example, we promoted a military history interview with the headline ‘Why Everything You Thought You Knew about The Battle of Crécy is Wrong.’ A blog piece is arguably the medium by which we can share the most in-depth information about a title, and reach out to our audience in a personal and accessible tone whilst allowing an author to champion their own research.

Amidst the success of digital marketing approaches, we also reap the benefits of more traditional marketing practises. The pre-digital practise of reviews marketing is a ritual by which ourselves and other publishers still abide. By arranging for journals to review our titles, we create considerable exposure for a book through a medium that is directly relevant to our various segments. From the huge variety of academic journals published, we select those which reflect our niche subject areas to cultivate reviews. If you look hard enough, there really is a journal for everything!

Another well-established avenue of books marketing is attendance at conferences. Again, a side-step from the digital approach to marketing, conferences provide an excellent opportunity to showcase an entire list with physical stock and promotional material for forthcoming titles. The opportunity arises to discuss a list in terms of forthcoming titles and commissioning with potential authors or to arrange reviews of recent titles. Presence at a conference can be very beneficial in terms of expanding and commissioning lists as well as raising the profile of the press.

This blog post is a snapshot of some of the marketing activities we employ at Liverpool University Press. It hopefully shows that with a bit of creativity, you can engage directly with your audience and bring a resource like Using Primary Sources to life.